From Third World to Nowhere: A Pathetic Journey 1960’s- 2019
Posted on June 5th, 2019

Dr D.Chandraratna

The one and only aspiration of all Third world nations is to fast track their nations to the First world status but it is realized only by a few. In our lifetime that dream-objective was realized by Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea in the Asian region. Talking of Singapore in particular it was not the Western template of democracy that brought that nation to the fore and if not for Lee Kuan Yew who was a democratic dictator that country also would probably be in the hopeless situation that we are in today. The Singaporean Prime Minster, in his memoirs referred to the fact that he took that country forward by a process that he described as ‘guided democracy’ relevant to the culture of its civilization. I would describe that process very briefly in a few terms: visionary, scientific-rational, policy driven, unwavering and corruption free. These principles were adhered to, with an iron fist. He tolerated little opposition and in fairness to the man, it was in the face of good scientific rational argument. Used the jails and deportation frequently. The western press ridiculed him relentlessly, and he fought them ‘legally’ in the courts a number of times. The lesson is abundantly clear to us. Had he pandered and kow-towed to the pea-brained petty politicians, like the ones we have in abundance about 8000, Singapore will never have marched from $ 400 per capita in 1960 to $39,000 today.   

Two weeks ago we had the elections in Australia and the spirit of a holiday hovered over us. I thought for myself that Sri Lankans in the mid nineteenth century were also in that kind of mood. The country ready for the privileges and perks of a robust democracy that Australia is enjoying today. Compulsory voting in Australia creates this voting day a public holiday where many voting adults come with their children to the booth on the way to the beach. Having voted, duty fulfilled as discerning citizens, they leave. At the booth are various political people handing out how to vote cards and though it would have been interesting if they argued but they don’t. Disappointed, that they seemed to be on such friendly terms, gently smiling all round, the momentous day becomes one of stillness and observation. Most people took cards from different sides as if they were voting for all parties.

On the sidelines were fundraisers for many whose objectives are to celebrate democracy, encourage participation and offer support for community groups. These fund raising sausages are called democracy sausages. The cake stalls added to the carnival atmosphere and playful spirit. The cake stalls sell Malcolm (Turnbull) Turnovers, Bill (Shorten) shortbreads and Jacqui (Lamby) Lambingtons named after celeb politicians. This Saturday festival of democracy has brought the unity of a motley crew of many tongues united by one common language, English.  Was it the common language that brought them together? I firmly believe so: over hundred dialects and ethnicities, united by a common language to rejoice equally the spirit of the nation. What liberating potential!

Come 1960’s Sri Lanka. Our university life started on a similar positive note. Our entry into the university in the early sixties was the beginning era of a turbulent period in the political history of the nation. Much has been written on the emergence of developing countries from the yoke of colonialism in the Asian African continent but there were a myriad of other domestic issues that were handled badly, which divided us. The turbulence was a temporary set back we thought. There was so much untapped potential in the nation that will ultimately rise up to the task. We were convinced that young people with self-belief surrounded by leaders with indomitable will could make it happen. The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations, as Prime Minister Lloyd George said, were the work of small nations. The birth of a modern nation was imminent we hoped. Sadly our hopes were dashed. Divisiveness, ugliness, paucity of vision enveloped us.

Sri Lanka was a country with many different languages and English was still the language of the work place in the 60’s. English had the potential to bring together the diversity of our nation together in national matters to move forward to modernity. As an international trading post and even better than Singapore’s geographical location, it was the language of an international hub, if not we would not make a living. Lee Kwan Yew had the vision to see the future and introduced teaching of the mother tongue plus English to all schools in Singapore. He warned the Chinese not to play politics with the futures of the next generation and deported a few of the Malay rabble elements. But our politicians made language a political issue. In a multiracial, multilingual society English was the only acceptable neutral language. Any serious dialogue on national matters need a neutral language. Besides, English language would make us relevant to the world.  Lee Kuan Yew says that if he had made Singapore monolingual in their mother tongue they would not make a living. More importantly he says that; ‘becoming monolingual in English would have been a setback. We would have lost our cultural identity, that quiet confidence about ourselves and our place in the world’. He knew that in any case you couldn’t make people give up their mother tongue. How visionary? There would be unending chaos as happened in our country. He did face a formidable protest about bilingualism. The very vocal Chinese rebelled that the children would not master either of the languages but the results proved otherwise. Unlike Singapore our educational policies did not move with the times. Sri Lankans lost the opportunity to move from the Third World to the first much earlier than Singapore. Today we are in a right royal mess.

One Response to “From Third World to Nowhere: A Pathetic Journey 1960’s- 2019”

  1. Christie Says:

    Singapore and Malaysia progressed because the majority claimed and was in the control of the affairs of the country.

    Where as ours, Indians did not allow the their control slip from their grip.

    It is not our politicians who made our policies. It is the Indian parasites who financed our politicians who made the decisions.

    It was the Indian parasites Cabal who financed Banda and set policies of his party SLFP.

    That was the end of the road to a prosperous country.

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