Independence - 1
Today Sri Lanka celebrates its
sixty-second anniversary of political independence. It was the
result of two factors. One was the struggle of our people for
independence. The second was the weakening of the British Empire
at the end of World War II. That was a period of anti-colonial
revolutions the world over. The coming to power of the Labour
Party in Britain also favoured the de-colonization process. Thus
independence was a result of coming together of internal and
external conditions favourable for it.
Nevertheless, the political independence gained was not
complete. There were two principle factors that impeded
independence. The first was a Defence Arrangement with the
United Kingdom that provided for the stationing of an Air Base
and a Naval Base in the island. This was an infringement on the
sovereignty of the country.
The Second was that Sri Lanka opted to continue its
allegiance to the British Queen. Thus the colonial master
transferred power to its local collaborators, who continued to
serve the master even after independence. Even in matters like
dress and customs the local elite continued to imitate the West.
Some of them in top hat and tail-coat looked even comical in the
The first impediment was removed after the People's Victory
of 1956 in which the UNP suffered an ignominious defeat. This
victory also removed the 'cadjan curtain' that kept our country
in isolation from many progressive countries in the world. The
voluntary seclusion at the behest of the colonial masters was so
great that even a team of scientists from Soviet Russia were
refused visas to visit the country to view a solar eclipse. The
same fate befell a team of football players from the Russian
Dynamo Club to play here. The UNP Government even disallowed any
cultural or scientific contacts with socialist countries. It was
the MEP Government that came to power in 1956 that established
diplomatic relations with many socialist and Third World newly
This new non-aligned foreign policy paid dividends. Socialist
countries helped Sri Lanka in its first post-independence
industrialization drive. The Oruwela Steel factory, the Tyre
factory at Kelaniya and the Flour Mill at Modera stood as
monuments to this new friendship until they were later
privatized by the UNP Government. A powerful state sector in the
economy laid the solid foundation for that industrialization.
Actually it also facilitated the growth of the nascent national
The second impediment, however, could be removed only with
the first Republican Constitution of 1972 passed by the SLFP -
LSSP - CP United Front Government that came to power in 1970.
The 1956 victory initiated a cultural renaissance. Sinhala
and Tamil medium education expanded the education opportunities
for rural and urban students of less affluent families. Thus a
new avenue was opened for the middle classes and the poorer to
climb up social ladder. Education, up to now remains the most
potent medium for upward social mobility.
The introduction of Sinhala, however, had its negative
effects on ethnic relations. It was not till many years later
that parity of status was accorded to both languages. The
disastrous consequences were experienced by the entire
population for several decades.
After a 30-year old protracted fratricidal war Sri Lanka has
been now unified under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The victory
over terrorism last May has opened a new chapter for Sri Lanka.
While acknowledging the many achievements in various fields
such as education, health and the economy in the past six
decades of independence, the country has to build upon its
achievements and rectify the shortcomings and setbacks in double
The independence anniversary is a good time for reflection
and resolve. The challenges faced by the country at this
juncture are manifold. On the economic front, the country is in
the midst of a world recession, the ill effects of which we
affect us, especially since the world today is more globalised
and our immersion in the world market is greater.
On the political front, Sri Lanka is faced with new foes who
are not pleased with its independent policies. Besides,
anti-national forces are also colluding with the enemy for
personal and political gain. An orchestrated campaign of
disinformation is being conducted in the international media to
discredit the country.
All these forces have to be defeated. This calls for maximum
unity of the people. It calls for a fresh approach to the vexed
question of inter-ethnic relations. In the face of international
pressure only the unity of the people and their support to the
Government could guarantee victory and progress.