By Prof. Susirith Mendis
I have written about this on a few occasions before. But this is the first time I am venturing to do so since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka. I reiterate, he was elected President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as five others have been before him. But none of the others have taken cognisance of a simple historical fact. That they have been elected as Presidents of a Republic; that Sri Lanka, for the first time in its modern history, as its name states, is a Sovereign Republic, since May 1972. I am hoping that the sixth elected President of the Sri Lankan Republic will recognise that historical fact.
What else can I do except to restate what I wrote two years ago (‘The Island’ of 4th February 2018). I quote it in full below:
“I last wrote about the ‘independence’ day a couple of years back (‘The Island’ 24th February 2016) when Kishani Jayasinghe sang ‘Danno Budunge’ in operatic style at the ‘Independence’ day celebrations. I said then, that it was “the wrong song, sung in the wrong style, at the wrong place, at the wrong time”.
“Events that have happened since, make me feel that I was somewhat wrong. Though it was indeed the wrong song, it was the right style, sung at the right place at the right time. What I mean is that it was symbolic of the times; a metaphor for the philosophy of the current regime. The operatic distortion (though beautifully sung with a superlative voice) of a traditionally revered song, perhaps, was even premonition of things to come. A loss of things that were once, our ‘national pride’.”
Much has happened since then. Our sovereignty and national dignity has been severely compromised. We have become the plaything of powerful nations in the region as well as vested interest beyond.
But I digressed from what I really wanted to say today.
Our governments (except perhaps, those of 1956-59 and 1970-77), and their leaders, seem to have a penchance to invite British Royalty to our ‘independence’ day celebrations – The Queen, to Prince Charles, and now scraping the barrel with Prince Edward. What are we trying to tell the world? That we are ever grateful to the British for granting us ‘independence’? That we need to remind ourselves at regular intervals that we must be so grateful? To ensure that our subservient populace remain psychologically subservient, to remind them in case they have forgotten, to express their gratitude? Or, more likely, is it that our leaders still believe that we are yet a nation with dominion status; what in fact, we were granted 70 years ago? Hence, that the Queen of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is still ‘our Queen’? Or both?
The purportedly false document issued by a fictitious ‘Welcome Committee of British Royals’ listing etiquette to follow in the presence of Prince Edward and Sofie, that has gone viral in the social media, is an excellent exposition of the current government mind. It is brilliant in its biting sarcasm. But it is also a sad indictment on the dismal state that we have fallen – the once proud nation.
One is not surprised by this, as somewhere, in 2004, the UNP government took a decision to commemorate 500 years since the arrival and conquest of our littoral states by the Portuguese. It took some protests to ensure that we will not have to face that shameful indignity.
Now, to my final and most important point on this 70th anniversary of our ‘independence’. You may have been wondering why I have been placing ‘independence’ in single quotes. To me ‘independence’ on 4th February 1948 does not mean real independence. It is at best ‘half-independence’ which also means that we remained a ‘half-colony’. The irony of it was not better demonstrated than when Rohana Wijeweera was tried by the CJC, in 1971, for sedition and attempting to overthrow the British Queen.
Sri Lanka is, perhaps, the only country in the world that having severed the apron strings that we were tied to from 1948 and become a full Republic to on 22nd May 1972, does not celebrate our full independence, but keep celebrating the day we achieved dominion status. Even during 1970-77, we celebrated both these days. The JRJ government, of 1977, reverted to 4th February and we have been stuck with it since.
I think it is time, after 70 years, for us to drop celebrating 4th February and begin celebrating 22nd May each year – The Republic Day. I make this national appeal for those of like mind to take it up seriously. Let us get back our national pride, even symbolically, before it is too late.”
It has been 38 years since Sri Lanka became a sovereign Republic. But still we celebrate 4th February as ‘independence’ day. Two years ago, I ended my letter with an appeal – “Let us get back our national pride, even symbolically, before it is too late.” I am making this appeal once again to our new President because I earnestly feel that the new President is sincerely trying to get back our lost dignity, our lost self-esteem and our lost national pride.
Let this be the last 4th of February that we celebrate. Let it be a ‘’National Heroes Day’ if at all – in remembrance of those who fought for our independence, but unlike India, we ended getting a half-baked ‘independence’.
I make a new appeal to our new President (if not next year) at least in two years’ time, when we commemorate 40 years of true independence of being a Sovereign Republic, on 22nd May 2022 that we make a clean break from 72 years of mental subjugation and celebrate 22nd May instead of 4th February. 22nd May 1972 was the day when we finally broke away from the British crown and came unto our own as a truly free nation. Let us celebrate our new National Day each year on 22nd May – the Republic Day of Sovereign Sri Lanka.