66 Years of Sri Lanka Independence
By Srimal Fernando, Global Editor
“Mother Lanka We Salute Thee” is the inspirational national anthem of Sri Lanka composed by Ananda Samarakoon, a student of Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in the 1940s. Every year since 1948 the Independence Day of Sri Lanka is commemorated on 4 February in a patriotic spirit by more than 20 million people in the Indian Ocean Island nation. The makers of modern Sri Lanka, Prime Minister D.S Senanayake the father of the Nation, Ceylonese Buddhist revivalist Anagarika Dharmapala, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Honorable S.W.R.D .Bandaranaike, the martyrs of the Sri Lankan Independence movement will be remembered by all country men with profound respect as the National flag of the country is raised by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current President of Sri Lanka on the occasion of the 66th Independence Day.
The socio economic and political aspects of Sri Lanka is one that comes with a great story with its ancient history, strong traditions and home to majestic dynasties. The English name “Ceylon” originated for Sri Lanka during the colonial era. During its long history, the country had to endure numerous invasions by Portuguese (1505 - 1650), Dutch (1656-1796) and later by the British (1815 - 1948). Each of the colonial rulers who ruled the Island left their imprint on the current inhabitants. The British occupation of the Island nation from 1815 saw a new era of political, cultural and religious landscape of the country until Ceylon gained independence in 1948. In pre-independence Ceylon during the 152 years of British rule Colebrooke-Cameron reforms of 1833, Donoughmore Constitutional reforms in 1931 and the Soulbury Constitution reforms in 1944 took initiatives to usher in some necessary reforms. The Soulbury constitutional reform and the first Parliamentary general elections on September 20th 1947 marked the move towards Independence. D.S Senanayake took charge as the first Prime Minister and chose 14 other members for his cabinet. Most members of the first Cabinet were experienced. Among the members of the first cabinet J.L Kotelawela and S.W.R.D Bandaranaike were among cabinet members who have gone on to become Prime Ministers of Independent Sri Lanka in the early 50s. J.R Jayewardene the Minister for Finance in the first cabinet at the forefront of politics for fifty years in pre and post Independence period, served as the President of Sri Lanka in 1978. Independence from British colonialism saw nationalist aspirations for development. Agriculture was the most important sector of the Sri Lankan economy. Tea, rubber and coconut were the main export commodities. Tea plantation introduced to the Island nation by James Taylor, a British Planter in 1867 provided the main export earnings at the time of Independence. Rice cultivation was the main activity of the people.
In the initial two decades after independence, the country saw the development of democratic political parties and trade unions. During the same era progress in social and economic sustainability was achieved through government planning. Successive governments from the mid 50s relied on a nationalizing projects and maximizing welfare. Sri Lanka became a republic on 22nd May 1972 adopting a new constitution replacing the 1948 constitution. In the early eighties, Sri Lanka liberalized its economy and adopted liberal and free-market principles. After the mid 70s the country continued to face challenging problems. The major political conflict in Sri Lanka in the post Independence history originated in the early 1970s. The 1971 youth uprising led by a Marxist political group was the first major political unrest in Sri Lanka. Thereafter the Tamil separatist movement which ultimately got transformed into a civil war began in the mid-70s. The ongoing violence turned into a cycle of violence in 1983 after the killing of 13 Sri Lankan government soldiers in the Northern Province. This incident sparked riots in the rest of the country that would cause the conflict to spiral into a civil war. The Indian intervention in 1987 and the Norwegian brokered Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2002 could not stop the violence. After nearly three decades of fighting and failed tries at peace talks the Sri Lankan Civil war, one of the longest, complex and most destructive conflicts in Asia ended in May 2009. Civil War in Sri Lanka has influenced economic history profoundly across time and space. Peace is a necessary precondition for sustained economic growth. Two years after the long, drawn-out civil war ended, the countries economy grew at 7.2 per cent GDP (Gross Development Product) according to “the Asian Development Out Look (ADO) 2012” the annual flagship publication of the Asian development Bank (ADB). Political stability has been gradually restored in the North -Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka .The recently held Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections where the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won majority of the seats have become a lens through which to observe the political changes. The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was held in Colombo, from 15 to 17 November 2013. The country’s spectacular landscape has played host to a tourism boom in recent years. According to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority statistics the number of foreign visitors travelling to Sri Lanka in 2013 was 1,274,593, a 26 percent increase from 2012. Emphasizing the need to enhance road, air and sea connectivity, two high-speed expressways connecting Colombo to Colombo International Airport in Katunayake, the 126 kilometer long Southern Expressway, the second international airport Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport located in Hambantota and the Hambantota seaport are multi-million dollar additional infrastructure development projects opened in the Indian ocean Island nation in the recent years after the conflict ended.
The export-oriented garment industry in Sri Lanka has grown rapidly for the last three decades providing workers with economic benefits. The sector was earning US$ 4.3 billion in 2013 according to the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF). Sri Lanka’s annual per capita income rose to US$3200 (Estimates, 2012) as a Middle -income country according to international comparisons. The country’s agriculture sector plays a pivotal role in Sri Lanka’s economy and in the lives of the vast majority of its population. Tea is Sri Lanka’s key agricultural export, generating an income of US$ 1.5billion. Sri Lanka has continued to play an instrumental role in Asia and has made significant strides on national, regional and in international fronts. As Sri Lanka celebrates 66 years of nationhood there has been progress in many areas in the past. There needs to be reconciliation among communities, and innovative planning for the future to consolidate sustainability, peace and stability of Sri Lanka.