As the country chalks up 74 years of national Independence today with the customary usual pomp and ceremony a stock taking is in order to determine our achievements and setbacks and also ponder on the prospects and challenges in the future. Have we collectively failed as nation or can we be happy at our present position seven decades on? Of course, there will be the usual patriotic rhetoric that will be heard from Independence Day platforms and of the achievements and advancement made as a people. But as is the norm most of these speeches will be centred on the political achievements of various individuals and entities.
There certainly will be those who will entertain a sense of satisfaction by the strides made the country in the realm of social advancement and on certain development indicators on the long journey since Independence. There will also be those who will look back on with certain bitterness at the way things had turned out and others with a sense of nostalgia on what might have been. For most though it will be a gloomy picture for the future.
Those ruing the missed opportunities, no doubt, would ponder on the fact that Ceylon, as we were then known, was a nation which held great promise in terms of progress and development prospects, so much so that Singapore which is an economic powerhouse today was keen to emulate our example. Today, Singapore is far ahead of us in every sense of the word and even countries such as Bangladesh have made great strides.
Where did we go wrong? What made us fail to seize the opportunities and forge ahead as a nation? How did the rot set in? The answer is not difficult to find. No doubt, every Sri Lankan would say in one voice that it was power politics that sent this country on the road to decline. Fractious politics eroded all sense of unity negating the efforts of our founders of Independence who irrespective of caste, creed and race put their collective shoulders together to win for us our coveted freedom at great sacrifice. They worked as one team to obtain Independence and it is a pity that they could not carry that momentum forward for the next few decades.
This lack of unity is still the bug-bear that is thwarting attempts to forge national unity, spawned by a divided polity. As a nation Sri Lanka is divided along communal and religious lines. The deep wounds left by the 30 year civil war still run deep and show no signs of healing. Sporadic incidents of communal violence have also bred uncertainty. Corruption is eating into the vital of the nation pushing it further down the slope. In fact, the secret of countries such as Singapore is eternal vigilance against any acts of corruption at any level. It is easy to develop countries with no corruption. As a workforce too, Sri Lankans are also notorious for their poor work ethic. We do as little as we can get away with in our offices and workplaces with not a thought to the advancement of the nation.
We take pride in being pushed up to the position of a Middle Income Country. But the country is caught up in huge international debts which will be the legacy of the future generations. We must carefully manage all foreign loans and grants and make use of them for development at the village level. Having been battered further by the COVID pandemic, we must make the maximum effort to increase domestic production, increase and diversify our exports and initiate other avenues to earn more foreign exchange. The tourism industry must be developed further with the aim of attracting at least three million tourists per year. The industries and SME sectors too must be developed further.
All in all, the country has a long way to go before it can fulfill the requirements to being recognized as a front-line nation among the international community. Foremost among them is finding a solution to the national question that has bedeviled all chances for unity. We certainly cannot be called truly independent without bringing together all communities under one umbrella and showing the world that we are a truly united nation. This in turn would also be the answer to our economic woes and help achieve our development goals.
True, there is much that we can be justly proud of as a nation. There have been many achievements in many fields and sectors. We can boast of favourable indices in the field of health care while the free education system is still unique in this region, or anywhere for that matter. The country also has connected with the world in a big way through industry and commerce not to mention Information Technology. The tourism sector has grown exponentially and Sri Lanka has entered into several bi-lateral trade agreements that would benefit the country in the long run. Port cities and other mega development projects are coming up that will boost the image of the country while brining it economic dividends. In the field of agriculture too we have made giant strides since Independence and are still famous for our ‘Ceylon Tea’. In the field of sports too we have carved a niche for ourselves on the international stage winning the Cricket World Cup and also have produced several Olympic and Paralympic medallists. There are also other achievements for which as a nation we could be justly proud of.
However, the country needs a new awakening, where, while consolidating our achievements, we could also forge ahead to explore new frontiers. The key to this happening is unity which has so far eluded us as a nation. Hopefully, this Independence Day, there will be a change of heart and approach of the country’s leaders to put behind all parochial considerations and resolve to work in unity to bring progress and prosperity to the country.