Sixty years ago, when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s demagoguery had the ‘common man’ dizzy with populism he introduced a tantalizing political act: nationalization.
Private bus owners, bus mudalalis were absolute villains, the richest in the country and the main financial prop of the UNP, which he had vanquished single handed. So, soon after his 1956 Revolution, he with ‘one stroke of the pen’ – as he liked to describe his decisive moves – nationalised private bus companies that were all running at substantial profits and created the Central Transport Board run by political appointees. It ran at a loss in its first month and has been doing so every month for the past 60 years.
But SLFP propaganda has the CTB (now SLCTB) as a ‘National Treasure’ (Jathika Vasthuvak). And so are all nationalised ventures in the eyes of suckers of demagoguery created by successive SLFP regimes till 1977 when J. R. Jayewardene stopped the madness.
Industries, schools, private companies, insurance, banks, hotels, plantations, foreign and state owned and even the Buriyani Hotel in Maradana came under that magical spell of nationalization. And the great majority of them, save for a very few exceptions, ran at tremendous losses that had to be subsidized by the taxpayer.
Nationalization and socialism were sacred words in the SLFP lexicon. Even when socialism, in the fatherland of socialism, the Soviet Union, and its satellites collapsed and Communist China shifted to a free market economy, the SLFP adherents were so brain washed that they still stand by their tremendous ‘loss making’ national treasures.
This pig headedness is witnessed today by the opposition to the state owned black hole of the Hambantota Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbour, gobbling billion dollars being converted to a private company with both a Chinese company and the Sri Lanka government being joint owners – the Chinese company having greater shares.
What do those opposing to this move of shared ownership such as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa want the present government to do with the Black Holes of Finance created in and around Hambantota in an attempt to immortalize Rajapaksa? Keep them closed as monuments to idiocy and Rajapaksa immortality while paying billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for loans and interests?
Even a mudalali in a Hambantota stall selling buffalo curd knows well that loans borrowed have to be paid off with interest, the property sold off or some alternate arrangement arrived at.
But Rajapaksa and his financial geniuses who had ruled or misruled the country seem unable to comprehend this simple fact. On the other hand why did he not resolve these problems of his own making before he dissolved parliament, went to the country and was thrown out? Surely he should show the way on how to save his ‘national treasurers’.
In those socialist heavens that existed some time ago those responsible for such colossal waste on developing personality cults would have been pulled out of their cells and shot at dawn. In contrast the Yahapalanaya government is being accused of bartering away ‘national treasures’ and attempts made to destabilize the government in the hope of throwing it out.
This kind of political optimism can only thrive in an environment where demagoguery reigns supreme. The definition of a demagogue by H. L. Menecken, American journalist, can explain much: A demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to people he knows to be idiots.
Indeed a person who believes that a monument or project that is causing losses to the state to the tune of billions to be a national asset has to be an idiot. The simple question that should be asked directly from a Hambantota activist is: Does he consider the billion dollar loss making Hambantota Harbour a national treasure or one that should be administered in way to show a profit?
A serious flaw in Sri Lankan politics today is the gullibility of the masses. Political polarization has reached the stage where any blatant lie uttered by even a discredited politician, provided he is from his party, is believed to be a sacred truth and what said by political opponents are absolute lies.
If the state of judgment and intelligence of the vast majority of the electorate is in that abysmal state then Sri Lanka is a Democracy of Idiots.
Those politicians with the interest of the county at heart should try to correct this warped mind-set of the people.’