From symbol to substance
The fact that a
substantial slice of this country’s ‘development cake’ is for
the Northern Province proves that the government is not dabbling
in mere symbols or mouthing engaging rhetoric when it
underscores its commitment to Northern advancement. No less a
person than President Mahinda Rajapaksa is on record that the
largest allocation of state funds is for the North and this
amounts to the government making very plain its intention of
bringing the Northern Province out of the economic doldrums.
These developments also prove that there is an effort by the
government to move from symbol to substance. While President
Rajapaksa’s presence in the North over the past couple of days
was of profound symbolic significance, in that it indicated that
the political Centre cares tremendously for the once
conflict-ridden province, the actual siphoning of the bulk of
state funds to the North, more than amply signifies that the
government is in earnest with regard to its development plans
for the province. That is, the state is going beyond symbolic
gestures to substantive undertakings.
However, symbols too possess a high intrinsic value which
should not be downplayed. A few days back we had with us in Sri
Lanka the former President of India, the well known scientist
and philosopher Prof A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. The appointment of
Prof. Kalam to prestigious and eminent position of President of
India had high symbolic significance in that it indicated, among
other things, the Indian state’s strong commitment to national
unity. For, Prof. Kalam is a Muslim and his appointment to the
position of President, sufficiently indicated that for secular
India, citizens of Muslim origin are as important as citizens of
other ethnic and religious backgrounds within the Indian Union.
Accordingly, the former Indian President becomes a symbol of
Therefore, symbols too are of inestimable significance.
Likewise, President Rajapaksa’s tour of the North is also of
tremendous symbolic significance because it indicates the
state’s intention of strongly integrating the North into the
mainstream of Sri Lankan national life.
\The Lankan President by traversing the length and breadth of
the Northern Province proves very conclusively that he stands
for the legitimate interests of the totality of the Lankan
citizenry and thereby becomes a symbol of Sri Lankan unity.
Moreover, the Lankan state has gone beyond symbol to
substance by channeling an abundance of state funds to Northern
development. As we indicated in this commentary yesterday, this
is a dramatic advance over the past few decades, when no Heads
of State of this country ever visited the North-East, leave
alone pledging themselves to the province’s development. Thus,
we are now witnessing a substantial change from former state
policy and practice.
Now that the basics for development are in place, the state
is obliged to ensure that the development process in the North
and East goes on without a hitch. Apparently, infrastructure
development will occupy prime place in the plans for the
provinces but it must be also ensured that the people are
empowered in economic terms through a steady ‘trickling-down’ of
wealth. That is, the purchasing power of the people must
steadily increase and they should not be in need. This is the
proof of the pudding and this is the goal that needs to be
reached on the development front.
It is no accident that all this and more is happening in the
North concurrent to the Deyata Kirula Exhibition and Trade Fair
in Anuradhapura, which aims at showcasing the prosperity drive
in Sri Lanka.
Development has to be taken to every nook and cranny of this
country if development is to prove real.
The ordinary people could derive some satisfaction from the
fact that the state has arrived at the realization that it is
growth with equity that must be aimed at. And growth plus equity
could be achieved only when there happens to be equality of
condition and opportunity among the people.
The North-East conflict had its roots in the conviction among
some that the last condition was not being fulfilled in this
country. Therefore, alongside an accelerated development
process, constitutional and other changes need to happen to
ensure that we have equality in every respect. Development and
rights are mutually re-inforcing.