Why Sri Lanka lags behind other Asian countries | Daily News

Why Sri Lanka lags behind other Asian countries

“We are far behind other Asian countries” said the Most Venerable Devaludena Gnanassira Mahanayake Thera of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya in his Independence Day message. “This is the 69th Anniversary celebration. In retrospect, it is clear that we are far behind the other Asian countries who received Independence after our country, no matter who ruled the country within this period” is an extract of his statement.

Singapore, closer to home, is a classic example. It is common knowledge that Singapore lagged far behind Sri Lanka in the early 1950s (then Ceylon) so much so that the late Singaporean leader, Lee Kwan Yew was longing to “catch up with Ceylon” and in fact that was one of hi s election pledges then. Subsequently, Lee, having relinquished his long stint as Prime Minister, yet remained in the Cabinet as Minister, Mentor for a few years. And, later, in his memoirs titled “From 3rd to 1st world”, released during his lifetime, he had occasion to remark that Sri Lanka got bogged down, having got into “turbulent waters” (to quote him) with conflicts which kept arising with the introduction of Sinhala as the sole official language.

On the other hand, in the case of Japan , as is well known, it was devastated by the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 in quick succession. But, the Japanese, undeterred by that monumental disaster, rose from the ashes like the Pheonix and by sheer determination and dint of hard work, rose eventually to become the second world economic power after the US. Of course, Japan has since been far outstripped by China, but that is another matter, given the vast strides made by China during the last few decades, to replace Japan.

Beginning of division

Buddha Sasana and Justice Minister, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, in his article titled “Independence in Retrospect” (Daily News, 04.02.2017) adverts to the arrival of Prince Wijaya in the island with 700 of his friends; and the narrative extends right up to the 69th Anniversary of Independence. He then makes a passing reference to the non-- implementation of the Bandaraike-Chelvanayakam pact and the Dudley - Chelvanayakam pact due to ‘various influences and interferences’. He then proceeds to state as follows:-

“During the last seven decades after Independence, our efforts to establish a peaceful state underpinned by sustainable development have been made inefficient and ineffective by the 30- year war and also by the insurrection we had to encounter in 1971 and 1987/88.”

In the first place, the historical background or root cause of the war, the genesis of the LTTE etc. are seldom dispassionately or objectively analysed my many a political analyst or commentator from the South, and then the abject failure of successive governments to address the legitimate concerns of the Tamils constituting an integral part of the country’s sovereign people, for equality and dignity with the right to substantive power-sharing. One has to remember that there was no demand for a separate State for well over two decades even after the Tamils felt isolated and sidelined by the Sinhala Only Act, Bandaranaike having jettisoned his own founding manifesto of the SLFP , providing for Sinhala and Tamil as official languages.

It is on record that Sir John Kotelawala, the then Prime Minister, on his visit to Jaffna before the 1956 General Elections, held out a promise to make Sinhala and Tamil the country’s official languages. Thereupon, stiff opposition surfaced in the South, and the UNP changed course to Sinhala only. Then, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike made a long jump to enthrone, “Sinhala only within 24 hours”, as the battle cry to face the 1956 elections.

Of course, Bandaranaike carried the day, and soon introduced the “Sinhala Only” Bill in Parliament. During the debate on the bill, he dismissed not only the arguments advanced by Tamil Parliamentarians that the bill would constitute an infringement of section 29 of the then Soulbury Constitution, but also the strong opposition to the bill expressed by the then Left leaders that it would ignite a future demand by the Tamils for a separate state, as encapsulated in the oft-repeated slogan “Two languages - one nation; one language – two nations or two bleeding halves” as stridently articulated by Colvin. R. De Silva.

Breakdown of pacts

The BC pact, though it fell rather short of meeting the concerns of the Tamils, was nevertheless, a half-way house which Chelvanayagam subscribed to. However, Bandaranaike dilly- dallied over its implementation for well over a year on the pretext of explaining the pact to the Sinhala people, leaving room for J.R. Jeyawardena to launch the ‘Pada Yatra’ to Kandy, buttressed by the Buddhist Clergy; some 400 of them converged on his Rosmead Place residence and virtually intimidated Bandaranaike into tearing the BC pact to shreds. It was again a similar fate that befell the Dudley-Chelvanayagam pact which Dudley Senanayake abrogated in 1965 having caved in to the opposition that arose in the South.

Originally, all peaceful agitational campaigns launched by the Tamil leaders were crushed by the State, commencing with the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike deploying the Army to Jaffna to break up the Satyagraha campaign launched opposite the Jaffna Kachcheri in 1961 and the Tamil leaders (of the Federal Party) were arrested and locked up at the Panagoda Army cantonment.

Role of Jaffna Youth Congress

Now, as we celebrate the 69th anniversary of Independence from colonial rule, it is appropriate to dwell, if briefly, on the role played by the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC) pioneered in the late 1920s by that distinguished educationist, Handy Perinbanayagam. The JYC had in its fold a galaxy of distinguished educationalists of the caliber of Orator Subramaniam, Swamy Vipulananda , A.S. Kanagarathnam, Leftist leaders such as P. Nagalingam, ex- Senator, Jeyam Tharmakulasingham and many others. Almost all the Southern Leaders of all hues were invited by the JYC to grace their annual sessions. The JYC strove untiringly for national unity, for bilingualism and, last but not least, to eradicate caste discrimination etc in the North.

It is indeed quite remarkable that the JYC was the first organisation in the country to call for full Independence. And this was acknowledged by none other than former President. Mahinda Rajapaksha in his 63rd Independence Day speech.

And very significantly, President Maithripala Sirisena in his recent 69th Independence Day speech underlined the need for a collective effort by the people to secure economic independence. In other words, it is a clarion call that all hands shoed be put to the plough. Well, then the prerequisite for that is, first and foremost, the removal of the cancer of bribery and corruption, nepotism, and very importantly, the root cause of the 26-year-long war. And there is the perennial problem of heavy military presence even after eight years since the end of the war, and the attendant problem of non-return of lands of the war-displaced people. 

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