A turning point | Sunday Observer

A turning point

9 April, 2023

The Sinhala and Hindu New Year, the main national festival for the majority of Sri Lankans, is around the corner. Sri Lankans could not celebrate this important national event for three years in a row, due to the Covid pandemic (2020, 2021) and the debilitating economic crisis (2022). In fact, by this time last year the entire country was facing an upheaval, with lengthy queues for most essentials and growing discontent against the Government among the populace. Avurudu, as the traditional New Year is more commonly known, came and went without much fanfare as the people were not in a mood for celebration. The rest, as they say, is history.

This year, the entire outlook has changed under the able leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe who has almost completely restored normality in every sector of the economy. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Fund Facility (EFF) is in the bag, giving a much-needed boost to the moribund economy. The fuel and LP Gas queues are gone and their prices too have been reduced considerably. The Government seems to be keeping certain disruptive trade unions in check so that Essential Services remain unaffected. Several bold decisions too have been taken in this regard.

If the number of shoppers in the main towns and shopping centres is anything to go by, the people are quite enthusiastic about celebrating the New Year in a big way. There is no doubt that the people feel a sense of relief after two years of being holed up in their homes and then another year of socio-economic turmoil. The people are yearning for stability and calm after three turbulent years and they are not likely to permit any anti-social elements to destabilise the country again in another avatar of the Aragalaya.

The people are also in no mood for an election at this stage, as there are immediate priorities that have to be resolved first, despite this being a persistent demand of the collective Opposition. Any election at this stage will mean a degree of socio-political instability, given that elections are volatile, even violent, affairs in this country. It is the opinion of many political analysts that at least one more year must be spent to consolidate the gains made so far on the economic front. By that time, the country will also actually be able to afford an election, which costs upward of Rs.10 billion.

Quite apart from economic success, it is time that we look seriously at reinforcing the bonds that have existed for hundreds of years among the different communities and religious groups in this country as various attempts are being made to destroy this unity. This month of Bak (the Sinhala name for April) happens to be a period where practically all religions have significant days and festivities. These began with the Bak Poya (April 5), which marks the Buddha’s second visit to the island. Good Friday, which marks the crucifixion of Jesus, was observed on April 7. Today, Christians in Sri Lanka and elsewhere celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus today, Easter Sunday. Muslims will celebrate the Ramadan festival (Eid-ul-Fitr) probably on April 22 or 23.

The Sinhala and Hindu New Year falls squarely in the middle of all these events, bringing together all communities and religious groups in a spirit of harmony. Indeed, the traditional New Year, although primarily celebrated by Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus, has over the years become a national event that permeates every community and religious group in Sri Lanka. Everyone joins in the Avurudu fun and even Sri Lankans domiciled or working abroad follow the rituals, regardless of ethnicity and religion.

Indeed, it is heartening to note that they have heeded the Government’s call and remitted US$ 568 million to Sri Lanka through official channels in March, bolstering the foreign exchange reserves. This is almost equal to the pre-pandemic monthly remittances average and a staggering 78 percent rise from March 2022, when there was a concerted campaign by certain political groups which urged expatriates not to send money back home. Thankfully, the expats have realised the feasibility of the economic program helmed by President Wickremesinghe and started sending funds in earnest. The entire nation will be grateful to the expatriates for their significant contribution at this difficult juncture.

It is also important that the authorities maintain a dialogue with the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora to get their inputs and investments for a secure future for both Southerners and Northerners. The President’s recent initiatives to resolve the National Question will no doubt be an impetus for the Diaspora to look at the opportunities available to them in various sectors. It is time that certain extremist organisations based in the South stopped slapping the “Tiger” label on all Diaspora groups as the country cannot afford to lose them due to petty politics and pseudo-patriotism. Sri Lanka needs the contribution and cooperation of all Sri Lankans, wherever they are, to pull it out of the economic quagmire and reach prosperity.