Lanka’s Sovereignty as a Lilliput amidst Several Gullivers in the World Order

Rajiva Wijesinha,  in The Island, 9  November 2016, where the chosen title runsIgnoring the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan nation” … Highlights and colouring  have been added to aid the reader. Editor, Thuppahi

The contempt in leading elements of the current government for the interests of Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation had long puzzled and worried me. A clue to its possible origins emerged recently when I was looking at Michael Roberts’ collection of ‘Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon, 1929-1950’. Roberts has there, on p 2802 of Volume 4, an article by J R Jayewardene that recommends ‘An Indo-Lanka Federation’. He does say that ‘It is not possible here to define the status of Lanka in such a federation’, but he claims that amongst important conditions to be fulfilled are that ‘India and Lanka must be one unit for the purpose of defence’ and ‘In the Federal Legislature, Lanka must be accorded a status equivalent to the status of the Indian Provinces’.

jrj-cbo-tel young Jr Jayewardene rg-senanayake RG Senanayake

Significantly, for those who blame Mr Bandaranaike alone, and forget that it was J R, who straitjacketed our youngsters in mono-lingualism by proposing in the forties that Sinhala should be compulsorily the only medium of instruction in schools (amended to include Tamil and confined to primary schools then, but of course the extension to secondary schools was inevitable and in fact took place under a UNP government in the early fifties), another condition J R mentioned in the article on ‘An Indo-Lankan Federation’ was that ‘The official language must be Sinhalese’.

The thrust of the argument may seem odd from the man who in the eighties alienated India conclusively, and even tried to invoke the 1947 Defence Treaty with Britain in case of overt Indian hostility. But the common thread is the idea that Sri Lanka cannot stand alone, and must subordinate itself to the biggest power in whose orbit we were. By the eighties, in the context of the Cold War, that was the Western Alliance, and Jayewardene had no qualms about alienating ‘the cradle of our race’, as he had called India earlier, in order to attach himself firmly to the West.

Such an approach to what the vast majority in Sri Lanka feel is what now governs our Foreign and indeed our Economic Policy, ie that they feel contempt for the feeling that this is a sovereign country with a unique identity of its own. That is why this government, or rather its leading ideologues, are not acceptable to the people at large, and I can only hope the President understands this.

I hasten to add that I do not advocate the alternate one country policy that the previous government seemed to pursue, or the myopic approach to India of several leading politicians (who like the Bourbons forget nothing which they can use to shore up their prejudices, and remember nothing about the way people behave when pushed to the wall).

I have always been an unashamed Indianophile, and I have said so repeatedly. But I also stressed that this should not involve hostility to anyone else, just as I asserted that the close ties to China, that were well worth developing in the context of the unstinted support it gave us, should not have entailed alienating India. Indeed, I have repeatedly pointed out in The Mango Tree: Integrity and Inclusivity in International Relations, my collection of essays that Godage & Bros brought out earlier this year, that China had always made it clear to us that we should keep India on board.

I feel that that sensible advice was ignored by the lackeys of the West in our Foreign Ministry who drove G L Peiris along with them. It may be recalled that, after the American sponsored resolution against us in 2012, which India supported simply because we did nothing to assuage its concerns, the Foreign Ministry groupies ran a series of articles putting the blame on India and claiming that we should now revert to what they termed our traditional allies in the West.

Ranil and Mangala have now combined J R in his two incarnations, and believe that they will survive if they keep both the United States and India happy. Unfortunately, they think the two are now synonymous, which is foolish and explains the rather hurt question recently of a senior Indian diplomat, when he asked what all this running after the West was about. Because India, though it is now close to the West, knows perfectly well that Western perspectives can change, which is why the South Block is much more cautious about full commitment to the exclusion of other interests that the less sophisticated decision makers in the current Indian government evince.

The assumption that the West, together with a complacent India, will see us through the next few years explains the insulting of China that happened as the government took office. Given the Pavlovian habits of the government, this has led to continuing denigration of that country even after it became clear that the West would not and could not support us economically. And though India has been more positive, obviously it does not have the capacity China does to help us develop rapidly.

It was salutary I think that the Chinese Ambassador make his point so clearly, and it is sad that Mangala is now trying to reprimand him, having ignored – as the last government sadly also did – the relentless interference in our internal affairs of Western envoys. But kicking China in the teeth seems to be a family failing. I was told – though I have yet to see the actual record of the vote – that J R Jayewardene was about the only person to vote against the Rubber Rice Pact that the UNP government of the early fifties negotiated with China.

But that he was opposed to it is clear from the article J B Kelegama wrote in 2002 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the pact –

Opposition to the Agreement

The Agreement was negotiated in the teeth of opposition from some of his own colleagues in the cabinet. Indeed, the opposition of J. R. Jayewardene, the Minister of Finance, was well known. The cabinet was advised by the newly created Central Bank under an American governor. Opposition also came from R. G. Senanayake’s predecessor in the ministerial post, from the American government, and from some of the local newspapers which carried on a virulent press campaign against any dealings with Communist China. S. P Amarasingham’s informative book “Rice and Rubber: The Story of China-Ceylon Trade” provides a detailed account of the strong opposition R. G. Senanayake had to face in negotiating the Agreement. The American government invoked the Battle Act which prevented it from giving aid to countries selling strategic materials to Communist countries and cut off aid to Sri Lanka. In addition, she stopped selling sulphur needed by Sri Lanka’s rubber plantations. This was the price that had to be paid for trading with China.

 Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, however, fully backed his Minister of Commerce and was prepared to pay this price; he realized that the benefits to Sri Lanka from the agreement far outweighed losses consequent to the cutting-off of American aid. He argued:

“Ceylon’s oil trade pattern has been knocked out by changes in the world market and we have to seek new markets for our needs of essential foodstuffs and for our exports”.

Rebutting the charges that the Trade Agreement was opening the door to communist influences in Sri Lanka, he pointed out:

“Communism thrives in many places not through an understanding of that particular ideology but through poverty and want. I am confident that our Trade Agreement with China will instead of opening doors to communism help us to stand firmer against it”.

That article is particularly relevant to what we are going through now. Recalling the virulent opposition to China that the United States manifested then, we should also recall how it flirted with China in the seventies, while exhibiting insidious hostility towards India (which led to J R insulting India in his efforts to establish himself as the most loyal of Cold Warriors, and engaging in the manoeuvers which were knocked on the head by the annexures to the Indo-Lankan Accord).

But we should also register the unqualified patriotism of the Senanayakes, R G Senanayake’s pragmatism at a time of difficulty, and Dudley’s profound analysis of the real consequences of American dogma. And the best answer to J R’s follies was the response of D S Senanayake, ‘he would ask Mr Jayewardene to imagine in what way a free India would treat them! The freedom of Ceylon lay not with other nations but with her own sons. They should work out their own salvation instead of hoping to accept it as a gift from Britain or India’.

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AND NOTE … Documents of the Ceylon National Congress, (Colombo: Department of National Archives, 1977) in four volumes can be purchased for the princely sum of Rs 250 if you can vend your way to Reid Avenue Colombo.





Filed under accountability, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, China and Chinese influences, democratic measures, economic processes, education policy, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, legal issues, life stories, modernity & modernization, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, security, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, world events & processes

2 responses to “Lanka’s Sovereignty as a Lilliput amidst Several Gullivers in the World Order

  1. Fair Dinkum

    Very thoughtful essay, well crafted, dealing with the many vexed issues confronting Sri Lanka today, in the context of post independence SL politics. It also provides a pathway on how SL can avoid walking into a field of mines laid by the West. Sri Lanka can and should have good relations with both India and China. It is the West, particularly the US, UK and Australia that seeks to meddle and divide in order to create a wedge between India, Sri Lanka and China. Don’t walk blindly into the minefields these countries are laying in Sourh Asia and the Indo-Pacific. The UK, US and Australia are not in Asia and have no right to meddle there just to satisfy their own geopolitical interests in Asia. Sri Lanks should learn from the past and be weary of Western efforts to reshape the Asian region to suit its own order.

  2. Daya Wickramatunga

    Being historically wise is important, partticularly with regard to acknowledging the mistakes of the past. There is little point in making the mistakes of the past all over again. An amendment to the Constitution, to provide equal rights and opportunities to all communities is the first priority. Unity is strength. Together we can make Sri Lanka strong.

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