What is to be done?
The fact that there is admittedly an economic crisis today, after nearly seventy-four years of Freedom from British rule, does not augur well for Sri Lanka, corona virus disease assuming epidemic proportions or not! However, it is creditable, indeed, for the Government to be able to provide at least the basic minimum requirements of life amidst the present economic downturn. The Government has seen to it that not even a single citizen among the vast number of even those living below the poverty line does not die of hunger.
It is not at all to the credit of all post 1948-Governments to have allowed an economic situation such as what the country is in at present to develop under their very eyes for an expanse of time running through for over seven decades. This is while several Asian nations that shed their colonial shackles around the middle of the twentieth century and even countries in the African continent that became free over a decade or more thereafter have achieved considerable economic progress.
It was, too, well known to any student of Geography in the University Preliminary Form of a school in the 1950s, not to mention undergraduates in any of the universities pursuing disciplines such as Political Economy, later Economics, or at least Economic Geography, that India, that could be called the mother country of most of us Sri Lankans, embarked on her first ‘Five-Year Plan’ soon after getting freedom from colonialists and China the Asian giant did so almost simultaneously after the Communist Revolution of 1949.
India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, who told a reporter that his sole intention was to usher in the scientific advancement of his country, worked indefatigably for sixteen hours a day in his office for quarter of a century. So did revolutionary China, both countries successfully completing as many Five-Year Plans as could be contained within the last seven decades making them giant economies, today.
The secret of India’s tremendous economic prosperity, when compared to ours, is unmistakably due to the country meticulously, systematically, faithfully and successfully implementing five-year plans on 1) Small scale farming, 2) Large scale farming, 3) Small scale industries, 4) Large scale industries, 5) Ship building, 6) Aircraft building, 7) Atomic energy, 8) Space technology etc. in that order over the years. So, has China.
In contrast, Ceylon as she was called then, was content with dutifully sticking to the economic blueprint of the former British administrators, laid down in 1833, if not in 1796 itself, comfortably sitting on the progress the Ceylonese Board of Ministers achieved under the Executive Committee System consequent upon the formation of the State Council following the Donoughmore Reforms of 1931. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who having returned uncontested for the Veyangoda seat of the State Council, at a time when there was a dearth of political parties, is reported to have quipped, “I am the only political party at Veyangoda,” although he had grandiose plans for the country’s development as evident from his famous Monograph ‘Spinning Wheel and Paddy Field’ was not given a portfolio higher than Local Government and Health which was part of the reason why he started a political journey on his own in 1951.
His programme was to build on the agricultural economic system of the original Sinhala-Aryan settlers, augmented by the spinning of thread for the weaving of cloth which was known even to Kuveni’s tribe, when Aryans arrived. This was in addition to reviving the whole indigenous ethos.
This was not to be, as he was gunned down barely halfway through his First ‘Ten-Year Plan’ (1956-1965) which was to really launch the free country on her progressive economic path. Had he been allowed to live longer we would now have been in completely different circumstances. It is, indeed, very unfortunate that neither his biological heirs nor those who claim to have inherited his political legacy have been mere ‘Lilliputians’.
They, lamentably, fall far short of his intellect and end up as the ‘Pigmy’ aspirant to the hand of Gypsy chief’s pretty daughter Radda, in Maxim Gorky’s ‘Makar Chudra’, drawing the comment from her father when he sang a song to show his skills: “That’s how a potter-fly tried to sing like an eagle!” So, it is up to the apt claimants to his philosophy, political and otherwise, to implement his policies as shown by the recent moves to put the people before all by curbing the mass scale hoarding, first of agrochemicals, then of essential foodstuff such as sugar, paddy and rice etc.
No Government can afford to allow paddy hoarders, rice mill owners or other dealers to have a free rein to make unconscionable vulgar profits at the expense of an ailing nation, for daily sustenance is a matter of life and death. At one time central planning was abandoned after opening the economy saying what should there be is not a planned but a planning economy and Lalith Athulathmudali, an intellectually like-minded of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, had to clear the air emphasising that it will only be an open economy and not a free economy. Thereafter, to get over the guilty consciousness it had to be said that there will be ‘an open economy with a human face’.