They came, they saw, they conquered
They stole, they doled, they wandered
We talked, we fought, we thundered
We won, we stalled, we blundered
I’m clearly no poet but if I could sum up our post-independence history, that’s how I would do it. It has been 62 long years since our first prime minister, the honourable D. S. Senanayake, proudly hoisted the national flag that black and white February 4th morning (I say black and white because the only footage available of that historic moment is, sadly, in black and white) and, looking back, we have to ask ourselves how far we’ve come.
A lot of blood and sweat was shed to achieve independence from our colonial masters, and although some might argue that we didn’t “win” our independence but it was merely given to us purely for the sake of circumstantial expediency, the fact remains that our national heroes of all ethnicities, religions and castes fought tirelessly with much vigour and patriotism to win our freedom and that freedom struggle paved the way to achieving Dominion status in 1948, effectively ending a 133 year British occupation (yes, it was an occupation – in many ways).
However, decades later, it is safe to say that those national heroes must be spinning in their graves.
Our freedom struggle, although not a perfect one, was unique in that it was a true manifestation of the hackneyed phrase ‘unity in diversity’. The Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers were all united, at least on the surface, in the face of a powerful foreign adversary and they were able to work towards the one common goal of gaining independence for Ceylon – and they pulled it off.
What ever happened to that unity? Why were we not able to hold on to that? Where did we go wrong?
We are now divided along lines of ethnicity, religion, financial status, political predisposition, etc., etc. Not that such division wasn’t always there, but back then it wasn’t so apparent and we had the capacity to not let that get in the way of moving ahead as a nation. What changed all that?
Take a look at the results of last week’s Presidential Elections for instance. There is a clear division of the vote along ethnic and financial lines. While an overwhelming majority of the rural Sinhalese voted for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Tamils in the North as well as voters in the heart of Colombo and other urban areas voted en masse for General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka, which begs the question, WHY?
Why do the Tamils feel that they must not vote for the preferred candidate of the Sinhalese, and vice versa? Why does the so called Colombo Elite not want to elect a candidate not backed by the UNP for once? Aren’t we all part of the same citizenry? This is not to say that everyone should’ve voted for one candidate and not the other, but shouldn’t we as a country give priority to the bigger issues, such as, I dunno, the freedom and the resultant, (albeit short-lived) togetherness and harmony our forefathers fought so hard for? Shouldn’t we all at least vote as one nation?
The country is at an important crossroads now. A three-decade-old bloody, meaningless war has come to an end. We’re in the threshold of achieving economic stability, if not fast paced development. Isn’t it high time we put these petty differences behind us and moved on, at least as a mark of respect for the likes of Mr. Senanayake to whom we owe so much? It's better than celebrating them once a year, isn't it?
Think about it.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.
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