Why Sri Lanka is not like Singapore.
Posted on September 3rd, 2021

Sugath Kulatunga

Among Sri Lankans, there are two distinct ideologically opposing groups. One group trust in the slogan Loken Utum Rata Lankawai”. And the other claim Sudda Hitiyanam wada hondai.” Yet others pray for a Lee Kwan Yew and argue that Sri Lanka is a failed state because we have not adopted the development models followed, for example by Singapore or South Korea. Every country is subject to unique internal and external demands and constraints. The geography and history of a country play a crucial role in its destiny and are inescapable.

Some of these dynamics which have influenced the destiny of Sri Lanka are indicated in point forms for reasons of brevity.

1. SL inherited an economy dominated by plantations run with imported Indian labor resulting in the neglect of non-plantation agriculture.

2. The presence of a large number of Indian labor in Ceylon gave a platform for Indian interference in the domestic affairs of the country.

3. Indian Interference continued from the time of Independence with increasing detriment to Sri Lanka as given below:

i) On the Citizenship issue, India did not act in the spirit of Article 8 of their own Constitution.

ii) India did not take any serious measures to curb illicit emigration to Sri Lanka.

iii) India harbored, trained, and armed separatist groups to fight against Sri Lanka.

iv) India forced an Accord and a 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, which has been grossly unfavorable to the unity and peace in Sri Lanka.

V) In a dubious procedure of letters exchanged, India dictated terms on our foreign policy, use of our harbors and airports, Trincomalee Oil farm, and broadcasting.

Vi) India continues to impose unequal trade and investment conditions on Sri Lanka.

Domestic Constraints

1. Inability to forge a Sri Lankan identity due to non-acceptance of the majority status of the Sinhalese by the minority community. This was due to Tamils, though a minority of around 12 percent enjoyed during British rule privileges inconsistent with their numbers and were determined to perpetuate them. The favored status of the Tamil minority at Independence is described by former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka J.N. Dixit (who cannot be considered as a friend of Sri Lanka’) in his book Assignment Colombo. He concedes at page 10 Tamils were disproportionally influential in the management of Sri Lankan political and economic affairs right till the country’s independence despite their being a minority. Tamils were also dominant in the non-agricultural sectors of Lankan society”. Tamils considered that the Sinhalese were in every aspect inferior to them and were resolute in demanding lopsided rights even before Independence.

a) they demanded 50 –50” representation for a 12 % of the Tamils in the 1930s.

b) they opposed universal franchise.

c) They established a Tamil Maha Jana Sabhai on a communal basis which led to the establishment of a Sinhala Maha Jana Sabha.

d) Federal party proposed the joining of North and Eastern Provinces to Tamil Nadu. (A.J. Wilson -Biography of SJV)

e) At the ‘Throne Speech’debate in the first House of Representatives on the 26th of November 1947 Chelvanayakam said: – “If Ceylon is fighting to secede from the British Empire why should not the Tamil people if they feel like it, secede from the rest of the country?”

f) Launched Illankai (Thamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party) on December 18, 1949.urging a separate state.

These were years before grievances on Colonization, Sinala only or Standardization.

g) After the signing on 26 July 1957 Bandaranayake/Chelvanayagam Pact-on 28 July, FP repudiated the Agreement at the National Convention held in Batticaloa and reiterated the unalterable determination to achieve an autonomous Tamil linguistic state.”( Appendix D- Reimagining Sri Lanka, Published by International Centre for Ethnic Studies 1999)

h) Rejection of the 1972 Republican Constitution by the Tamil representatives.

i) Vadukoddai Resolution in 1976 called the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth, in particular, to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of TAMIL EELAM is reached.

j) TULF Election Manifesto 1977-proposed a constitution for the State of Tamil Eelam and to establish the independence of the Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle.

Tamil Eelam will be born only through violent struggle and bloodshed. We are ready for the bloody struggle” – Amirthalingum at TULF victory meeting at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte (1977).

k) In Thimphu proposals –demanded the recognition of a Tamil homeland and the right to self-determination.

l) 1987 -A.J. Wilson before the Sub Committee on Foreign Affairs submitted that the contiguous Provinces of Northern, Eastern and Uva should be made recognized as a single Tamil Unit.

m) The continuing intransigence of the Tamil parties reflected in the speech of Sampanthan at the 14th Annual ITAK convention (May 2012) describing the development programs of the government as a ‘death trap”

The Tamil separatist project was encouraged by the action of the UNP with the –

a) Violent resistance of the legislation on Sinhala only and Reasonable use of Tamil by every opposition party.

b) Sabotage of the District Council scheme agreed to by Tamil parties,

c) With the Black July 1983, which resulted in the violence against Tamils resulting in expansion of the cadres of the LTTE and mass emigration to Western countries and creating pockets of anti-Sri Lankan agitation abroad.

The Indian interference and the domestic constraints resulted in a 30-year bloody war, which according to India’s former National Security Adviser and Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon cost the country around US$ 200 billion. https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2016/dec/13/sri-lankas-internal-war-cost-us-200-billion-1548433.html. This is around two and half times the GDP of Sri Lanka. The war may have resulted in the loss of 150,000 lives. The opportunity cost of the war in the loss of production and investment was enormous.

JVP insurgencies resulted in 60,000 mainly youth killed and the wanton destruction of buses, trains, rail tracks, railway stations, electric transformers, pylons, power lines, power stations, electricity substations, tea factories, agricultural extension centers, and telephone lines. JVP insurrection in 1987-89 froze economic activities and brutalized the community.

In addition the 2004 Tsunami resulted in the destruction of 79,100 houses, damaging about 4,500 industries and left more than 45,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced. The economic loss was estimated at 1454 million US $.


and <https://www.asiafoundation.org/News/summit/tsunamiresponse.html>.

All these events placed enormous pressure on the government, curtailed production, discouraged investments, and traumatized society. The attention of the government was diverted away from development and the best talent was wasted in the war.

The impact of these terrible episodes on the economy and society and the psychology of the people are immeasurable.

These destructive experiences were not shared by Singapore and most East Asian economies. They had free play in development.

We must be thankful that Sri Lanka has survived the tribulations of the past and yet maintained our human development achievements at a high level.

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