People should foil opportunist governance
Posted on January 17th, 2018

By Fr. Augustine Fernando Diocese of Badulla Courtesy The Island

The group of leaders who came together to get Independence from the colonial powers could not stay united for five years. The destinies of the nation were submerged due to the leaders not sitting together and formulating a vision of national priorities and a practical strategy for the planned and harmonious development of the country and the unification of the people. Their personal shortcomings impinged on the Nation. The majority in the newly formed UNP Cabinet was self-satisfied. The favourable conditions of trade and the balance of payments added to their self-satisfaction and confidence. But, clannish sentiments, the lack of open discussion of national policies and the leaders not having their ear to the ground and lack of a vision contributed to produce unhealthy currents of intrigue at the top-most level.

While the leaders were cocooned in their world, we, as young people, were dreaming of the new horizons opening before us. To us, students in school, thoughts of ethnic and religious tensions and disharmony never entered our minds. We Sinhala, Tamil, Muslims, Malays, Burghers (of the Portuguese and Dutch descent) were studying together, even exchanging superficial innocuous mischief. We separated only in the first period of 45 minutes in the morning when Catholic students had their Religious Knowledge classes and non-Catholics had Moral Science.

Archbishop of Colombo Dr. Bonjean, O.M.I., having fought with the colonial powers, had obtained state assistance for schools of all religious denominations in the 1880s.

Free education became a lively issue in the 1940s. A system of scholarships for students of families of low incomes was suggested. It was also argued why non-payment of school fees should be extended to the well to do who could afford to pay. Though it was not then adopted, subsequent welfare policies, under Janasaviya, Samurdhi and food stamps schemes, adopted the concept of helping those earning less than a certain income. Anyhow, Dr. Kannangara introduced ‘free education’ as well as a system of Central Schools which functioned well.

Though ‘Swabasha’ was very much in the air, abandoning the English language was by some considered a disaster. I, as a very young teacher, teaching Trade and Commerce, Accounting and Baking, Shorthand and Typewriting, etc., wrote to the Evening Observer, in 1952, asking whether P. H. William de Silva, M.P. for Ambalangoda-Balapitiya, or Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, O.M.I., was the more far seeing and perceptive about the usefulness of the English Language. Decades later an ex-Marxist, at Badulla, told me that the M.P., with his Marxist comrades, were more interested in bringing down others of an ‘upper’ class even more than raising up the downtrodden. Ideologies embraced and followed with passion tend to distort reasoning. English came to be made an exclusive language of the privileged and of the top politicians and their children.

Today, even to ‘hew wood and draw water’ for others in foreign lands our expatriate men and women need to a have a smattering of English, besides perhaps learning the language of the country in which they work. Later, Badi-udin Mohammed, in 1959, headed the state take-over of denominational schools while ensuring a proportion greater than they had for Muslims! The schools take-over was an enviously done state plunder of Catholic schools. Opportunism abandons justice and fairness and destroys social stability. It warped education, created the tuition industry that cost the parents more than fee-levying schools. Uneducated and idiotic politicians are silent about these issues. Today, Catholics have to beg for places in the schools they established.


A rational head of an average household thinks of a 101 things when he gets his monthly salary. He tries to lay aside something to be used in a yet unforeseen emergency. He avoids burdens and debts he cannot carry. A responsible government of reputed individuals and various experts are indeed expected to be wise in overseeing matters that are complex because it has to see, besides the provision of food, clothing and shelter, many undisrupted services to all the people of the country. But due to confusion at the topmost level of government, generations of people have been subject to untold suffering caused by irresponsible burrowing and fiscal policies and the inability to fraternally discuss, and manage the limited resources conserved over the years and carefully work out plans to produce and increase wealth through labour and distribute as fairly as possible what is available.

Now, due to the efficiency of the minister of agriculture we need to import coconuts!

Because respect for human dignity, genuine democratic principles, circumspection in outlook, clarity of thinking, and honest intellectual discussion, debate and honest dedicated work have always eluded our leaders, problems have accumulated and generations of people have suffered. Even after Independence leaders chose to discuss important national issues with a small coterie of clannish top men captivated by emotional sentiments of the moment devoid of dispassionate discussions. They were blind to the long term consequences not disconnected also with possible actual earnings and contingent expenditures. Today this is complicated by leaders surrounding themselves with hapless henchmen and persons capable only of political intrigue, incompetent and inefficient at seeing to the well-being and cohesion of a national community.


Changes of Government in Sri Lanka have taken place not with the objective of adopting better socio-economic and politico cultural policies presented to the people for their responsible choice after well-informed individual and group thinking, deliberation discussion. Rather, leaders were far more interested in winning people to their partisan point of view rather than educating them on national issues and weighing the merits of different options before the people. Changes of government have taken place not on the issues of long-term national policy which even then were placed before the people in a partisan and confused manner. Due to the feeling of being cheated and defrauded and the breaking of promises made in their solemn public declarations by the government in power, people just voted for the opposition.

In their swollen headedness and pride, political leaders never admitted to having made bad forecasts, estimates and assessments of affairs; they never admitted to have made bad judgements, of having made mistakes. They presented themselves as all-knowing supermen, so very confident of their abilities and capabilities when they were only men with bloated egos, selfish in the extreme with a good dose of stupidity and blindness to reality, far too proud to accept the advice of experts subordinate to them but far more qualified than they. Yet with all their very apparent intellectual and psychological limitations and with the pretensions of know-alls, politicos resorted to posing as indispensable and even benevolent personalities while not hiding their desire to have untrammeled power to rule autocratically until death. Unfortunately far too many people in Sri Lanka do not think for themselves but enslave their soul to political parties. 8th January 2015 was fortunately a rare moment when sanity prevailed.


Those who ushered the changes in 1956 impoverished Sri Lanka by making everyone monolingual and attempted to make everyone culturally monolinear and limited rather than universal and open. Short-sighted leaders who imposed their populist but shallow political policies were not only abysmally ignorant of the intellectual capacity and common sense of the people whatever their knowledge or lack of knowledge of the peoples’ other capacities. Subsequent return to the status quo ante on several policy matters showed how unwise their knee-jerk decisions were. They were incapable of in any way assessing or ascertaining the disastrous repercussions that came along. The sad repercussions were not unexpected nor unforeseen by the wise though the scale of violence and bloodshed may not have been. When half-truths and prejudices are taken advantage of by political opportunists, national disasters are inevitable.

In our land we are familiar with many ordinary people who are able to use two of the three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English, at least in speaking if not in reading and writing. It looks as if there are proportionately more Tamil people who speak also Sinhala than Sinhala people who speak Tamil. Political leaders were mere opportunists who did not think of what the people are capable of because of their own depravity and the low esteem they had of the people.

In 1956 the population of Sri Lanka was just over 9 million, an easily manageable political unit in a small country malleable to a humane and reconciled political journey and experience. Though S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s family background and intellectual training prepared him for a genuinely civilized and urbane political culture, his ambition for leadership twisted his psychological make-up and clouded his understanding, knowledge and judgement and even bent his reasoning to some extent. He became a political opportunist taking advantage of the feelings, not the refined but base feelings at that, of the Sangha-Veda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru collectivity to come to power.

This was indeed a contradiction inconsistent in a man steeped in the humanities and democratic ideals about which he spoke eloquently at Oxford. It deprived him the courage he needed to stand by his convictions and produce a national vision for Sri Lanka consistent with what he said at the opening of Parliament in February 1948. He polarized the people denying them even a portion of the opportunities he had the privilege to enjoy. He lacked the moral strength to withstand the pressure that he himself had contributed to let loose. If he had the courage of his convictions the history of Sri Lanka would have taken a more homogenously progressive and benevolent path and saved her from the disastrous traumas that she went through with so many miserable consequences.


Many of today’s uneducated political scum who cannot sit in parliament and discuss, not only lack the capacity, they are completely unsuited to envision a national programme of unity and reconciliation so very necessary for any meaningful and overall development and progress of all the people of this Country. One begins to wonder who the ones who are really suited to sit there are. Their sense of human dignity, equality and respect due to people leave much to be desired, as they themselves lack self-respect and are devoid of decent bearing. They have made themselves privileged as well as the laughing stock and the object of contempt of the people. Many of these already privileged people of Sri Lanka wish to preserve a bloated sense of a false superiority. The supposed to be educated like the GMOA – another unintended fall-out from 1956 – are so blinded by the privileges that have accrued to them over the years, they take them for granted. They place themselves so high above the people by whose taxes they have been educated and yet to keep their privileges dare to blatantly ignore the people when they resort to their trade union actions.

These self-absorbed people are fossilized and have no sense of democracy or new thinking let alone a sense of learning from history. They have no positive contribution to make to bring about a new and vibrant state of affairs and raise the lives of the people and renew Sri Lanka. They only have the capacity to be political opportunists who fish in troubled waters. These opportunist uncouth roguish elements, whether they wear the clean national dress with their brand of ‘satakaya’ – when cunning politicians wear it, it is called the kapati suit – or the lounge suit with the shiny tie should be totally discarded forthwith. Pioneering thinkers who are true patriots should come forward to redeem Sri Lanka from the grip of the corrupt totalitarian mindset which has sunk deep root into its politicians who undermine the freedom of the people and harm their fraternal relationships.

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