Today we commemorate 69 years of breaking free from the last shackles of Colonial rule. Before World War II the cliché that,“The sun never set on the British Empire,” held good. For decades, this was true, because the British colonial Empire touched all corners of the globe.
There was no one process of decolonization. In some areas, such as neighbouring India independence was achieved only after a protracted revolution. In the case of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, it was comparatively peaceful and orderly. Some historians claim that our then leaders simply rode on the coattails of their Indian counterparts to shrug off the mantle of colonial dominion and achieve self-rule under the guise of parliamentary democracy.
Now nearly seven decades later the nation’s most famous sea-side promenade, the Galle Face Green, has been all ‘tarted’ up to host the big occasion with the usual military pageants and panache reserved for a gala Freedom Day celebration.As in past years it will be a colourful extravaganza of military marches, cultural dances and drill displays which will culminate in a spectacular fireworks display. The politicians, as expected, will be in thick of it.
Obviously, for our present political fraternity such chimera springs from a natural temperament for swagger more than the need to address the varied burning issues confronting the nation. Yes, this will be the day reserved for the members of one of the world’s flabbiest cabinets and its Opposition to get all soppy and teary-eyed before the TV cameras displaying patriotic sentiment while lustily singing the National Anthem.
Despite the pomp and parades, is there any really good reason that our nation has to celebrate its 69 years of Independence? Has life improved for the people of Sri Lanka in the past nearly seven decades since independence? Most of the nation’s citizenry will tell you that there appears hardly any justification to party.
While our nation has for decades been relapsing and stuck in a farcical constitutional and economic skirmish many of our neighbours without even a tiny proportion of our country’s assets or potential have progressed and leapt into becoming Asia’s economic powerhouses.
Indeed, geographically situated strategically between the busy trading crossroads of China and India, blessed with fertile land, water resources and an educated populace, the nation was positioned after World War II to compete with Singapore for the spoils of Japan’s transitory industrial demise.
The real problem is that our nation proceeded to bungle its chances under a series of governments. But our history of missed opportunities in this sphere has not been limited to its economic policies and political greed. Over time ethnic and social divisions have also served to the undoing of the country’s progress.
These small states today are showing the Third World the revolutionary prosperity of economic freedom and hard work. The success of the ‘Little Dragons’ is all the more remarkable in that they started from nothing. Taiwan and South Korea have no natural resources of any consequence. Singapore even has to import food and drinking water.
Yet, these states did have one thing going for them – the character of their people and the relentless determination of their politicians to lift their nations from the bootstraps. All three societies share a strong work ethic and place high values on education, savings and frugality. While Sri Lanka contrarily has retrogressed into a ridiculous backslide, they are all humming their way towards modernity and unprecedented prosperity. And imagine! States such as Singapore once looked at Sri Lanka as a role model for emulation. If Singapore barren of natural resources, could become a rich nation so quickly, why not us with all these natural resources around us?
Singapore, in its current political state, has only been around for 50 years. In this short time, it has defied all odds, and become one of the world’s most outstanding countries. It leads the world in education, banking, and shipping, and has created an everyday existence of unrivalled cleanliness, safety and stability. In Singapore, even petty theft is uncommon.
In Sri Lanka, since the mid-sixties or so, democracy has been a procedure of constant learning for the public. And, what revolting lessons we have learned from our political process through all those years. Yes, this country has seen it all including the type of degraded politics which has resulted in legislative anarchy that has staggered between authoritarian mob rule and opportunistic horse-trading.
But the result of the change is a precariously nauseating arrangement. It is a squalid system where successive governments for the past four decades or so have all been chipping away at the institutional checks and balances which are supposed to shackle the elected servants of the people to the will of the real sovereign – which in case they have failed to remember – is the voting public.
Such extravagant ludicrousness and egotistical posturing highlight the wilder thinking and perhaps utter desperation of certain punch-drunk politicians staggering against the ropes. There is nonetheless the coarse political veracity to contend with, that makes it hard to get rid of the profligate ‘fat’ in many areas of government spending.
Many analysts are tossing around the question as to why our successive administrations didn’t desperately attempt to stabilize the situation instead of playing patron to and molly-coddling their corrupt politicians and party flunkies. All the government’s razzmatazz and superficial trappings can’t hide the fact that the country is in a sorry mess both politically and economically.
The new hard times are much more in evidence than ever before, affecting the lives of millions of ordinary people. There have been no measures aimed at cushioning the impact of inflation on the hard-pressed public who have suffered increasingly intolerable financial burdens either.
The people for decades have many grievances about the way the country is being governed. Most of them are rooted in a dislike for the excessive influence that many legislators are seen to exert on the economic and political life of the country. Several of them have appeared to lack even a clear organizing theme let alone being able to conjure up any bold, strategic moves to overcome crisis.
Commemorating Independence is one thing. But celebrations! In truth, there isn’t even a remote excuse for making whoopee. Let’s face the reality that no one will be disposed to frisking and frolicking on an empty stomach. One political devil always difficult to exorcise is hunger, because a hungry population is often an angry population and hardly in the mood for cavorting.