Patriotism: Where are we?
Posted on September 22nd, 2023

By Garvin Karunaratne

Since leaving the Sri Lankan Administrative Service in 1973, I have happened to have worked and lived in four countries for years- that was in the UK, the Bahamas, the USA, and Bangladesh. ​​

Regarding patriotism among the people, I have to admit that Sri Lanka would easily be the worst. This is very sad. It is also important to note that patriotism among Sri Lankans has been dwindling since the Eighties and has been crumbling at a rapid rate with everyone scrambling to get away to any other country where they can work and live a normal life. In my days before 1973, there was not a single person who wanted to scramble away. The ship was not sinking.

In the UK the original English who are extremely patriotic have been sidelined by immigrants. The recent rulers have failed to retain the identity of a country that was once the Mightiest Country on Earth. However in parts of the UK – in Scotland, things are entirely different. The Scots are full of patriotism. I know this for certain as I have lived there for over ten years. The Scots will die for their country.

In the Bahamas, a people who grew up from strays, -castaways, by the slave carrying ships as unwanted, is a country that can reach an abysmal history of less than four centuries, yet the people are patriotic and look to a future. In my work in youth and community development, I found patriotic people. They cherish and look forward to working together..

The USA is a country of immigrants. People from Britain and some European countries invaded and wrested the land from the American Indians and though the USA can call a heritage of only a few centuries the immigrants- from many countries have mixed and merged together into a solid identity and hold a very high sense of patriotism. I have four grandchildren in the USA who are fully patriotic. I have lived two years as a doctoral student but later lived for years with my sons and have travelled all over clocking over 5000 miles crossing coast to coast thrice. I am aware of the sheer patriotism among the people.

The Bangladeshi people are extremely patriotic. Every Bangladeshi loves the country and will die for it. I worked for two years as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor on Youth Development to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower for two years and my first five months were cloistered within administrators and consultants. However in the sixth month, it so happened that General Ershard of the Army took over the country in a bloodless coup and Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam, the Minister for Labour and Manpower was about to axe the Youth Development former Ministry where I worked, and finally before uttering his verdict ordered me as to what I could contribute for Bangladesh. I replied that he should immediately approve a new programme to create self-employment for the youth in vocational training. The Youth Ministry provided vocational training to 40,000 youths . . The Secretary to the Treasury, the highest official in the land who was present at the Conference objected on the grounds that I could not establish a self-employment programme because the ILO of the United Nations with all their funds and worldwide experts had miserably failed to establish a self-employment Programme and it had to be folded up with a great loss.

The Hon Minister allowed us to argue out and we two argued- a one-to-one battle for over two hours. The Minister listened raptured, making notes. In the end, the Minister stopped us arguing and immediately ordered me to implement a self-employment programme. I was denied any funds and had to work with savings found from already approved budgets. This was where the patriotism within the administrators and the youths who were being given vocational training came to the forefront. Every officer was patriotic to the extreme- working for the country they loved. There was no question of it being a Saturday or a Sunday or hours of work. The youths too- our youth was the lot that were illiterate, those who could never find any job, had no qualifications and most of them had even forgotten to read and write. No subsidies of any sort were offered, but we youth workers were guiding them- when required day or night in all types of terrain. They were all patriotic to the extreme as is shown in the results where a self-employment programme that commenced in 1982 had by 2014 brought two million to be self-employed (Report to the IFAD, FAO, one of the founders). By now(2023) easily over three million youths have become self-employed. Today it is a coveted programme implemented by members of the elite Bangladesh Civil Service. The success was entirely due to the patriotism among the youths as well as the officialdom.

Finally, I come to my country, Sri Lanka, where patriotism is at a very low, unimaginable, abysmally low level. Everyone who is able wants to leave the country. This is sad as the country is extremely fertile and blessed with rain and has a record of sheer economic achievement for over twenty-five centuries.

I joined as an Assistant Commissioner in the Marketing Department- the Department that implemented the programme that purchased grains, vegetables and fruits produced by the farmers, at a higher price than what was offered by traders and sold the produce in cities at low prices, a System that is not found anywhere in the World. It also ran a Cannery that canned all the fruit and some vegetables like tomatoes, making Sri Lanka self-sufficient in all fruit produce and fruit juice in three years 1955 to 1958. Officers had to commence work at four in the morning travelling to Producer Fairs that commenced before six in the morning I supervised purchasing and also moved with the producers guiding them to produce varieties that would easily sell. It was always long hours of work and mixing with farmers. I must say that I found the farmers and officials very patriotic.

In Anuradhapura, in 1962 I implemented the Paddy Lands Act and for that, I had to elect 296 cultivation committees. Earlier I had worked with cultivation committees in the Kegalla District and found that my time was wasted in settling feuds between farmers who were divided on political party lines. It so happened that the Paddy Lands Act specified that the Cultivation Committees had to be elected by ballot. Then the election was always on party political lines and when working the opposition, would sabotage the work done- would break the Anicut that had been constructed and I had to intervene, call the Police and there was endless chaos. In Anuradhapura, I decided that all cultivation committees were to be elected by consensus. No election- it had to be a unanimous decision. I had a team of three Assistant Commissioners and ten able divisional officers and we managed to talk to the farmers and elected all other than some 12 on the consensus method. These twelve that failed had the elections with me and I succeeded in getting all of them elected as a consensus. This paid high dividends when it came to working paddy cultivation. The people worked together in repairing the tanks and canals and in following new methods of using high-yielding seed paddy. It is my opinion that reaching self-sufficiency in paddy cultivation in 1970 under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr. Dudley Senanayake was possible because of the sheer patriotism of the farmers.

One of my tasks as the Additional GA at Kegalla in 1968 and 1969 was to be with the Prime Minister. Mr Dudley Senanayake every Saturday and Sunday. I had to meet him at the Warakapola Rest House by nine and accompany him to at least eight meetings organized by party supporters and some organized by my staff. I was with him right through till dusk and I must state that the people were all patriotic in the extreme. It was this patriotism that played the path in the use of high-yielding seed paddy and the use of practices like row seeding, transplanting, and use of inorganic fertilizer where people were willingly adopting these high-yielding methods. All officials were patriotic

Later as the Government Agent at Matara(19871-1973), I found the people very patriotic. The people worked cordially with the politicians. The member of parliament for Deniyaya, Sumanapala Dahanayake, when entrusted by me with the task of establishing a Crayon Factory in his Morawaka Cooperative Union, worked pellmell for two weeks, non-stop, snatching a few hours rest on a chair, making crayons with the youths and we filled crayon packets into two large rooms within two weeks working 24 hours a day. That patriotism enabled the Crayon Factory to be well established within two weeks. In the third week sales were opened by The Hon Minister of Industries, Mr. Subasinghe. It is easily a record of achievement without par in the annals of economic development.

It so happened that I came to know the politicians personally in Kegalla in 1968 and 1969 and in Matara from 1971 to 1973. I found them very patriotic.

Unfortunately, we are now seeing a people who see no future in Sri Lanka.

This is entirely due partly to party politics and to the subjugation of our country to follow the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF since 1978. As I have said earlier party politics has divided the people into two compartments. The full effect of party politics was not felt in my days because the allocation of all development funds came to us officials and we spent it in a very fair manner among people also consulting elected representatives. Unfortunately, after the mid-seventies funds were sent to politicians, especially from the ruling party and even the Government Agent had to work under petty political persons. These changes brought the administration totally under the political party in power and the people at the bottom resented it.

The IMF also came to run our country on neoliberal economic principles since the days of President Jayawardena when he agreed to follow the Structural Adjustment Programme stopping all development work hitherto done to develop the country and running the country on loans. This economic policy has resulted in our buildup of foreign debt of $ 56 billion by 2023. In 1977 Sri Lanka was not a dollar in debt and had a sound economy. Further, after 1978, all development programmes were stopped on the ground that the private sector was to be the engine of growth. The administrators were put into the barracks and they found something to do. This led to the people becoming less and less patriotic. Even today we follow the IMF and that is the cause of our downfall! Today we have come to a situation where over half the population are starving and live in abject poverty.

Our future lies in an attempt to get our people to become patriotic. We have to roll back the economic development programmes like the Divisional Development Councils Programme of 1970-1977 and enable people to produce our requirements and become self-sufficient. We have a fertile country blessed with ample rain. Mother Nature has been benevolent. The Development Programmes that were stopped by the IMF in 1978 have to be restored for the people to marshall development.

At Kegalla, every weekend for two long years, I accompanied the Hon Prime Minister, Mr Dudley Senanayake, in assessing economic development in his electorate. This included attending a number of public meetings. At many such meetings, on endless occasions at the end, we sang the National Anthem of Ananda Samarakoon: .Namo Namo Mata, its wording and music was all-pervading and enthused us in patriotism. Standing by the Prime Minister Mr Dudley Senanayake on numerous occasions I can yet hear him proudly singing our National Anthem, .

We are now at the beginning of a road where through two elections- Presidential we will see a patriotic leader emerge and also create a patriotic parliament, something which we have not seen in the past few decades. Then will economic development be restored, ending the quagmire of poverty and destitution of today. We have to see that this happens through our patriotism.

Garvin Karunaratne

Formerly SLAS, GA Matara 1971-1973


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