The Sri Lanka Lesson

By the Editor: Siddharth Sehgal

The economic meltdown in Sri Lanka and the chaos that ensued has a very important lesson for populist leaders. Listen when it’s time to listen but unfortunately, the tendency to have hubris and ears beyond the range of hearing criticism can evaporate the power in a matter of days. The chosen one doesn’t look so chosen at all when ordinary folks can’t buy a sack of potatoes to feed their families.

In India too, party and government leaders often don’t like to hear criticism. Journalists and political opponents are threatened with tax raids and arrests. The rising inflation, cost of food items and fuel prices, and dipping foreign reserves have put the economy on a difficult path. Governments are trying to answer this scenario by raising interest rates which in turn is making borrowing difficult. Start-ups have seen a drying up of funds and many have laid-off employees to prepare for a lean patch. These things have a direct impact on people’s savings and purchasing power. In uncertain times like these, it’s good to have critics around, people who can show you reality so that you can correct course when you have time.

In Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksas, arrested every criticizing voice, demonized and blamed the minorities for all sorts of woes, and made decisions without any consultation whatsoever. Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector which was heavily reliant on chemical imports for supporting agriculture was suddenly declared chemical free, practically overnight. The government ordered the farmers to switch to Organic farming in one fell swoop rather than making a slow gradual transition. The end result was that agriculture output dipped drastically, lack of income from restricted tourism and exports meant the import bill jumped up all of a sudden.

Not to forget the Chinese Loans played the role of the proverbial nail in the coffin. Many economists estimate that the overall cost of Chinese loans is way higher than expected and the payments on these loans took a huge slice off the island nation’s purse. This should serve as a grim reminder for those world leaders who want to borrow from the dragon.

The Rajapaksas have a huge role in the current woes of Sri Lanka but its people also bear equal responsibility for buying into false narratives and propaganda. They paid no heed to the dissenting voices and made no objections when journalists were arrested. Things don’t look warm in the coming years and Sri Lankans should buckle up for some harsh years ahead. It should be a collective effort to learn from mistakes of the past but often as a society, we find convenience in forgetting.

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