This year on February 4, as has happened over the past 73 years, leaders of the governing political elite ‘celebrated’ this country’s Independence Day with a show of military might.
Sections of the minority communities carried out protest demonstrations in the north and east. Some politicians went to the extent of clothing themselves in black -- perhaps in the hope of getting media coverage. They were successful.
Unfortunately even Sri Lanka’s President described himself as a Sinhala-Buddhist and to emphasise the point, he said he would never hesitate to say so and added that he would govern the country according to Buddhist teachings. Many other politicians too went on to echo similar sentiments.
Independenc Day should be a factor to bring the people of this country together. It should bond us together as Sri Lankans but sadly though at the ‘celebration’ of the 73rd anniversary of our independence, our leaders -- be they Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Adhivassi, all seemed to have forgotten the importance of unity.
One and all stressed the uniqueness and/or particular problems each community faced. No one seemed to remember the most important fact, that we are first and foremost SRI LANKAN and that everything else is secondary.
We seem to have also forgotten the lessons of history... Have we forgotten that the Portuguese gained a foothold in this land because of the divisions and petty politics of the then monarchs...
In 1521, three sons of Vijayabahu, the reigning King of Kotte, put their father to death and partitioned the kingdom among themselves. Bhuvanaika Bahu (one of the sons) sought Portuguese assistance against his brothers from the Portuguese -- to ensure his grandson Dharmapala’s claim to the throne.
Under the 1543 agreement, the Portuguese guaranteed the protection of the prince on the throne and the defence of the kingdom. In return the Portuguese were to be confirmed in all their privileges and were to receive a tribute of cinnamon.
The wars between the local rulers -- one of whom was backed by the Portuguese -- continued for some forty years.
Not surprisingly with our countrymen fighting each other rather than the enemy, the kingdom disintegrated. To make a bad situation worse King Don Juan Dharmapala in 1580 deeded his kingdom to the Portuguese. When he died the Portugese took control of it. In like manner local infighting brought in the Dutch and subsequently the British to our shores and ultimately to the capture of the Kingdom of Kandy -- the last independent kingdom on the isle.
From 1815 until 1948 the then Ceylon languished under colonial rule.
More recently Tamil rebel groups, one of whom (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) describing itself as the sole representative of the Tamil people, through the carnage it perpetrated, brought the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to our shores.
While President Ranasinghe Premadasa was responsible for sending the peacekeepers away, it was only in May 2009 that a semblance of peace returned to this land when under President Mahinda Rajapaksa the terrorist movement was militarily defeated.
Today, just a dozen years after we saw a semblance of peace return to our country, we are once again witnessing an emphasis on our differences, rather than on factors which could bind us. Can we not celebrate the difference and uniqueness of our people instead of treading -- as De Chickera writing in the Daily FT says in ‘the path of separatism’. Can we not use the occasion of our common Independence Day for which all communities strived for, to celebrate our unity in diversity?
The British used the policy of divide and rule to control the destinies of our people and the country.
Unless we Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, and Muslims get our act together and unitedly face the various crises facing our country, we are heading pell-mell into the arms of neo-colonial forces which will use the country and people for their own purposes and gain
We have been blessed with a temperate climate. We have had no earthquakes of any large magnitude. But we are strategically placed on important trade routes which bigger powers are salivating after. Can we, together with our leaders, save ourselves and our country? Or will we once again become a chattel of foreign forces through our blinkered views based on race and religion.