Sri Lanka has completed 63 years of independence. Even after 63 years of our own administration, we still blame the colonial rulers for our failures. We are not prepared to look back and find out whether it was the colonial rulers who prompted us to err or whether we erred on our own.
India was important for the British because of its wealth. They plundered mercilessly from India the wealth required for the primitive accumulation of capital necessary for the industrialisation of England. They destroyed the advanced industrial enterprises that had been built up in India and imported from England the products India needed.
Sri Lanka was important for Britain not for its wealth but for its strategic location. The policy followed by the British here was different from their violent policy of plunder in India.
They gave us something more than what they took from us. They turned this country — which had been an extremely advanced country a long time ago and which had subsequently become a backward one due to various reasons — into a developed country with modern infrastructure facilities.
At the time we received our independence we had one of the most developed networks of roads. We had one of the most advanced railway services. Colombo harbour had been turned into a modern port adequate for the country’s needs. In regard to some of the health indicators, we were ahead of most countries. The rate of infant mortality was among the lowest in the world. In regard to literacy, we equalled Japan. In per capita income we were second only to Japan in Asia. By that time we had an administrative organisation better developed than that in most other countries, and a large number of trained administrators.
After 63 years of independence we find that countries which had been far behind us have been able to forge ahead. Our progress has been extremely slow. We are ahead of the others only as a country with uninterrupted bloodshed.
In 2010, the per capita GDP income in Sri Lanka was 2,364 US dollars. In Singapore it was 42,653 US dollars, in Japan it was 42,325 US dollars. In Hong Kong per capita income was 31,799 US dollars, in South Korea it is 20,165 US dollars, and in Malaysia it was 7,775 US dollars. They all started from the same or worse positions than us, but have been more successful.
Responsibility for the unfortunate situation should go not to the colonial powers but to us. We have failed after receiving independence to make use of the beneficial conditions we had, and to progress. Although we had shifted from a backward feudal system to a bourgeois system, the transition was not a natural process and consequently, our attitudes remained in the old feudal system.
After receiving independence, we controlled the steering wheel of the political system created by the whites, in accordance with a feudal pattern with which we were familiar. The head of government elected by the people’s vote administered the country, in his term of office, as a feudal king. For the convenience of administration he divided the people by their race, religion, or caste. It was the right of the old feudal king to enjoy, as much as he liked, the common wealth and to give whatever he wished, to persons of his choice. The new head of government enjoyed in a similar fashion. There was no distinct division of power into the legislature, the executive and the judiciary in the old feudal system, and the new head of government abolished that division of power introduced by the British, and took all that power into his own hands. The barren harvest that has been received now after 63 years of independence may be considered the logical outcome of that political system.
If we want to rise up in strength as a country we will have to free ourselves from this political system which has been corrupted by the old feudal regime. We have to shift to a political system which is responsible to the people and which is democratic not only in external appearance but also in essence. We must shift to a system of administration which denies the right of the ruler of the state and the ruling party to plunder public property at will. We must shift to a political system which does not divide the citizens by race, religion, language or caste, and ensures equal rights to all citizens, and looks after all citizens lovingly and without discrimination.
At this moment when our independence completes 63 years, the question of where we went wrong and the question of the changes that should be effected for the progress of the country must be the subject of our discourse. A powerful revolution of thought necessary for the progress of the country can be initiated by moving towards a massive dialogue at national level on that fundamental question. It will be then that society will move towards new thinking that is required for changes. That is where the journey towards the emancipation and progress of the country should start. That is when a great change in the sphere of socio-political thought in Sri Lanka will commence.
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