Sri Lanka’s tryst with destiny
Sri Lanka today celebrates her 66th Independence Day with magnificent pomp, pageantry and spirit of patriotism. The day signifies the effort of a developing nation to celebrate her cherished sovereignty, rich cultural heritage and diverse ethnicity in right earnest.
Indeed, on Feb. 4 each year Sri Lanka unites as a nation, despite fratricidal differences, to commemorate the heroic sacrifices of freedom fighters. It is nothing short of an irony that the same populace, who are at loggerheads today, once fought shoulder to shoulder to achieve political independence from the British yoke. Mahatma Gandhi, principal icon of Indian freedom movement, had greatly influenced the island nations’ nationalists. Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, was very special to Gandhi as he aptly equated the picturesque country to a “resplendent pendant” on the Indian necklace during his visit in 1927. However, in today’s context Gandhi’s utterance is likely to be misinterpreted by a section of Lankan people as another instance of India’s hegemonic attitude toward her miniature neighbors.
In fact, the political landscape of the subcontinent altered drastically with the trio of Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan achieving independence in those initial days of decolonization following the end of a bloody WWII. As Sri Lanka turns 66 today, it is time for the nation to once again reaffirm her faith in plurality. Yes, the country did endure hard times in the past six and half decades but stood firm in the face of repeated onslaught on her sovereignty. The worst one came in the form of a three-decade long civil war that eventually disturbed social amity and dealt a body blow to Sri Lanka’s political vitality. And many Sri Lankans still blame India for their plight, accusing New Delhi of undue interference. Perhaps India’s often-repeated assertion of doing everything under her command to enable the ethnic minorities to become the master of their own destiny within the ambit of a united Sri Lanka has hurt the Sri Lankan psyche badly.
As India continues her engagement with Colombo, perhaps it is also time for New Delhi to be more discreet in handling the bilateral relations so that it does not appear that the Indians are treating Sri Lanka as a vassal state to further New Delhi’s strategic ambition in South Asian region. Years ago Sri Lanka made a tryst with destiny and that destiny was certainly not supposed to be bereft of multi-racial and religious cohabitation. Independent Sri Lanka not only made rapid economic and political progress but also ensured that the minority communities can negotiate their linguistic and cultural rights with a majority ruled government. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayam pact bears testimony to the right intention of providing special autonomy to provincial councils. This radical step would have addressed the communal discord, plaguing the nation for most part of her independent history, adequately and establish a truly pluralistic political culture. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka floundered midway as its journey toward republicanism, laced with number of overarching grand themes including secularism, was interrupted by the advent of rabid ethno-nationalism surreptitiously. However, one must also concede that the island nation did evolve into a modern industrial society from a primitive and feudal agrarian system very fast. Lanka also boasts of impressive social indicators in education and health besides ensuring that none of her citizens goes to sleep hungry with the introduction of a massive food subsidy program. Today, as peace prevails, Sri Lanka is witnessing an impressive growth trajectory. Being the third major country in SAARC, she plays an important role in fostering cooperation among member states and has taken the lead in making South Asia green and happy. Hence, this Independence Day is the perfect opportunity for the Lankan nation to let go of the past, characterized by political alienation and cultural castration, and allow the long suppressed soul of the nation to be liberated from prejudices.