30/09/2009 - Daily News
Sixty years with Independence

It is 60 years since Sri Lanka gained independence from colonial rule. Only a few of us, be it politicians or professionals or otherwise, have taken pains to look back and analyze where we were right and where we went wrong and the reasons why. A few years back, Milinda Moragoda commenced writing a column for a Sinhala newspaper in an attempt to dispassionately examine such questions while closely analyzing the setbacks and issues confronting us during our journey since independence.

Fashioning the future

Making use of the lessons learned from our past experiences, he proposes policies upon which he believes the country’s future should be fashioned. In his column he reminded us that the only way we can move forward is to learn from our mistakes by engaging in an honest examination of our past history and to engage in self-criticism.

An anthology of articles appearing in Milinda Moragoda’s column is now available in a book entitled Kadapatha (The Mirror) 60 Years After Independence. It was edited by the veteran journalist and renowned editor of many a newspaper, Edmond Ranasinghe.

The people of this country know Milinda Moragoda not only as the politician who propagated a different political culture but also as a person who makes a genuine effort to engage civil society by raising difficult questions and by disseminating the opinions and ideas he himself believes in. Although he uses many channels for this purpose, one of the most successful was his column in the Lankadeepa in which he discussed a wide range of current topics. Politics and the economy are the subjects most frequently discussed. In some of his articles he makes use of the insights and political vision of several prominent world leaders he has interacted with, in order to drive certain points home to the reader.

An appropriate title

When we read the articles in the book, we felt that it was aptly named Kadapatha - or The Mirror – as it is apparent that he attempts to examine the period since Independence as if placing it in front of a mirror and in the process honestly reviews, analyzes and scrutinizes events in order to learn history’s lessons.

There is no doubt that when mistakes are made, the easiest thing in the world is to criticize and place the blame on others. When the same unresolved issues in society still haunt us - even sixty years later, after gaining independence from colonial rule - this is the easiest route to take, to create scapegoats and to obscure the real issues in the political rat race to grab power.

Familiar politics

However, in his writing, Moragoda never displays any inclination to indulge in this familiar political practice. Instead, we see that Moragoda strives to convince the reader that all of us, politicians and ordinary citizens alike, are responsible for mistakes made in the past 60 years. He reiterates that no one person, institution or political party should be singled out and held responsible for the failures for which we have paid and are still paying dearly.

His articles draw attention to the damage caused by the historically lethargic attitude of the nation which sadly lacked the dedication required to develop a new vision appropriate for the country. He points out that the true picture will only emerge if we take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror.

On the one hand Kadapatha can be seen as criticism levelled against our entire society. On the other hand, it can be considered as an attack on our political leaders. However, the author stresses that all members of our society bear their share of responsibility, and it is we who create the leaders who represent us.

Rifts and conflicts

At the beginning of the book Moragoda expresses his objective of writing a series of articles that are unusual for an ordinary politician.

“Even after 60 years of independence, the country is in confusion. Our society is characterized by divisions, rifts and conflicts. People live under constant tension and anxiety. Is it only the rulers who governed our country for the last six decades who brought this unfortunate situation upon us?  Do we bear any responsibility for the state of affairs ourselves? It is important that issues should be resolved through open dialogue, and through these articles, I am trying to raise questions and offer my own thoughts in an attempt to provide a platform to encourage open discussion - and just as importantly, to provide a looking glass in which we can scrutinize ourselves with clarity. I believe that the moment has come for us to take a good look at ourselves in a mirror and reflect upon our own beliefs, behaviour and conduct.”

In his articles Moragoda analyses the prerequisites and qualities required for leadership to govern the country. It is apparent that his analysis was made based on his thorough understanding of his not only his own country’s history but that of the world as well. He also makes an attempt to point out what could be achieved through self scrutiny and constructive self-criticism. The following is an extract from his article “What is Leadership.”

Definition of leadership

“Leaders who wish to take up the task of leading their country should have the ability to clearly present their vision through to the masses and gain their allegiance to towards their development goals which will not be immediate. They must also be able to convince society to work to make the necessary sacrifices that are necessary to meet these goals. Otherwise, people can grow impatient or frustrated and misunderstand or mdo not clearly comprehend the goals set out by the leaders.

The problem has been that the aims of our leaders have often been misunderstood or misrepresented, due to the existing social divisions and polarization of our society, bringing about endless and unproductive debates and arguments leading to inaction and further to divisions in our society.”

We’ve often heard stated that differences of castes no longer exist in our society. However, the truth of such statements is subjected to serious doubt when decisions are made based upon a person’s affiliations such as which sports club he or she belongs to or the school he or she attended. Such decisions unfairly deprive many worthy people of opportunities to advance.

When sections of a society are marginalized by the mainstream, it is natural that some people will become dissatisfied and frustrated. With a growing segment of discontented and alienated people, it is not be possible for a country to concentrate on development.”

The need of the hour is to eliminate the numerous divisions existing in our society. Most of these social divisions were deviously introduced in the past to prevent attempts for independence. The truth is that no struggle can be won by a society when it is divided for every conceivable reason.

We have been celebrating our independence from colonial rule for six decades. However, real independence will be elusive for us until we conquer the mammoth challenge of uniting our society.

After 30 years of suffering, our armed forces under the able guidance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa liberated the country from the clutches of terrorism. In his victory-day speech, the president stated that there are no divisions in this country other than the majority that loves the country and a small minority that doesn’t.

Long before the Head of State expressed this opinion, Moragoda in his articles has been saying that the country should be freed from the manacles of divisions and should be united in order to achieve any meaningful independence.

He has further said that the future of the country is in jeopardy if we continue to fail to comprehend this reality -  still, 60 years after our independence from colonial rule.

-Sara Kandegoda and Sunethra Siriwardena