|Tuesday, 29 July 2003|
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Welcome pro-rural focus
To those familiar with the finer dimensions in Sri Lanka's development effort, the sight of a local political leader touring the "Rice Bowl" areas of the country is both a pleasing and an encouraging sight, although such events have proved very rare in the decades since 1977.
We, therefore welcome Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's tour of these areas where vast tracts of paddy land are now being blessed with golden, bountiful harvests - a rarity since 1983 when the North-East war began in earnest.
In a sense, these visits amount to taking the UNP back to its roots - the rural peasantry which was diligently cultivated and protected by the "Father of the Nation", D.S. Senanayake, our first Independence Prime Minister and pioneering head of the United National Party. The mantle of being the champion of the rural peasantry was carried forward to a degree by Premier Dudley Senanayake but subsequent UNP administrations couldn't be said to have pursued this pro-rice farmer policy with the same degree of zest.
Come the mid-Seventies and we saw a substantial re-cultivation of the rural sector by the then UNP leader J.R. Jayewardene, who, rightly, saw the importance of a rural power base for any political party in this country seeking a resounding return to power. Thus, the UNP romped home to victory with its now famous or infamous "two-thirds majority" in Parliament in the 1977 general election. Reviving the popularity of the UNP in Sri Lanka's rural sector thus proved strategically correct.
Since then, however, we have seen no major initiative on the part of high profile politicians - Right, Left or Centre - to strengthen party links with the peasantry, usually eulogized by politicians themselves as the "backbone of the economy", until now, when Premier Wickremesinghe has considered it opportune to learn at first hand the situation of our farming community.
Until now, the principal economic policy thrust of successive governments since 1977 has been to bolster to the extent possible, the manufacturing sector, based on the principle of export-led growth. Hence, considerable State effort has been directed towards fostering investment fuelled growth - both foreign and local.
None could quarrel with this policy plank but it is all too plain that such a vision of growth leads to lop-sided, unbalanced development, with the rural peasantry suffering considerable neglect. By political leaders paying more attention to the rural peasantry, such bottlenecks in development could be overcome.
However, development needs to be evenly distributed. The North-East peasantry, it is true, is faced with problems of a very fundamental nature, but they too must be lavished the same attention which is being bestowed on the Southern farmer. Even in the case of land distribution, the principle of equality needs to be observed.
It is the pauperization of the peasantry which has led to several socio-political upheavals in this and other countries of the region. The rectification of urban-rural growth imbalances, irrespective of geographical boundaries, could help substantially in making Sri Lanka one of "Asia's most democratic, prosperous states", to quote Asian Bankers' Association President, Alfonso T. Yuchengco, and even help in ethnic reconciliation efforts.
Produced by Lake House