Arise! Awake!

Independence days of resurgent nations are occasions to hark back to past glories of the nation, envisage a bright and prosperous future for its people and call upon the nation to make a firm resolve to march forward with determination, overcoming whatever obstacles that may lie ahead.

Today, we may hear about the glories of our past — Sri Lankans having a penchant to hark back to past glories. But by and large, there will be lamentations about the state of the nation and plaintive cries and prayers for peace. There will be few or no calls for the people to rally round the nation, each according to his or her own capacities.

During the past one and a half decades or so, the enemies within us — not only the terrorists — have imperceptibly sapped the morale of the Sri Lankan nation, attempted to destroy the cherished values held by the people and made us an impoverished, squabbling, weeping nation beating our breasts in utter desperation. The mood today is to hope and pray, not to fight our way out of this desperate situation. Thus, if we are to recover, only miracles can help us.

Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe has become the prime minister of this country at such a despondent and desperate moment. The nation needs to be stirred up from this funereal mood by a spirited and enlightened leadership. He has to shake up this nation from the stupor it has got into and tell them that together we can once again be a proud and prosperous nation.

The mourners of this nation who have found war and peace quite a lucrative proposition will say nothing can be done because of the ‘war’. Yes, we need to end this conflict and make all people of this country live in harmony. They are living together in peace and harmony except in the terrorist-controlled areas. But the terrorists and interested parties want to keep this conflict going to destroy the Sri Lankan nation. But while we attempt to bring about a realistic peace — not a fake peace that will last a couple of months— nation-building has to recommence.

Former President J.R. Jayewardene is blamed by some for precipitating the current crisis. We disagree but will not contest that issue on this occasion. But to the credit of JRJ, this so-called ‘war’ did not prevent him from making the Sri Lankan economy reach unprecedented heights.

Having inherited a near-stagnant mixed socialist economy, JRJ for the first time opened up the economy to the world and sent our economic growth soaring, despite the 1983 riots that earned Sri Lanka a very bad reputation. He was able successfully to implement the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme, the biggest ever development project of this country in just a few years. The opening up of economic zones, vast housing schemes, industries etc. made the economy to spurt ahead so much so that we achieved the record growth of 8 per cent a year, while the so-called ‘war’ was raging. Now, we have dipped to a below zero growth level of — 0. 6 per cent. Work on the Colombo Hilton commenced soon after 1983 and no sooner it was completed, has had a very high occupancy rate.

The ‘war’ and terrorism did not halt the economic progress or destroy the spirit of the nation under JRJ. Undoubtedly, conditions then and now may differ, but there is no reason why the same spirit cannot be rekindled.

It may be argued that the conditions, particularly international, are much more favourable for development now than in the JRJ period.

Whereas JRJ and his government were virtually placed in the dock at international gatherings for violation of human rights, today the terrorists are in the dock. This is thanks to the work of President Kumaratunga and her Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar — the sole achievement of seven years of PA rule.

Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe is very much in the good books of the western world today having accepted the LTTE’s offer of a ceasefire and ready to negotiate peace under the facilitation of Norway. But he must not press his luck too far by considering to deproscribe the LTTE, which as reports indicate, (see UTHR(J) article on this page), is as usual preparing for peace negotiations while recruiting school children for war. He should pursue his efforts to negotiate peace but not on bended knees. The LTTE and Norwegians should be told that deproscription can come only after the LTTE openly disavows terrorism. This is a tall order for the terrorists to accept but is absolutely necessary if both sides are sincere about peace.

A new prime minister naturally sets his eyes on many targets. But he should not miss the wood for the trees. His first task should be to wake up this nation that has gone into somnolence and get the economy going.

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