Sri Lanka’s march of folly – some Vesak thoughts

Edward Gunawardena (Island Opinion Page)

From the impressionable age of thirteen when I was in the Seventh form of St. Joseph’s College, I have been able to observe elections to the House of Representatives or Parliament and the governments that came into existence in independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

After the Senanayake/Kotalawala Administrations of the late forties and the early fifties, the real break from the lingering vestiges of British Colonial practices came in 1956. I was then a final year student at Peradeniya. Solomon Bandaranaike, the erudite Oxonian who had shed his Western attire, language and even the religion of his birth, came to power on an avalanche of votes that came in the wake of the promise of Sinhala Only in twenty four hours.

When the election results were being announced we at Marrs Hall, all friends Kanthi Kamalgoda, Nehru Goonatilleke, Sivalingam, Potta Pathmanathan, Bandu de Silva, Donald Abeysinghe and self and others carried our dear mate the late Dingi Karunatilleke to Carolis’s tuck shop. Dingi had to bear the cost of tea and cigarettes for all. Dingi’s elder brother Nimal Karunatilleke had won the Matale Seat. This was the first result to be announced and this was the result that heralded the victory of SWRD. All the winning names that were being announced were new to us. No murderers or rogues had won. Nor were there such even among losers.

With Bandaranaike at the helm, the country witnessed the beginnings of ethno-religious communalism on the political front and the nationalization of private enterprises on the economic front. With a comfortable majority that owed allegiance to the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya, the drastic changes that came into effect in the fields of education, administration, justice and policing creating innumerable points of friction between the two main ethnic groups of the country, was a legacy of dark clouds with no silver linings, that were to engulf this country with frightful lightning and thunder for decades to come.

Cartoon added by TWImage result for swrd bandaranayaka cartoons

Coaxed by extremists on both sides of the communal divide, the country saw racial conflicts of a brutal nature perpetrated particularly by the majority Sinhalese in 1956, 1958, 1977 (Trincomalee) and 1983. These gory events that blackened the nation’s history eventually culminated in the conflict that lasted nearly three decades.

Vultures, local and foreign, began to see the hidden gold amidst the cruelty of the war. The civilian population of the war zones became voiceless, tragic victims of soldiers of fortune of the warring factions. The plight of generations to come caused no worry to politicians and procurement officials of military hardware salivating at the prospect of lucrative commissions. The nation’s leadership crisis was indeed becoming graver and dangerous. Death squads haunting the media personnel succeeded in keeping the people in the dark and in fear.

The immediate need for reconciliation and the commencement of a meaningful dialogue towards a lasting solution was submerged in the euphoria of victory. With extremists and fanatics more on the side of the majority community holding firmly to their age old views ; and sub-human pseudo leaders foraging for power on racism, communalism and even religion, the prospects of a negotiated settlement keep on receding ; We are back at square one. The heroes of the war have won only a Pyrrhic victory!

The present regime indeed raised the hopes of the people. But these hopes were dashed when it failed to round up the robbers of the nation. To make matters worse, rogues within have brought shame on the regime. For whom to vote at the next election has become the people’s dilemma. Robbery by the cultured or the uncultured; or robbery crudely executed or with finesse is robbery alright. The time has to come sooner or later, as it happened in the French and Russian revolutions, when the people will not guillotine but hang all the rogues, green, blue or red. The real Galle Face hangings are bound to draw bigger crowds to Colombo than on May Day 2017.

Reasonable people are even beginning to surmise whether some of their professed leaders are losing their reason. If not, how could one explain how a Sri Lankan politician by threatening to hoist black flags, could despise and even humiliate the leader of the world’s largest democracy that gave us the Sinhala race and Buddhism? Sri Lanka’s march of folly keeps on gathering momentum by the day.

“Quem deus vult perdere, prius dementat”. The Sanskrit equivalent to this Latin Saying is, “Vinash kale viparith buddhi.” Those whom the gods want to destroy, first make them mad. The process appears to have started in this blessed land.