The 54th year
The 54th year of independence is being celebrated
tomorrow, albeit with a whiff of nostalgia for the days when this once
tranquil isle got about its business with such peace and calm that there
was placidity almost to the point of boredom.
In this particular year, there is a peace lull. Goods are going to the
North, and despite the shortages and the not-so-perfect conditions of transport,
things are much better than they used to be. People of all communities
and all walks of life are moving about, as a free people ought to. People
are visiting the East coast these days as if they were going on pilgrimage.
Children of the Sri Lankan South, who are now adults have never seen this
part of the country before. Likewise, "Northerners'' are travelling to
the South of the country, taking advantage of the opening of barriers.
In the annals of government, the country is in with a chance of bringing
a divided South together. The people who are sovereign, and who have suffered
in silence, watching what their leaders did in the past few years have
forced a national government upon the country's political elite. Credit
must be given where it is due. Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the target
of verbal vilification by his once victorious now vanquished political
opponents. But, as the country's only prime minister born after independence,
he has opted to work with his opponents ushering in some semblance of national
reconciliation, and hence building bridges not just with the North, but
also across the divide in the South.
For this, he is facing some abuse and vilification from his once victorious
and now vanquished political opponents from within his own party, who want
to see the other half of the political divide totally liquidated.
But, the hand of friendship that he has extended to his political opponents
must be reciprocated in the same spirit. The President for instance, by
donning a blue saree and visiting remanded party men now in prison, is
not setting up herself by these actions as the exemplar of presidential
Politics has its moments of supreme farce, and this week the people
were witness to one such. The President who had on numerous occasions referred
to the present constitution as a "bahoobootha'' (comic) constitution, was
quoting chapter and verse from the same constitution, about the powers
of the President.
She had the audacity to warn the Prime Minister elected by the people,
that the "people are aware that the constitution is the Supreme law of
the land, and that therefore it is a bad idea to discredit it.''
But, this double back flip on the part of the President is to be welcomed
– as it is better late than never. However, the moral of the story is that
there is a supreme law of the land from which all laws flow, and before
whom all persons are equal. This law cannot therefore be abused on personal
and political whim.
If this law has to be changed, let it be changed with the consensus
of all parties, and the consent of the people whenever required. All of
this is provided for in this Supreme Law.
But, while there is this new politics of accommodation in the air —
and a politics of belated realization — none must lose sight of the war
clouds that are looming. The war in the North is not over, and there is
a flexing of muscle that is in evidence before tough negotiations yet to
get underway. Perhaps, on the eve of our national independence, what needs
to be reflected upon, is the fact that this country won its freedom due
to the efforts of all communities, who preferred to live together in one
nation as one people, unlike what we see has happened between our neighbours
India and Pakistan, which is tragic.