74 Independence Day : Much needs to be done to resuscitate Sri Lanka
Tomorrow, Sri Lanka will mark its 74th anniversary of Independence after being under foreign rule for 443 years since 1505 – dominated first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and finally by the British.
We thought it would be appropriate on a day such as this, to reminisce, even in capsule form, on the life and times of Sri Lanka’s greatest statesman and servant leader Don Stephen Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon as this country was then known and especially to reflect on the subject of agriculture, which was so close to his heart.
We wonder what he would have had to say given that Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector was in tatters with even rice having to be imported in large quantities while farmers were lamenting that without fertiliser their paddy and other food crops had failed miserably and they were thus destined to a life of destitution and deprivation.
DS restored ancient tanks and irrigation networks in the dry-zone fully aware that fertile lands were covered by dry zone jungles and relocated the landless in the wet zone under his colonisation schemes; one such was the Gal-Oya Multi-Purpose Scheme which he launched to colonise uninhabitable areas and resettle some 250,000 people there.
His settlements launched at Minneriya, Padaviya and Gal Oya among several others tell us much about his achievements and laid the foundation for a new era of self-sufficiency in rice and other food crops.
In a country without coal, oil or gas, DS encouraged the development of several hydroelectric power projects including the one at Inginiyagala. If the Governments that followed had expanded and developed these projects in the interests of the country and the people, the power cuts being imposed today would have been hardly necessary.
National unity was another subject dear to his heart and he strived hard to attain the goal of unity in diversity where all Sri Lankans, whatever their caste, creed or community, would be proud of their Sri Lankan identity and live in amity and harmony.
The following are excerpts from his address to the Nation on February 4, 1948, outlining his vision and mission as the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka):
“Today is a very special day. It’s a day that brings happiness to all Sri Lankans. For four hundred-odd years our forefathers, who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect Sri Lanka that was a free country for more than two thousand years, unable to protect that freedom, had to hand the country to the English people some hundred-odd years ago. Years after the handing over, however, the control of our Lanka has again come back to us.
“Today all of us must be contented that we were able to achieve independence without a violent struggle, without spilling blood. I believe that we were able to achieve our goal only because we acted according to our religious beliefs and rejected armed struggle and thereby abandoned the spilling of blood.
“Now at the time we are celebrating Independence, let all of us Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and all those who have links to Sri Lanka, unite in brotherly and sisterly love to rise with determination seeking the development of our country and our people”.
From the very inception, D.S. Senanayake identified the importance of broadening the country’s agricultural base so as to enhance the income of the masses. He realised that depending solely on tea, rubber and coconut was certainly not healthy because for one thing their prices depended on world market conditions, of which Sri Lanka had no control whatsoever and on the other hand even during periods of success only a trickle of the income earned from exports flowed down to the people as the estates were owned by a handful of individuals.
“He was a man of great personal strength of character, yet of profound humanity and humility, unspoiled by the high distinctions he enjoyed. He belonged to the soil and all things of the soil. He loved all living things with a depth, which only those who belong to the soil can feel.” – Former Australian Ambassador Percy Spender said at the passing away of Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake on March 22, 1952.
Taking a deep and incisive look at the years between then and now, there is no gainsaying the fact that none of the successive governments that administered Sri Lanka had succeeded in building on the legacy that this great visionary and the Father of the Nation left behind so that his beloved Sri Lankans could live in peace, dignity, economic freedom and social justice.
Courtesy: Daily Mirror Editorial