Low politics retard Sri Lanka


By Fr. Augustine Fernando
Diocese of Badulla

The main reason why Sri Lanka has on the whole regressed and has got stuck in a geopolitical mud hole as it were while other countries in the region have progressed and sprinted ahead is because of the political, economic, nationalist, religious, moral, ideological and social blind spots encrusted in the collective political leadership of political parties that governed this country. Genuine national feeling that embraced the common good of all the people of this Country was wanting in them. Due to their blind spots and the differing tints of their ideologies, they could not and did not reach out to share a common political vision for this Country.

Without a common vision they could not and did not elaborate a common all-embracing long term plan of socio- economic development and consolidating solidarity and unity among the people. People grew apart. Those in power and in high positions eyed enviously the solidarity and even the belongings of ordinary citizens, more so if they managed things well and surpassed the levels of the power holders and those in high positions. To these people even the inexcusable seemed acceptable either to exploit them or to bring others down to one’s own low levels and even deny their rights.

In spite of the presence of experts who have risen in many fields who could have substantially contributed to overall development, adjusting where adjustment was needed due to changing conditions, Sri Lanka in its disunity did not develop national plans and has remained in the doldrums of divisive politics. We have remained strangers to one another because of our ethnicity, castes, our languages, our religions, cultures, traditions and customs when we could have progressed together had we ventured into inter-community dialogue and learned one another’s languages and appreciated the genuine values in other religions, cultures and the traditions of our neighbours.

We could have well avoided many a national pitfall and need not have been led into quagmires from which we still hesitate to extricate ourselves. Because of our confusion over true values and a hierarchy of values, our humanness has got submerged under all the sub-human values we have inherited and the pretenses the politicians and chauvinistic nationalists have encouraged the people to cultivate. These have often turned us into inhuman beings in our recent past history. This attitude is directly connected to the abandonment of perennial norms of life. The shifting stances of political opportunists who do not have firm principles have wrecked the firm foundations and norms of civilized living. This needs to be acknowledged even though it is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for politicians and their parties. This needs to be acknowledged by those of the present government who have united only for selfish partisan and personal purposes rather than for the common good of all the people.


As has been evidenced on many occasions of public life, if the majority in Sri Lanka had not been a civilized, law-abiding people, in spite of the power-wielding but unjust and law-bending politicians, we would not have been able to maintain even the present standard of nonviolent urbane inter-community life. Today people show their good will to one another on the occasions of their religious festivals. Upright religious leaders are becoming more sensitive to those issues of justice and fairness that affect the lives of people of different communities living together. The honest and humble among them even acknowledge that their past stances have been unjust towards the racial and religious minorities. During times of natural disasters, the people spontaneously organize themselves and come to the aid of those affected, very often transcending their ethnic and religious affiliations.

In contrast to the GMOA outfit’s rebels, the solidarity of different communities shown in the protest against the Uma Oya project should open the eyes of authorities to the unwise decisions taken disregarding and by-passing feasibility studies and investigations about the long-term effects of an environmental fall-out. Politicians in power do not usually like the counsel of experts who advise them or could advise them. They are more concerned about short-term personal gains and commissions accruing to them through devious means by entrusting mega-projects to various funders. People see the reality even through their dishonest transactions


We have had an abundance of political nuts. We have been short of statesmen and wise men. Even though it is from the East that as far as two thousand years ago, the wise men travelled westwards to another Asian town in the Middle East to worship the new born Jesus Christ, today we in the fair isle of the Orient seem to lack wise men.

Wisdom dawns on those who have been brought up by loving and wise parents and have had an experience of the good and the attraction of values that were believed to be absolutely necessary substances to hold on to and live by. Wise men disclose to us the ultimate meaning of life, not in isolation from the lives of others, but in the context of life with others who may indeed be quite different from us and indeed more knowledgeable and wiser than us. Wise men focus on the values we all should together hold on to. They guide people to desist from the closed fist and violence and be with open arms and open hearts and turn swords into ploughshares as they are men of peace.

Whether it is development of education and advancement in health, science, technology, agriculture, industry, fisheries, transport, communication, tourism, megapolis, road development, garbage management or supply of water and maintenance of clean air, or justice and drafting New Constitutions, what matters most is the benefit that accrues to the national community and not the political party and ideology of those who are initiating or managing them. Why the politicians, with the advice of the experts in the relevant fields and all stake-holders, cannot come together and agree on the best possible initiatives in each of these sectors is not difficult to understand. It is due to their self-absorption, narrowness of vision, distorted understanding of political power and its exercise and the corruption in their hearts they try so hard to hide.


As a nation consisting of people with different religions, traditions, cultures and customs we are facing a crisis of values. We are reluctant even to admit that we are unconcerned and intolerant of the values that others hold on to as important and live by, that are quite different from ours. If we wish to live in peace, we need to understand well the values that others hold fast to and we need to let them hold on to them and live by them and accept those persons in spite of our not agreeing with their values, at least as long as they do not become an insoluble social problem. The law should be able to intervene in resolving issues of conflicting values especially when unprincipled ambivalent politicians irrationally intervene in community and social issues more to show their power and subdue and manipulate everyone than to settle problems through goodwill, understanding and reconciliation.

Genuine community leaders counsel and lead people to control their feelings, stay calm, be patient and let reason and just laws guide us.

This could come about only through a deeper intelligence, wider knowledge and more profound understanding. This is also a very important aspect of life we neglect paying attention to because of indifference and sheer laziness. We do not like to listen to others and understand them. We prefer to remain cocooned and ignorant rather than be enlightened. We are culpable because we choose to be ignorant of others and neglect knowing what social values are necessary for life in community. It is necessary to understand others in order to live in amity and peace. Uneducated and bellicose politicians do not possess the education and culture and other necessary qualities to promote peaceful community and national life.


With our refusal to understand, we distance ourselves from others. We never come to love them because we do not know them. We do not know them, because we are far away from them in body, mind and spirit. We should ask ourselves, ‘Although we have fraternity in our own religious or racial community, do we not lack sensitivity, do we not lack feelings of Human fraternity’ and an openness to other human beings? Surely we cannot remain blunt, crude and ulcultured to that extent. But we seem to be indifferent to fellow human beings in our midst.

It may be necessary, for the greater good of all in our land, for every one of us to take a step or two forward to meet and acquaint ourselves mutually with those who are presently strangers to us. This is also a lesson that we need to be introduced to at home and school, if the home and school do not do that already.

It is normal for human beings to behave and conduct themselves the way they have been brought up at home and educated in school and university. What are the values that are instilled in the children at home. Are the values very different and contrasting? Are we holding on to immoral and anti-social caste minds? Aren’t there social values that are common ? Could values such as acceptance of others as persons like us, equal to us, sharing humanness like us be instilled at home and school? Could we instill in the young the possibility and the value of friendship and brotherly love and sharing? Could we share life? Could we be helpful in life to someone beyond our family? Could we mutually enhance life? Could we avoid doing any harm or cause injury to anyone? Could we grow to sincerely do good to one another, love one another and be happy at the progress and fortune of others?

Are these values inculcated in all our schools, including schools of religious denominations and in the ‘Daham Paselas?


In this context of our ignorance of others, politicians and religious bigots can sow seeds of bias, prejudice and feed us with misinformation and distorted notions of others. This happens often. In such a climate no one can critically examine the cultural values, the customs and traditions, the religious doctrines and beliefs that others hold on to. In this climate it is difficult to arrive at objective truth about important matters. It is a challenging task to discover and accept the truth about ourselves with all our blemishes and the blemishes we have inherited.

Have we not been distorted in our minds and in our humanity in the name of badly interpreted religious tradition, custom and truth? What are the instances in which we have exhibited and indeed become brutal in our attitudes and actions towards other racial and religious groups? Have we not at times approved any kind of wicked treatment meted out to those we considered our ‘enemies’ when they were only people different from us?

If we closely analyze public political talk, we would observe that much of it is narrow invective, polemic, castigating and insulting an opponent or opponents and tearing him or them to shreds in anger. There is little talk on political and social change, advancement and progress based on principles of truth, justice, equality, solidarity and reconciliation and building up of people and the national community. A radical change of heart from all politicians, especially those in the present coalition government is called for. It is up to them to sincerely respond now by a change of attitude and action and not just indulge in meaningless verbosity and evasion.


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