The 19th and 20th century politicians were dreamers and philanthropists driven by honest and sincere desire to help the fellow human beings to improve their lot with dedication and genuineness.
Those leaders in order to gain independent status, whether they be Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burgers or Malays, contributed collectively long before Singapore, Malaysia and several other countries.
Our country was then considered as a ‘model colony’ in the Commonwealth. After gaining Independence, with a stable Westminster type of Parliamentary system in place, having got adult suffrage in 1931, why did we fail to achieve sustainable development? Why did we become an impoverished country thereafter? The fault of our leaders since 1970s.
Despite the fact that we became independent from the British without bloodshed, owing to political, economical, cultural and other injustices, the country had to face two insurgencies and a long drawn civil war. It may be prudent to understand why our own brethren had to sacrifice their own lives, whether Tamils or Sinhalese, large sums of money for weapons, civilians, damages to property, and installations.
We have also been under emergency rule for a good number of years after independence. By the time war ended, our country had been entrenched in the costly war for nearly thirty years. Due to the war, Sri Lanka had lost at least one hundred thousand lives of Sri Lankans.
The former regime however achieved brutal success in defeating the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
In fact, this could be considered a test case for success in modern warfare. However, at present, the question before us is - haven’t we learnt a lesson from the past? Opportunist politicians in the country are fishing in troubled waters again and again!! In May, 2009, the then US Secretary of State, admonished the Sri Lankan Government, alleging that the “entire world was thoroughly disappointed” by the untold suffering caused to the civilians by the armed forces.
Foreign Secretaries of France and Great Britain flew to Sri Lanka hurriedly and requested the Government to call a ceasefire. There had been severe international pressure during the last stages of war to the previous Government.
General Sarath Fonseka, however, the then Commander of the Army during the same period declared victory and announced that the Sri Lankan Army had defeated the most horrendous force in the world, the LTTE. The next day, an LTTE spokesman, posted a statement on the organisation’s web site – “This battle has reached its bitter end….We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer”.
After the announcement of the victory, there were celebrations and fireworks all over the country. The then President, who was overseas, having returned to the Island, at the BIA, kissed the earth to express his overwhelming pleasure.
Thereafter, on the 19th May, the former President addressed the Parliament and announced – “We have liberated the whole country from the clutches of LTTE terrorism”. The Former President added: “Our intention was to save the Tamil People from the cruel grip of the LTTE. We must now live AS EQUALS in this free country”.
Prabhakaran underestimated Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could have been probably because there was no other leader prior to MR, who went all out to wipe out the LTTE.
It was probably because every Government wanted to negotiate for a political solution. MR was determined to go the whole hog for the purpose. After the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka’s entire territory came under the Government control for the first time. The then President also pointed out that his post-war vision was “one country, one people”.
He also announced that “One country, one people” policy would include – no single ethnic group would lay claim over any part of the land – and called for “economic development and prosperity”.
Nevertheless, did the Government take meaningful steps to look into the causes of the ethno-political conflict? Why did it fail to ascertain how this conflict triggered violence and disaster in Sri Lanka? Did it worsen the ethnic issues for personal gain? Do the ruling party members recruit their supporters, in order to strengthen their positions by exploiting on ethnic lines to win votes? Don’t they think the country comes before themselves?
It may therefore not be that easy to unite a multi-ethnic, multi-religious heterogeneous group of people as one nation.
We speak different languages. Tamil or Sinhalese, unlike in India, the US or the UK.
Our politicians too are used to whipping up communalism for their political survival. We must always remember according to the 1961 Census in India, they have 1,652 “mother tongues”.
We have nevertheless made substantial progress in recognising the Tamil language as an official language in our Constitution. In India, there are 22 official languages listed in the Constitution. We now need to give equal treatment to all citizens, regardless of their culture and ethnicity. We must now take steps to introduce Tamil/Sinhalese to the curriculum as a compulsory subject in schools as well. The people of Sri Lanka on the January 8 indicated positively that they need to change the entire process in order to establish good governance and rule of law in the country. MS-RW Government has therefore taken initial steps to bring in legislation not to permit vituperative divide or cause other issues on ethnic grounds and to ensure social justice to all communities.
A society built on trust needs to be recreated as a priority matter. President has introduced Constitutional amendments to prune down some dictatorial powers of the Executive Presidency too.
We should strengthen the hands of MS-RW who will now provide us with essential bedrock for progress, which is necessary for the country’s forward journey.
Since 1950s successive Governments had only implemented policies to “win elections”.
This had eventually created an environment of distrust between Sinhalese and Tamils. Distrust, no doubt, is prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, it is now important Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims should put aside their differences. Country has suffered endlessly for our own follies. Our struggle therefore should be to build up national unity for the benefit of the people.
We also need a political programme that favours justice to all communities, with proper devolution of power to involve those at the grass route levels. We must never forget that the kind of politics that existed then ultimately led to the secessionist demand in 1970s. The time has come for fair-minded intellectuals to take the centre stage in directing the country in its forward march. The countrymen whether they be Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims have suffered long enough.
It is fortunate that the President and the Prime Minister are dedicatedly committed to restore communal harmony by introducing necessary social reforms to give the rightful place to all communities without discrimination in the life of the nation. In order to realise these aspirations, the MS-RW Government is planning to improve power sharing to promote trust and confidence and strengthen co-existence between diverse communities in order to forge a common future. MS-RW will not allow communalism, racism, majoritarianism and even political corruption at any cost.
Shouldn’t we realise that the politicians so far under the guise of beneficial rule deprived the masses of their fair share along with the public servants. The public therefore must go forward and not backwards. We should now set aside differences or divisions. Professor Rohan Gunaratne has said:
“Sri Lanka’s future is in multicultural coexistence, moderation and tolerance. It is certainly not a place for communities to live in ethnic ghettos incubating and promoting racial and religious hatred. But this vision is still a work in progress and will require awareness, dialog and the participation of all enlightened elite and their communities”. It is certainly encouraging and commendable that the present Government has undertaken to introduce laws to prevent anyone insulting/criticising another’s religion, race or culture. We may also consider provisions whether it is necessary to introduce laws to prevent political parties organised on sectarian lines. If so, such parties should be outlawed. It is sad certain politicians in sheer desperation making various harmful statements. They could cause irreversible damage once again to a country struggling so hard to stand up on its own feet.
Will the voters act with responsibility because most politicians would love to lead if they have politically blind people?