Insensitive leaders be aware that history can repeat!

As much as turning around the economy is absolutely essential, ensuring the happiness of the people is vital for the survival of the politician

Even during the times of the monarchs’ rule, people of this nation paid taxes to the king; the system back then was that the king was the owner of all lands and the people occupying them had to give back part of the income generated through the land

Sri Lankans are very concerned about the much looked forward to Presidential Elections and the proposed tax reforms by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Both are factors which will shape our futures.

Though we cannot be proud of the post D.S. Senanayake era, we did have a past where Sri Lanka, or Ceylon then, was very much on the world map for all the good reasons. Other than the nation’s port facilities, ‘Ceylon’ was known for its Kings and prosperity in agriculture, trade activities and knowledge in irrigation.  

What this writer wishes to present here as a fact is that even during the times of the monarchs’ rule, the people of this nation were paying taxes to the King. The system back then was that the king was the owner of all lands. The people who occupied them had to give back to the ruler part of the income generated from the land. People were only given the authority to cultivate on land, but not the right of ownership to such properties. The kings of yonder also made the people pay a security tax for protecting them. Hence, paying taxes is nothing new to Sri Lankans. 

When you study the elected regimes that were in power and the kingdoms before that, the authorities in this island had a Buddhist way of thinking and the people’s welfare at heart when engaging in administration. But still, with all the interest of the people at heart, regimes pursued collecting taxes from the people. And in return, the kings made it a point to build tanks and support agriculture. The regimes or kingdoms of those days avoided making the mistake of distancing them from the village, the temple and the lands where agriculture practices were seen in abundance. 

This present regime doesn’t seem to be so closely associated with the village or the temple. This is why it needs to time and again make announcements that it would ensure giving priority to Buddhism. This is done in the same manner or tone in promising the public that Sri Lanka would be pulled out of the economic dump it is in. This regime knows that without close links with Buddhism and the saffron robed clergy, no regime can have a smooth run in administrating this country. 

Buddhism teaches us compassion as much as it stresses on impermanence. History shows us that Sinhala-Buddhist rulers were inclined towards people’s welfare, but this aspect was absent when Tamil Kings with a Hindu lineage ruled this island on and off. People’s welfare has always been top priority of Sinhala-Buddhist Kings, but not necessarily with Kings who practised the Hindu faith. That’s why the Elara-Dutugemunu war was termed as a Buddhist-Hindu war by historians and not as a Sinhala-Tamil war.  

It was the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration which declared that the country would have to tighten its belts in terms of curtailing expenses and turning around a crumbling economy. The Wickremesinghe administration, while ‘religiously’ following IMF regulations, relates some of the misfortunes plaguing the country’s economy to state welfare measures. Wickremesinghe doesn’t base economic decisions on theories which will make him popular. The First Citizen of this country reiterates that he will build an economy that will enhance production and reduce imports. Wickremesinghe’s mingling with the downtrodden masses is however seen as an election gimmick. This is because the Wickremesinghe regime, akin to the two Rajapaksa regimes, believes in selling or leasing state properties or borrowing ‘brains’ from Indians and the Chinese to develop this nation. The present regime has to cater to the interest of China and India among other powerful nations before it caters to the interest of the masses. 

The incumbent President assures that with regard to the proposed house tax, or in other words ‘rental tax’, the average income earner will be exempted from it. Voices of dissent, however, have already begun blaring out that the Wickremesinghe regime is ‘mercilessly taxing people’ without recovering monies that were stolen under previous regimes instead. History has taught individuals wielding power that expertise in security, finance and agriculture alone won’t guarantee a long stay in power. People’s welfare and a close relationship with the temple are big rocks in the equation that spells the formula to hold on to power. History gives us enough examples as to how kings lost power when they neglected the temple and the welfare of the people. King Udaya the 3rd killed rebel ministers inside a monastery and earned the wrath of the people. The people revolted and the King went into hiding. The authority that the Buddhist temple generated held sway over the King’s authority or rule in the country. There have been occasions where there have been tussles between arrogant kings and stern Buddhist priests, but the temple has often put cocky regimes and leaders in their place. Such acts by temple priests have received the endorsements of the masses. If we do choose to recall events such as ousting King Udaya the 3rd, it would help immensely in making a study of the events that led to the ousting of Gotabaya, Sri Lanka’s last President elected through the people’s vote. 

We’re again in an era where the temple is neglected and the welfare of the masses isn’t on the priority list of the government. Regimes mustn’t play around with the welfare of the masses and make half-hearted attempts at nudging voters with ‘gifts’ and aid with an election around the corner. 

As much as turning around the economy is absolutely essential, ensuring the happiness of the people is vital for the survival of the politician. The Wickremesinghe regime must turn back the clock and study the tenure of King Kutakanna Tissa (44 BC to 22 BC) and the years running up to 29 AD. People in this island were happy, there were no plagues and no invasions from foreign forces. Most importantly, there was peace in the country in abundance. 

Now, the regime is on a drive to silence the people who wish to voice dissent. This country, which stakes a claim for establishing the world’s first government funded hospital, a few months ago saw its former health minister allegedly having a hand in the process which gave outdated medicines to patients which made a good number of them blind. Forget the depths the economy has fallen into and focus on the decline in human qualities of our present day rulers. Lawmakers who are insensitive and neglect the needs of the masses and the clergy are destined to make a painful exit from power! 

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