‘Messed with the Wrong Generation’

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By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

Previous generations were of the view that they invented sex, protesters agitating over the constraints we are currently facing due to the prevailing dire economy are also of the view that they are the first generation to voice their protest against the Government in power. Again, this is not the case. 

If it were not for the generations before, then Sri Lanka would not be a unitary nation, but an island divided along ethnic enclaves with a eunuch for a Parliament. Today, Sri Lanka is a peaceful island with the unique record to be the only nation to have successfully and completely eradicated terrorism. This is thanks to the generations before. 

Sri Lanka in 2022 and early 2000s

The generations before were certainly not meek and quiet, as many of the protesters imply. In many ways, the previous generations endured far greater challenges as high inflation, two-digit interest rates and a flagging GDP. These are the pinches the present generation are only about to face. 

Today, one of the main contentions of the protesters is the ongoing power disruptions due to the lack of fuel. It might surprise many that nearly 50 per cent of the population did not have electricity until 2005. Today, almost 100 per cent of households have access to electricity. 

Just 15 years ago, Sri Lanka was a very different country. Our basic infrastructure then, including the road network, was poorly maintained. Therefore, many did not have proper accessibility to schools, employment or even healthcare. 

Highways reduced travel time

Today, almost every road — irrespective of its size or purpose — is carpeted. Our focus now is on the next phase of the highway. Time taken to travel from Colombo to Kandy or to any destination in the South has been halved by the highway. 

From 1999 to 2004, our GDP hovered around 4 per cent. Foreign Direct Investments were scarce due to the security threat wrought on by terrorism. Even our agricultural sector, that is still the dominant sector, languished without any sign of development. Our production costs remained high whilst the yields low. 

We were literally living from loan to loan. The financial highlight of 2003 was the loan package of USD 567 million the IMF agreed to give Sri Lanka. Duly we received USD 59 million as the first tranche. However, the IMF was reluctant to release the second payment worth USD 80 million that fell due in February 2004. IMF’s reasons were simple. While the Government’s progress on the fiscal front was satisfactory, the then Government was hesitating to implement IMF’s recommended tough reforms, including amendments to the labour legislation. Arguably, the burden on the people then was much higher than it was today. 

Notwithstanding all these incredible hardships, the then generations too were also involved in politics. Some generations, not unlike the present generation, chose to protest against the State. Some even took arms against their fellow citizens to terrorise the living daylights out of them so as to pressure the then Governments into caving into demands that were either constitutionally or democratically impossible. 

Past, present generations that protested against Govts 

The present day protesters have attempted to distance themselves from those who took to violence in the past. Yet, the parallelism is uncanny between the two sects; those who engaged in violence and those who are protesting peacefully. 

1. Real and false social ills had been used to motivate both sects into action. 

l The JVP used the economic constraints faced by the economically lower middle and lower class to build anger against the economically upper and middle class societies. The JVP followers thought they were changing the system. 

l The Northern and Eastern Tamil politicians misled the Tamil youth into believing that they were being ethnically discriminated. Those youth who took to terrorism believed they were changing the system. 

l The “messed with the wrong generation” protesters believe that their Government had robbed from them. They believe that they can change the system. 

2. Actions of both sects severely hampered the economy. Even though this generation protesters claim to be peaceful, the protest at Mirihana in front of the President’s private residence has left the State with a whopping bill of over Rs 300 million. The tourism industry that was just recovering after being shut down for three years due to both the Easter Attack and the pandemic has again taken a step back. Consequently, the country is being denied the much needed forex to see through the present crisis. 

3. Invisible foreign agents manipulate these agitations — both violent and peaceful — to achieve their own agendas. The protests began with a cry for commodities as fuel, electricity and milk powder. Subtly this changed into demanding the resignation of the President, which since then had changed into the abolition of presidency. The executive presidency is the only guard that protects the unitary status of this country. The demand to abolish it thus has serious implications and is resonant with the LTTE ideology. 

It is impossible to decide whether the graver situation before us is the crisis itself or that the only solution the protesters can envision is to oust the incumbent Parliament in its entirety or at least the present political leadership. Just like the JVP and the LTTE terrorists, these protesters too are without a plan for day after. 

Sustainable solutions over tantrums 

The reality we must face is that the successive mismanagement of all Governments has come home to roost. It is unfair to lock down only the Governments since 1948 for the current mess. The governing agents who ruled the country in the name of Portugal, Holland and England were as responsible for transforming our lifestyles from self- sustenance to one dependent on imports. 

It is not only our governments but as citizens too, we must take responsibility for this crisis. We have been enjoying luxuries that we cannot afford. The protesters, mainly from the middle income sector are agitating because of the inconveniences caused due to lack of fuel and imports such as milk powder. 

Instead of throwing a tantrum, as the present protesters are engaged in, let us be the generation that tackles the root causes. We have limited avenues to earn our forex. Yet, we are an import dependent nation. As our consumption is higher than our earnings we are also a debt ridden nation. 

If we are to emerge from this crisis resolutely, we must focus on,

1. Servicing our current debt and so restore our credibility and end the current vicious cycle of debt. 

2. Reduce our dependency on imported raw materials. For instance, we must look for alternatives to generate electricity than fossil fuels to power our generators. We do have a plethora of options in the form of solar, wind, waves, chemical reactions and even garbage. 

3. Understand that commodities as milk powder are not essentials but rather luxuries we really do not need. Instead, we must strengthen our local dairy farmer. Every time we buy a loaf of bread, it should hurt our conscience for we are adding to the national debt. 

If this generation wishes to set itself apart from the past generations, then they need to be much more national minded, progressive and innovative than the meaningless protests that do not contribute a red cent to the Sri Lankan economy. 

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