Seventy years of national endeavour | Sunday Observer

Seventy years of national endeavour

Emotions arise from memories as well as hopes and aspirations. When our readers raise our national flag today, they do so with emotions that is a mix of both, memories of our island society’s life so far, as a free nation, as well as of hopes for the future. It is a solemn moment of remembrance of travails, heroic struggles, tragedy and yet partial success. It is also a joyous moment of celebrating our autonomy as a nation uniquely endowed with cherished traits, identities and resources; a re-affirmation of our regained right to choose our future.

In 1948, the raising of the national flag primarily symbolized the moment of freedom from centuries of subjugation and exploitation under European colonial rule. Today, the raising of the flag symbolizes that gaining of national freedom as well as our living enjoyment of it.

Seventy years ago to this day, our country was ceremonially granted its freedom from British colonial rule. Most of our South Asian neighbours too mark their seventieth anniversary of liberation from colonialism this year, being one-time subjects of the same colonial power. Those of us familiar with history are well aware of the lead role played by the Sub-Continent’s anti-colonial freedom struggle for nearly a century preceding 1948. We had our own early anti-colonial struggles, if smaller in scale.

Our political and cultural leaders of the time certainly appreciated that role played by the larger Sub-continental movement led by epochal personalities, such as, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru. Our own luminaries, foremost being Don Stephen Senanayake, along with Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Razik Fareed, among others, were inspired by that great anti-colonial struggle. Through such early movements like the Ceylon National Congress, our leaders had been in solidarity with that struggle. Both our current major political parties were founded by political leaders who had links with, and admired, the Sub-Continental freedom movement.

Our own rich sense of history constantly reminds us of these international bonds of solidarity of nations yet emerging from centuries of traumatic political, economic and cultural subjugation. Our very sense of this journey of post-colonial recovery reminds us of the milestones we have passed, both epoch-making as well as catastrophic.

On the one hand, our leaders have founded regimes of innovative social welfare that brought us global recognition for demographic achievements. Steadfast practice of modern democracy has also brought us distinction. At the same time, creative changes in economic policy have placed our country firmly on a track of rapid development which has withstood many internal upheavals, and today, has us poised on the threshold of socio-economic prosperity.

On the other hand, monumental political failures and mistakes have punctuated our post-colonial recovery with disastrous pitfalls and setbacks. Diversions into obscurantist ethno-nationalism, with fantasies of communal supremacy and reactive illusions of exclusive nationhood, have had their tragic imprint on a good half of our post-colonial history.

Ethnic pogroms have brought us collective trauma and collective shame. Ultra-nationalism was the convenient disguise for autocracy, nepotism and immense plunder and thievery. Pseudo-patriotism undermined discipline, demoralizing entire sections of our state and society.

Our sense of history must empower us to learn and move forward, discarding such ideological diversions. Such lessons must guide us in firmly redressing the mis-governance, corruption and thievery. If we do not learn, we ourselves, will seal our fate.

Today, ours is a lower-middle-income society that enjoys the fruits of our post-colonial struggle toward prosperity and social fulfilment. We have moved out of ‘low-income’ and ‘under-developed’ status to one that is firmly taking us toward full development and affluence. This achievement is solely due to our own endeavours, and we raise our national flag in affirmation of this.

This very week, we pass another milestone: the first conduct of elections under an entirely new and innovative method of voting as well as with innovative election requirements to ensure a more gender-inclusive political representation. In the Local Government election to be held this Saturday, citizens will vote in accordance with a hybrid voting system that will, hopefully, return grassroots governance to one with more genuine, socially responsive, community representation.

Also hopefully, more women will, at long last, participate in the governing of the country. This will return our society to that glorious tradition founded by the mythical Queen Kuveni, Vihara Maha Devi and Theri Sanghamittha. More importantly, it will give recognition to the appreciation of the equal role of women in our families, communities and nation. It will empower women themselves, to begin to build on this new beginning.

At the same time, the emphasis on local community-based political representation will boost enthusiasm by grassroots communities across the island for participation in governance, thereby building greater national unity.

Today, many speeches will be made and flags unfurled not just in Colombo but also in various parts of the island. Let us hope that the raising of the flag is an affirmation of a unified resolve towards a nation where justice, economic equity and, social peace reigns so that Sri Lankans can begin to truly enjoy the fruits of our seventy-year national endeavour.