“Where the mind is without fear and the head held high,
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that haven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
We need to reflect on these immortal words of Philosopher Rabindranath Tagore as we celebrate today the 69th anniversary of our independence.
Significantly the national government has chosen unity as the theme for the year or years to come with special emphasis and practical steps being taken for reconciliation and lasting peace along with the implementation of a sustainable development strategy which will be eco-friendly and all inclusive.
For the first time since independence, the two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are working together in a National Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe. Despite policy differences and disputes – quite understandable when parties with different views worked together – the President and the Prime Minister have pledged they will stay together till their noble vision and goals are achieved.
This year’s priority issues are poverty alleviation, the battle against climate change or global warming, a commitment to a peaceful resolution of conflicts without resorting to violence or war and the consolidation of democracy. On the eve of independence, it was significant that the historic Right to Information Act (RTI) became operative. On these priority issues all people and parties on a day like today could reflect on the need to go beyond narrow-minded selfishness and put the country’s interests before the party or personal interest. President Sirisena himself – though facing one of the biggest splits in the SLFP – has repeatedly pledged he would not allow this crisis to divert him from the principle of putting the country first.
Since independence, the ethnic issue has been the main block to progress and we have not been able to consolidate ourselves as one nation.
Constitutional experts Jayampathy Wickramaratne and Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, in a television interview to mark Independence Day expressed hope that the proposed constitutional changes would lay the foundation for lasting peace and unity in diversity. According to them the devolution of power to the provinces should not only mean political power but also the devolution of economic and administrative powers. Through that process all provinces including those in the South would have sufficient economic resources and administrative authority to implement their own development projects for the benefit of their people. That would give a practice meaning to the people being sovereign. As a safeguard, the Central Government will maintain the authority to dissolve any provincial council that goes or tries to go towards too much self-rule or any form of separation.
However, there have been many opposing views as well. They question the basis for power-devolution when the actual need is de-centralisation of administration. That would be the most beneficial to the people of all ethnicities at grassroots level. The history of power devolution and the manner in which the 13th Amendment was virtually imposed on Sri Lanka by India through the Indo-Lanka accord also raises many questions with regards the arguments raised in favour of power devolution.
Along with the resolution of the ethnic conflict, all Sri Lankans could work on a common strategy for poverty alleviation. A more equitable distribution of wealth and resources, the provision of good healthcare, education and job opportunities are practical aspects of this economic strategy. In the battle against climate change all races and religions could come together in finding creative eco-solutions such as solar and wind energy, curbing deforestation and the pollution of our rivers and the ocean. On this Independence Day let us all make a resolution to be good citizens who would ask not what our country has done for us but what we have done for our beautiful country.