By Ananda Ariyarathne
‘Organized Chaos’ is the most appropriate definition of the Sri Lankan Political Scene. Chaos is a condition that develops with the absence of objective oriented processes, be it cultural, economic, or political. Culturally, we see a future generation growing into a self centred and therefore selfish one, causing the destruction of the principle of mutual respect and that in turn creates a social creature craving only to grab things totally disregarding the age old ethics that discipline us.
The wrong values instilled in the members of the generation make them feel overconfident about competence and freedom. This is the mentality that works even for the politicians who have become a shameless breed of scatterbrains who come up with policies that ruin the economy and create an unsustainable system with cancerous tendencies. Rational thinking no longer exists.
Where did our Politicians fail?
Are politicians genuinely worried about the problems of the people? This is the reason why politicians need to be accountable to the general public. The only respectable exit for the Tamil extremist politicians is to show that they have not given up. It is alright if it is the most genuine answer. This will be the worst constitutional experiment, if implemented.
The first challenge all of them had was to be futuristic. As they did not have a clear vision, there could not have been any futuristic vision. They bragged being far ahead when Singapore started trying to get the grip. We were contented. What was there to correct? The answer was nothing, because our fellows never made mistakes. The Korean Boom brought in more foreign exchange, but their happiness was short lived, and labour unrest created a crisis. For them, development meant rice cultivation and bragging about the ancient kings. The country was saved with a timely solution like the Rice–Rubber Pact. The feeling that the Sinhalese majority had been abandoned resulted in the plan to mobilize the majority against the United National Party (UNP) Government.
A ‘stalwart’ like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike identified the formula – The Mobilization of the following forces – Buddhist Monks, Native Medicine Men (Ayurvedic Physicians), Teachers, Farmers who were more or less tenant farmers. The workers and the UNP were reduced to 8 seats in the Parliament. That was the beginning of the end for Sri Lanka as it started the rift between the Sinhala majority and the minorities. Although the Tamil politicians tried to start movements towards separatism, they could not get a foothold. What S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike did started a series of developments that should not have occurred in the first place. The nationalization brought in exemplary results in the economic sphere, but as they were not linked and anchored properly, their strength also became short-lived. Finally, all the nationalized services became the employment providers, and they in turn ended up as dumping grounds for party supporters. The Language Policy resulted in widespread inefficiency in Public Administration resulting in inferior managerial skills resulting in blunders like what they did in the education and higher education sectors. The degradation in Public Services resulted in smart thinking officials who at least had the capacity to maintain things. The aimless development plans did not address the issues and therefore did not produce the expected outcome. The large numbers of Arts Graduates passing out of the four main campuses meant that there were a huge number of graduates, but no suitable jobs. The Prime Minister and other ministers who led them could not plan according to the needs of the country. The situation became grave with the inevitable radicalism in a situation like that and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) came into being from among the youth of the Sinhalese majority. Although the insurrection was suppressed,the key issues were not sorted out.
During the same period, politically, very patriotic sounding actions were taken. It was during that period that the Second Constitution was created. The patriotic fervour that pushed the political leadership forward did well and clarified the country’s sovereignty, but there could not have been any special changes to minorities’ aspirations. In the meantime, the suffering of the people became worse, although some positive steps were taken. Around this time, the Nationalistic Economic Policy used a strategy to earn foreign exchange and conserve foreign exchange reserves through stringent ‘Import Substitution’ and ‘Export Promotion.’ Dr. N.M. Perera laid the foundation for the enhancement of local productivity on one hand and Foreign Exchange Conservation on the other hand through a simple but unique system. That could be considered as the only ‘silver lining’ in the cloud, but this did not last for long thanks to insiders like Anura Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike who hated people like Dr. N.M. Perera and they somehow managed to get rid of the leftist ministers who were engaging in meaningful projects.
Changing the Trend
The headstrong politics earned enough frustration among the voters everywhere, and that tendency of ‘Rejection Syndrome’ that is inseparable, set in. The government was punished as a result. The landslide victory of the United National Party (UNP) was one of the turning points in Sri Lankan political history. Although it was never mentioned by those who came to power, they took over a country which was very strong in terms of its foreign exchange position. Restriction free imports were permitted with the new Open Economic Policy and mega investments were prioritised, which provided employment to many. Export oriented ready-made garment factories were a good example, but the unprofessional approaches by politicians like Ranasinghe Premadasa meant that glorified racketeers lead the scenes. Those projects looked legitimate but the truth was they were only motivated by ‘quota sales.’ Export promoters made money by selling ‘export permits’ and the economy became more and more open, but no effort was made to monitor efficiency.
The Ignored Aspects
While such developments were taking place, what did our politicians do? Starting from the very inception of Sri Lankan administration of our own future, the cost of living continued to rise and even a student in the fifth grade would be able to add things up and understand what was going on. The population grew, but there was a lack of houses. Even at this moment in time, we do not have a plan. For how long can you claim that land is available, but houses cannot be built? It is hilarious to see our ministers declaring open housing schemes with small houses, which are not capable of accommodating the entire family.
Population growth creates other issues like education and health related issues. The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) crisis is a good example and it clearly shows that the government has no strategic plan to deal with such issues. On one hand it is an investment problem while on the other hand it is a matter linked to standards. Some ‘smart’ politicians claim that it should be shuttered, while others claim that SAITM should be allowed to carry on with its operations unhindered. What is really wrong is the ‘reality.’ The reason why public health has fallen into this plight is because there is an absence of a vision. Money is not the solution to every problem out there, but anything without a vision has no direction. In short, we do not have a strategic plan for our nation. Those are the main problems this nation is plagued with plus the politicians who are incompetent. This is the beginning of the end.
Impact of an Unwanted Constitution
We are already a confused nation. We do not know what our priorities are. It becomes worse when individuals cannot identify the issues that are plaguing society. Very recently, there was a report of a Former Secretary of Defence meeting a key Buddhist religious personality. One point he had mentioned is very logical. The Former President should not be going around the country and pointing out everybody’s shortcomings. He had the chance to serve the nation and it is due to his own mistakes that the country is facing such a disastrous situation now. Instead of criticising, he should make him aware of the looming dangers and assure him that he is willing to support him at any given time. Can and will the President reject such help? It is clear that the former President is trying to come back to power.
The issues have been forgotten
The most important priority at the moment is supporting the current President and helping him to save this country, because this is our country after all. It has become a battle of wits. When opposed, anyone’s reaction is to defend and that is why the President is compelled to ignore.
It is clear that the common opposition does not have a strategy to save the country. Instead, they are busy yelling. In the middle of this commotion, the determined and dedicated effort in promoting the illogical constitution continues. How many of our politicians are aware of this reality? Aren’t we in a nationally chaotic situation? History is the best educator a society can have and the most important things can be decided as the main objective has to be not to repeat mistakes. Unlike in the good old days, everything is clear now. That is why the mistakes become the best teachers. Now start taking each malady we have in our society, we will see very clearly that everything had happened due to the absence of ‘futuristic’ thinking. The worst is that we not only ignore the past mistakes, but also boldly and brazenly plan to make the mistakes we have already committed. Isn’t this planning for ‘chaos’?
Ignoring Buddhist Teachings and PrinciplesSinhalese being around 75-78% cannot be ignored in finding solutions. By forcing Sinhalese to accept the conditions dictated by outside forces, a solution cannot be found. It is a very sensitive issue to drag Buddhism and the Scared Tooth Relic into politics, but unfortunately this is the reality. The best approach is to avoid the topic in the first place. There is a lot the government can learn from Buddhism and there is a lot that people from other faiths can learn from Buddhism as well. Buddhism promotes coexistence, but what do our politicians do? Instead of reducing the tension, they make very dangerous remarks calling for retaliatory action. Although the criterion for identifying the ruler changed over the years, it continued to remain as the symbol of sovereignty and even the British did not discard that as an absurdity. Even after Sri Lanka was granted independence, the importance did not fade away. It was as if the Tooth Relic became the symbol of authority. Is there anything wrong with that? Could a society just forget the presence of such a force? It was more straightforward before independence as Sinhalese Buddhists did not have time to create divisions in society. This explains the importance that Buddhism plays in Sri Lankan politics. It has become such a symbiotic relationship between Buddhism and the Scared Tooth Relic and then the Sinhalese and Buddhism. The Sinhalese culture is so much intertwined with Buddhism and the Tooth Relic; it becomes a very sensitive area psychologically. The British maintained what they took over and it was a country with a very large Sinhalese community. It was no different when the British granted independence. Although the government under the first independent constitution did not have any special reason to be selective, the place Buddhism had in practice was there and it never bothered the minorities, as there was no need for the communities to feel suspicious about each other. The United National Party (UNP) which formed the first government just continued feeling confident that they were doing the right thing, and there was no need for them to become futuristic, as the going was good, but the feeling of wellbeing was short lived.