"Sri Lanka: What went wrong"

This book was first published in December 2000 by Swastika (Pvt) Limited and is now on sale in Sri Lanka. Last December "The Sunday Island" obtained exclusive serial rights and we published two instalments. With this book going into its first re-print in June, today we publish the third and final instalment.

In 1948 at the advent of Independence, Sri Lanka was one of the most prosperous and peaceful nations in South-East Asia. Indeed we were the envy of Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Singapore. Today nobody envies us and we are neither prosperous nor peaceful. Who above all was responsible for that abysmal decline?

In my judgement every Head of Government since Independence has let down the nation. Some of them were men, others women. Some were from highly connected families, others were from families with no such connections. Some were educated in the best of schools in Sri Lanka and in the best of Universities in the world. Others were high school drop outs. Yet they have just one common factor. With unfailing regularity they placed their personal interests or their party interests ahead of our national interests. To any mature adult that is a certain formula for chaos. Till that defect is corrected our nation will continue to slide, as we have ever since our Independence.

According to supporters of the PA the greatest leader this nation produced in the twentieth century was Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. According to supporters of the UNP it was either Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake or President J. R. Jayewardene. According to me none of them were statesmen.

In 1948 when we obtained our Independence without a shot being fired in anger, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake the architect of our Independence, was affectionately referred to as "The Father of the Nation". However within a few years he put his personal interests ahead of our national interests and began to groom his son Dudley Senanayke as his successor. Dudley Senanayke then in his late thirties was a very acceptable Minister of Agriculture. It was amazing that the Prime Minister who was accredited with an abundance of common sense although he was a high school drop out, chose to ignore that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the Leader of the House, was a Cabinet Minister since 1936 whereas Dudley Senanayake only since 1947. That reprehensible decision split the UNP asunder and Bandaranaike defected to the Opposition in 1951 to form his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), as a democratic alternative to the UNP.

The differences of opinion between D. S. Senanayake and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike were not on ambition alone. There was a huge divergence in their political thinking. Ever since his days at Oxford, Bandaranaike was thinking aloud of the sweeping structural changes in our society after Independence. His vision was power shifting from the Westernized elite to the indigenous hoi polloi. On the other hand the vision of D. S. Senanayake was to obtain Independence without shedding a drop of blood and that he achieved splendidly.

After his return from Oxford in 1925, Bandaranaike advocated Sinhala and Tamil to supplant English as the Official languages of Sri Lanka, after the advent of Independence. In 1931 when he formed the Sinhala Maha Sabha to contest our first General Election under adult franchise, he advocated Sinhala and Tamil to replace English after Independence. That was indeed revealing because the Sinhala Maha Sabha, as the name suggests, was a highly chauvinistic Organisation and Sinhala Buddhism was the power base of Bandaranaike. In 1946 when the UNP was formed to contest the General Election scheduled for 1947 to elect our first Parliament he was still advocating Sinhala and Tamil to replace English. In 1951 when he left the UNP in disgust, he advocated Sinhala and Tamil replacing English in twenty four hours. At the General Election of 1952 the SLFP advocated Sinhala and Tamil in 24 hours. Then in 1954 when the SLFP was in the political wilderness, without any warning he changed his language policy to Sinhala only in 24 hours. That was a high risk gamble which worked like a charm on the Sinhalese. It culminated in his landslide victory at the General Election of 1956. The Official Language Act of 1956 was promulgated in a few months and rioting erupted immediately between the Sinhalese and Tamils. Rioting erupted again on a bigger scale in 1958. In 1983 the intermittent rioting escalated into a civil war that is still raging.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was an intellectual of the highest possible calibre. For example he is by far the most quoted politician in Sri Lanka of the twentieth century. Another example of his intellectual capacity was that after his first visit to Jaffna in 1926, he advocated Federalism as the only honourable way for the Sinhalese and Tamils to live together after Independence. (S. J. V. Chlevanayagam first advocated Federalism in 1949).

If so how did S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike suddenly advocate Sinhalese Only in 1954 when the SLFP was in the political wilderness? He merely placed his personal interests ahead of our national interests. The disastrous consequences of that decision are too well known to need enumeration here.

J. R. Jayewardene did even worse after he came to power in 1977. He was the most experienced Head of Government Sri Lanka has ever produced. By 1977 Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene had completed 30 years in the Legislature. He was a Cabinet Minister for 14 years including 3 years as a Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition for 7 years. After his landslide victory he fashioned a new Constitution to suit his own needs as opposed to the needs of the nation. In 1978 he began a witch hunt to remove from the political scene his principal rival, defeated Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike. Retroactive legislation was brought in and when that was not sufficient The First Amendment to the Constitution was introduced and his objective achieved. Duly elected President for a second term in 1982, he wanted at any cost to retain the two-thirds majority in Parliament. Under the new PR system that was not possible. In fact the world record for the victor under the PR system was 59.4% in Denmark in 1980. Therefore he suddenly claimed there was a Naxalite threat to Parliament. The Inspector-General of Police, Rudra Rajasingham, and the Army Commander, Major-General "Bull" Weeratunga had never heard of such a threat. (So they told me) The subject was never discussed at a Cabinet meeting (that was common knowledge), yet the President was sure of himself. He said the country just cannot have a General Election with a Naxalite threat. Therefore he would have a Referendum to extend the lifetime of Parliament by six years. Then he berated the Government Parliamentary Group saying that some of them were a disgrace (that was probably the only truthful statement he made that day) and wanted every MP present to give him an undated letter of resignation. All but two obliged. The Referendum was held and like the General Election of 2000 it was flawed but reflected the will of the people. Thereafter the Naxalite problem disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared!

The common factor in these examples pertaining to our ablest of leaders is that they placed their personal or party interests ahead of our national interests.

The present President is no better. She clearly stated before the General Election of 2000, that any politician tampering with the electoral process will not be considered for Ministerial posts. That promise, like most of her promises before the General Election of 1994, was observed in the breach. Her predecessor in office, a historical accident at best, was even worse. He pardoned two convicted criminals from the UNP, who were absconding, even before they began their period of imprisonment.

The national interests of Sri Lanka are sacrosanct to us Sri Lankans. Anybody, be it the President, the Prime Minister or Cabinet Ministers who tampers with it to further either party interests or personal interests must be punished in a deterrent manner. New legislation must be introduced to impeach them.

The President maybe impeached by a full bench of the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers by a divisional bench of the Supreme Court, the impeachable offence being placing personal interests or party interests above the national interests of Sri Lanka.