Is the Opposition Fishing in Troubled Waters?
By Chandra Edirisuriya
What appears to be happening today is simply called fishing in troubled waters! When an epidemic of unprecedented proportions in history is globally raging, no sooner President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office, and the General Elections held soon after a brief respite because of the pandemic, it’s unreasonable to take the already suffering people out of the frying pan into the fire: Even though criticism is part and parcel of democracy.
It is in order for the Opposition to increase its support base ensuring more voters sufficient for them to come to power at the next Election, Parliamentary or Presidential, but it has to be done in a decent manner not provoking people to take on voters of the opposing party so that even members of the same family holding different political views are being poisoned with wile antiGovernment propaganda. Instead of enlightening the farmer community of inevitable vagaries of a period of transition from chemical to carbonic fertiliser use and supporting the Government to go ahead with its programme enumerated in its policy statement it is immoral for the Opposition to have obstructed it at every turn.
Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage in his article titled ‘Reversing the Green Revolution: Is it Possible? ’, in the Ceylon Today of 30 April 2021 has this to say: “On 22 April, at a meeting held with the heads of State corporations and statutory boards, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa emphasised that, “In order to produce a healthy and productive citizenry, the Government must ensure the right of the people to access a balanced and non-toxic diet.” He further said, “Measures will be taken to ensure that only organic fertiliser would be used in the agriculture sector in the country in the future.”
“Although it was a sudden announcement, the President’s policy statement, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour (VPS) promised the introduction of an integrated soil fertility management system as one of the key objectives of his development perspective. The decision if carried out with proper commitment and determination, should be welcome. “Moving away from the agricultural system based on chemical fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides will reduce the agricultural production and as a result the GDP.
According to one economist, the value added to the economy from agriculture will drop by half and reduce the overall GDP by 3.5 per cent. This may be true if someone adopts the conventional system of national accounting. One may also add, if as a result of nonuse of chemical fertiliser the amount of money that has to be spent on the treatment of kidney disease will decline. Hence, to realistically value the impact of this kind of decision, conventional accounting is not adequate. So, systems like energy accounting and atmospheric accounting should be used.
There are other criticisms of the ‘Green Revolution’ programme, according to Prof. Liyanage: “Shifting to an agro-ecological system would increase the price of rice for urban consumers as there will be a reduction in the yield per acre: Recent studies done by the Institute of Fundamental Studies with regard to paddy cultivation has revealed moving away from the agricultural system based on chemical fertiliser may reduce the market price of rice to Rs 75 a kilogramme.
“Removal of the subsidy for chemical fertiliser would be a disincentive to engage in agriculture and as a result farmers’ income would decline and rural poverty would increase. This was the fear of the farmers as expressed by the Chairman of the Farmers’ Organisation of Polonnaruwa: Nonetheless, systemic transformation, in this case from industrial agriculture to the agroecological system, is not something that can happen overnight. It is a prolonged process. Rejuvenation of soil would take at least two to three kanna.
Hence, a subsidy can be given to farmers through an income stabilisation programme in the transition period. “The decline of farmer income would lead them to give up farming so that they would be dispossessed by big agri-businesses: This critique has no validity as big agri-businesses depend more on chemical fertiliser. “This is not a conscious and well thought measure but a response to a trade deficit, so that an attempt to cut down on USD 400 million annual expenditure on importation of fertiliser: It may be true but that is how import substitution policies were articulated and emerged.
So, what? “Although it is in the VPS and the President seems to be determined to adopt this programme, pressure would be mounted definitely from various forces, either to stop the programme completely, or to water it down. This fear is not unsubstantiated. Past experience has shown that powerful bureaucrats were behind in releasing a stock of chemical fertiliser with a dangerous substance. “An amalgam of fertiliser companies, top level bureaucrats and politicians are capable of blocking this kind of programme, as if directly affects their thirst for power and money.
“There is another group, which includes agricultural experts and economists, who would forecast using various mathematical models a bleak future such as the decline of GDP, reduction of productivity, and possible increase of import of rice and other food grains. “As the implementation would be prolonged and entail transitory pain to the farmers, an opposition may emanate from the farmers themselves who have been heretofore practising farming heavily dependent on chemical fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides.
As the rural farmers comprise the large portion of vote base among all communities, it may be electorally a disaster: Hence, it is necessary to introduce measures to minimise these temporary pains and outcomes. “Greening of agriculture is definitely a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, the pressure mounting against such a step would be formidable and countering it needs a strong alliance and a correct programme.”
Mind you this highly informative and instructive article was published nearly six months ago and all the Opposition politicians who cannot say that at least their leaders were ignorant of these enlightening facts backing a campaign by orchestrated farmers is unkind, to say the least! What they should have done, if as they vociferously claim in desperation the Government has failed and are so tight for power, rather than exposing the poor puppet protesters breaking all health guidelines such as not wearing masks, not keeping the distance, shouting at the top of their voices, was to organise a majority in Parliament, impeach the President take on the Government! There was an instance when the Opposition was successful in defeating the sitting Government in a parliamentary coup.
It happened in 1964 when a number of Members of Parliament of the SLFP crossed over to the Opposition resulting in the defeat of the SLFP-LSSP Coalition Government followed by the dissolution of Parliament leading to the formation of the UNP-Mahajana Eksath Peramuna-Federal Party National Government led by UNP Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake of 1965-1970. It is said that money to the tune of Rs 50,000 – a princely sum at the time – changed hands to get some MPs to defect, while others were induced by anti-Lake House takeover sentiments and still others being opponents of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike for the schools’ takeover and in addition pro-1962 coup elements.
However, the dirtiest move in the annals of Parliament was the JVP betraying the trust placed in it by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime by leaving the Government at the crucial moment of passing the budget just prior to the military defeat of the LTTE necessitating Karu Jayasuriya to cross the Floor of the House with 16 other UNPers. On the other hand, the UNP, sometime back, came out with the prospect of winning future elections when one of its stalwarts said the Party will rise up in two years’ time or so.
The SLFP too, is buckling up these days its current leader imploring the membership to get round anyone irrespective of political party affiliation to join hands with it. The SJB on the contrary is hell bent on backing protest campaigns, in the country as well as in Parliament, hoping for a collapse of the Government at any moment, depending on the support of its membership alone, perhaps knowing only too well that there will be no newcomers joining it. Its attitude is contrary to the tested political truth that a party expecting to come to power at the next General Election has to win over a large number of supporters of the Government camp as was well known to President J.R. Jayewardene in 1977.
This applies to a Presidential Election too, mutatis mutandis. The JVP that has two failed insurrections to its credit has been adjuncts to left-of-centre Governments for over well-nigh two decades and as a political party has a history of being neither here nor there on crucial issues such as LTTE terrorism is seemingly ignorant of the fact that education was so disrupted as for a medical student to pass out five years late in the period around 1988-1989 although principal/ teacher Trade Unions backing it lament about the situation, today, where education has been inactive for only the last one and a half years owing to a grave health situation.
The silver lining in the cloud is that some trade unions have made use of the first opportunity to make peace with the Government: the Public Service United Nurses’ Union head Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera – who when he threatened to strike three decades back the then President throwing the ‘wet towel’ on him using a double entendre, ‘Then I’ll tell the undertakers to make more coffins’ – some time back deciding not to strike considering the health situation and pedagogues’ trade unions taking a respite from their ‘wild horse’ tactics. It is widely known that the British adopted a divide and rule policy, setting one against the other, making a distinction between low country and Kandyan Sinhala Buddhists, Jaffna Tamils and Batticaloa Tamils, as Sinhala, Tamils and Muslims and those of different castes: climaxing with the political party system that has reduced the country to an eternal battle field with each at the throat of the other!