Elmo Jayawardena, in The Island, 30 January 2017, where the title is “Cry the Beloved Country”
I have borrowed the title of this article from the heart-wrenching book by Alan Paton. He wrote about South Africa under the Apartheid regime in 1948. I write about what we face today in Sri Lanka amidst the trumpets that blow heralding progress.
The South African problem was immense and tore the very soul of a country divided by the colour of a man’s skin. It was hideous, to say the least, nothing but modern-day slavery where basic human rights were denied to the majority of a country by a minority that ruled it. That is sadness at its zenith.
Ours in some ways is no different. That is why I borrowed the name from author Paton, ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’. We the majority are ruled by a minority in Sri Lanka. Just like in South Africa in pre Mandela era. Ours is not a racial difference. Nor is it a religious separation. Not asocio-economic difference either. It is simply a power difference, those with political power ruling the powerless proletariat who suffer the consequences of corrupted political leadership leaving us in the dark on ‘how and who is doing what’ in post-independence ruination of our country. Of course there are some leaders who are genuine people cloaked in decency at Diyawanna Oya, but where is their voice? They may have their own reasons and constraints for their silence, but their very muteness rightly or wrongly places them right in the middle of the cheering squad. That happened during the last regime and the same happens with the current regime. The silence of the lambs makes the wolves growl and gobble. And the country gets dragged deeper and deeper by the day into a political quagmire.
Isn’t it very appropriate then to say Cry, the Beloved Country?
Our independence celebration is a few days away. When we first became a free nation in 1948, an educationalist teaching in then Ceylon wrote this poem about a bard singing the hopes of our homeland. How I wish his vision came true.We all know how much we have veered from the glorious path the poet predicted. Let’s ponder this as we celebrate the 4th of February.
“But most shall he sing of Lanka, of the brave new days to come.
When the races all have blended, and the voice of strife is dumb.
When we shall leap to a single bugle, and march to a single drum.
Ode to Lanka’ by Rev Walter Stanley Senior.
The words are haunting and seep into our very souls as a catalyst for patriotism. How wonderful it would have been to hear a single bugle call and march to a solitary drum as a nation? Every morning I read the papers and watch the electronic media and the destructivity spoils my own day. The problem is people like you and I do not know who is politically right and who is politically wrong and who speaks the truth and who lies. The ‘power block’ situation in the country mostly looks like a game of ‘Hora Police’ we played as kids. Two sides to the game;one side was the Police and the other side were the Horu. Then we change roles and Horu became the police and the police became the Horu. Convenient changing of roles, each one gets a chance to be in the righteous clan or be hunted like thieves. Pretty close to what is happening in the Diyawanna Oya political calamity today, except pole-vaulting is also allowed so that people can jump from one side to the other midway through the game.
Let’s look at the prime stories on the menu card. Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, like in Somaratne Dissanayake’s ‘Sarigama’. Bond issue looms large and I have no clue what a bond is and who did what to make billions for themselves and whether that was right or wrong. The problem is how do we know who wears the halo and who is blacker than the devil? The lords of the manor are appointing committees to investigate and those with sins as scarlet get cleansed to be as white as snow. Then additional new committees are brought in and we go around the mulberry bush wondering which political star is twinkling and which is blinking to darkness.I may not know about bond matters and such but even the simpleton in me can see there is some ‘jilmart’ going on here with different political jockeys riding different horses for different personal reasons. Cry the Beloved Country is all I can whisper with a long drawn sigh.
The perpetually suffering Sri Lankan Airlines was taken to the cleaners by the last regime. Well! It was exploited as the ‘Grand Mother’s Dowry’. The debts came high, so some destinations were dropped by the current clan and lease orders were cancelled to save millions. Total blame was firmly nailed on the former Diyawanna Oya royalty. A search was initiated for a partner for Sri Lankan Airlines to come out of the doldrums. Applications entertained and three were short listed. I saw one of them with billion-dollar expenditure plans to resurrect both Sri Lankan and the Mattala Airport. The promise was fleets of A380s, 787s and 747s plus a sophisticated MRO for Mattala. Almost like winning the Epson Derby and Galle Gymkhana swaddled together. If this bid was short listed, someone should have checked the validities. Then how come it got dropped? Or was the shortlisting done without checking? And now the talk is that plan A failed and plan B is coming out of the woodwork leaning more to seek an airline. Three big ministerial names are mentioned as the selection team of plan B. We all know when you want to sell something your first shy is your best shy. The world knows we failed with our plan A. Unfortunately, it is Diyawanna Oya that calls the shots on everything in aviation. That is a very sad fact. My best wishes go to Sri Lankan Airlines and the staff that do their best. I flew for SIA for two decades. They had a Board and one chairman, the brilliant J Y M Pillai for more than twenty plus years. He made the decisions and made Singapore Airlines a billion-dollar profit-maker, a leading airline in the world. SIA started operations in 1972 with 7 second-hand aeroplanes it inherited when they split from Malaysia Singapore Airlines. Lucky for Mr. Pillai and his team there was no Diyawanna Oya flowing through Singapore.
The Hambantota Habour went to the Chinese. 15,000 acres are to be leased to China. Debts are so high that there is no other solution, so they say. Who knows what else is coming into the market? Colombo Port City and Trincomalee Harbour have high probabilities. Maybe the Nuwara Eliya Hills or the pristine beaches from Arugam Bay to Pasikudah too will come under the auctioneer’s gavel. All to eliminate the debts of the ‘other’ team. The confusion is that most from the other team are in the current team and we do not know who is guilty and who is not. But one thing is sure, they all have ‘life membership’ at Diyawanna Oya, irrespective of which party they belong to.
I may sound like a fool, but even a fool can now and then be right by chance. If there is some way we can sell Diyawanna Oya, lock, stock and barrel, perhaps that could be an answer. Desperate situations need desperate answers. This country belongs to its people, not to a few who exploit it in every possible way in the name of democracy. I think we have heard long enough that the moon is made of Kothmale Cheese and believed it. It is time we opened our eyes.
We may not hear a single bugle call and march to a solitary drum as Sri Lankans without racial and religious labels. But at least we can try to wake up from this political lullaby and be a little wiser to the Diyawanna Oya tomfoolery that is taking all of us for a right royal ride.
Unless something changes in this recurring exploitation that wraps mother Lanka, we are doomed. it will not be too long before the pleas by the ordinary like you and I will be a litany of laments moaning ‘Cry, the beloved Country’.