Kawda Raja : Goviya or Mudalali?

Our politicians don’t tire of repeating the hoary old saying: The Sri Lankan farmer is fit to be the King of the country. It does sound insincere in these times when the image of this ‘royal’ personage comes to our mind - a lean emaciated, wizened man in span cloth and a mammoty on his shoulder and his skin caked with mud from the fields.

But indeed he is the King to the politicians, particularly at election time. As the adjoining article reveals, the farming community constitutes 72 percent of the population. How could politicians become ‘Kings’ without being anointed by this humble ‘King’ in an amude? Politicians in their desire for conferment of royal status on the ‘Goviya’ have indeed crowned those who have obtained the best yield of paddy per acre as ‘Govi Rajas’ and sent them on furlough to Bangkok — not for sowing the wild seeds of the Sri Lankan variety — as some of the middle class are wont to do - but to learn farming techniques of the Thais.

Despite all these attempts to coronate the ‘Goviya’, he remains a humble peasant — the poorest of the poor. The adjoining article reveals that 80 per cent of recipients of the Poverty Alleviation Programme are farmers. The writer Dr. K.I.N.G. Silva calls for the formulation of a National Agricultural Policy and that the minister in charge should have it at the very top of his lists of priorities. He points out to the success of Indian agriculture on following such policies.

But at the risk of appearing to be facetious, we have to point out that formulations and declaration of such national policies will not meet the declared objectives. How many national, industrial, educational, health, science and technology polices, and even agricultural policies, have been formulated and announced with much fanfare? Does any one remember them now? How many of them have been implemented? The fault has not been with those who formulated those policies or the bureaucrats, who were expected to implement them, but the politicians who on assuming the office of ministers declare their own national policies. In this connection, it will be worthwhile to research on the many national educational policies that have been formulated by pundit advisors of successive ministers of education, most of whom have had only a smattering of education. The heart-rending fact of all this is the pathetic state of education in Sri Lanka, which in the fifties was far ahead of Asian countries and could be compared with the developed countries as well.

Quite obviously national policies on various subjects, such as agriculture and education, will not last long because politicians and political parties want even to throw out the basic law of the country - the constitution and enact their own constitution on their whims and fancies! That is the prime reason for the deplorable state of every important subject in this country be it agriculture, education, health or anything.

In agriculture, Sri Lanka had the fortune of having truly great men like D. S. Senanayake, who gave agriculture top priority when he was made minister-in-charge of the subject under the Donoughmore constitution in the 1930s. Since then his successors, Dudley, C.P. de Silva, M.D. Banda, Maithripala Senenayake and Hector Kobbekaduwe pursued the attainment of self-sufficiency in rice as the top priority of the nation.

However, despite vast acreages being brought under the plough, and increased rice production through scientific practices, the lot of the paddy cultivator has remained the same. Way back in the 1930s, D. S. Senanayake in an essay on Agricultural Development said that the plight of the cultivators could not be improved until efficient ways of marketing their products were implemented. But even after 75 years of this statement being made, the paddy cultivator is in the same plight as his ancestors were. Dr. Silva points out that of the Rs 30 paid by urban consumers for a kilo of rice, the farmers income is only Rs 3.50! This is a crime against the farmer. A crime against humanity. What a way to treat a King.

Schoolboys at cricket matches shout out: Kawda Raja? ( Who is King?) We ask : Is the Raja the Mudalali or the Goviya? The controversial Minister, Mr. S.B. Dissanayake, has been given the all important portfolio of Agriculture. On him rests the tremendous responsibility.

Since the introduction of the free economy, new aspirants to become the King have come to the forefront: The garment girls and the Middle Eastern housemaids. While their tremendous contributions to the economy, under very trying condition have to be appreciated, it has to be kept in mind that garment factories can close down and the Arabs can throw out the housemaids, but the ‘Goviya’ has always to feed the nation.

Yesterday, The Island reported that one reason for the price of rice shooting up has been due to the closure of over 500 small- and medium-rice mills in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts during the last two years and the monopoly of rice production going into the hands of a few large scale traders and rice millers. This is a matter that should be remedied immediately.

Another Island report said on Thursday that 40,000 metric tonnes of rice are to be imported from India and this is expected to bring down the price of rice that is now being sold for about Rs 35 a kilo down to Rs 27.00. While this will help the urban consumer, is it fair to deprive the rice farmer of whatever meagre profit he can make when market forces send up the prices? Undoubtedly Indian merchants and Sri Lankan commission agents will gain from these moves.

This begs the question: Kawda Raja? ( Who is the King?) Undoubtedly, despite the many coronations of the ‘Goviya’, the Raja is the Mudalali.

Your comments to the Editor