A General Scorned (II)

“The Mahinda Chintanaya - Mahinda Thought - is being vested with cachet of mysticism and magic once given to Mao ze Dong Thought. Even though the President said he was not born a prince, his sycophantic panegyrists continue to hail him as Mahrajanani – Great King.”

By Nalin Swaris

(January 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Presidential candidate, former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka, has been in MBRL (multi-barreled rocket launcher) mode firing a tactical barrage of election pledges to suit different occasions. These promises, no doubt, have been designed by the man, whom the General not so long ago scornfully dismissed as a “mere tailor who makes underwear for women.” This ‘tailor’ has forgotten his jeer and proclaims that the General is fit to lead a new Salvation Army. If one is to believe the image the General is projecting of himself he is not only a man for every season, he promises to be all things to all men and almost everything to most women. A rosy prospect indeed. Most of the promises the General makes, he assures, will be honoured within the first month of his coming to power. The General has already changed his mind about the most important pledge he made when he announced his candidacy - to abolish the Executive Presidency. Now he says to keep his promises and serve the people he will have to retain certain powers vested in the Executive President by the Constitution - a Credible Change? Though Sarath Fonseka has retired from the Army and adopted civilian attire, his election posters celebrate him as a military man in the full regalia of a four star general. Who is the preferred Fonseka?

The General, according to Mr. Sampanthan responded favourably to the demands of the TNA, which the President had to refuse to countenance. The general is shedding tears about the plight of the Tamil IDPs, the people of Jaffna, and the LTTE cadres in custody. As soon as he comes to power he has pledged to resolve all these issues. Spiteful opportunism and spite have dulled the memory of TNA politicians. They are backing the very man they damned as the scourge of the Tamil people. The Tamil people may not forget the misery they brought upon themselves by pinning their hopes on a now fallen star. Will four stars bring them the salvation they seek?

Pax Fonsekana

What is the peace that General Fonseka envisaged for the Tamil speaking people after the war was ended? While the war raging, in an interview with Stewart Bell of the Canadian magazine, National Post on September 23, 2008, Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka said, “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” The following day, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in a statement to the media, expressed deep concern and strong disapproval of the Army Chief statements. “These sentiments”, the CPA commented, “which General Fonseka has made public on several other occasions in interactions with local and international media, are cause for alarm in at least two respects. Firstly, the fact that the Commander of the Army feels free to represent his personal opinions and enter into public discussion about policy matters that are constitutionally the proper domain of the political executive, and indeed is allowed to do so repeatedly without any restraint by the political executive. Secondly, the highly contentious and insensitive nature of what is apparently an ideological perspective that is held by General Fonseka about the nature of the Sri Lankan polity, the political anatomy of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and the means of its resolution.” The general was asked by the government to make, yes, - “a clarification”. He said the undue demand was “federalism.”

As the war was reaching its denouement, the Indian general election campaigns were reaching high fever pitch. Most Tamil Nadu politicians were exploiting the war in Sri Lanka for political gain. The Sri Lanka Army was accused of waging a genocidal war against Tamils. Some demonstrators set themselves on fire. They were demanding a halt to the war. The government in Delhi was walking a tight rope anxious not to loose support in Tamil Nadu on the one hand and on the hand, not once more interfere in Lankan affairs by demanding that the war be stopped. In this highly charged atmosphere the Army Chief blew his mouth and called Tamil Nadu politicians “jokers in the pay of the LTTE”. Writes Jeyraj, “When New Delhi remonstrated, Fonseka was asked to issue an apology. He refused. It was left to Gotabhaya to patch up by issuing an apology for no fault of his own.”

Jeyraj delineates Fonseka’s Tamil-friendly peace plans. Between the President and the Army Chief, “There was an evolving divergence was about re-settlement of Wanni IDP’s. President Rajapakse had given assurances to the UN, IMF, western nations and India on this account and had obtained aid from the IMF predicated on these guarantees. But the hawkish Fonseka was of a different opinion. He wanted prolonged detention of IDPs to identify and eradicate Tigers masquerading as civilians.

“Fonseka also wanted the army’s strength to be increased to 300,000 and at least 100,000 deployed in the Wanni. He had elaborate plans of settling army families in cantonments in the Wanni thereby changing the demography in the north … For him the war was not over.”

The TNA leadership and other leading Tamils cannot plead ignorance of what the General boastfully said at Dharmashoka Vidyalaya, Ambalangoda. I quoted this in Part I of this article. The JVP leaders have forgotten this and instead are training their guns on the editor of the Sunday Leader, selectively quoting from the interview.

The Enemy of My Enemy

The alliance between the TNA and the former Army Chief is mind boggling. The name that the TNA chose for electoral purposes is Ilangai Thamil Arasu Kattchi – Lankan Tamil State Party. This dissemblance was there from the beginning. SJV Chelvanayagam called his new party The Federal Party in English, but the Tamil name of the party was Thamil Arasu Katchi. Thus while Left and Liberal politicians were ardently promoting a federal solution, what was actually pursued was what Anton Balasingham demanded at the international press conference in 2002, “maximum autonomy to the Homeland or secession”. Tamil Arasu fits both options. The TNA contested the last general election declaring that they recognized the LTTE claim to be the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. The Tamil people were denied the right to choose between a plurality of parties. The election was rigged and marred by violence and intimidation unleashed by the LTTE. The TNA would have won a significant number of seats but not the 22 seats it now enjoys if the election free and fair. The European Commission in its final report stated that the elections in the North and the East were not free and fair. It would have asked that the elections in these areas be declared void if the TNA seats would have been a decisive factor in forming a government. The presence of the TNA in Sri Lanka’s parliament is perhaps the greatest anamoly in its history. Here was a group of politicians who, because the law requires it, swore nominal allegiance to the Constitution and took an oath abjuring separatism, whereas the separatist group they represented rejected the legitimacy of the Lankan parliament. They made the interests of the LTTE and of the Tamil speaking people one and the same. When the war began because the LTTE provoked it, TNA were shrill in their denunciations of the armed forces especially the Army which it accused of deliberately targeting Tamil civilians. The people cannot also forget the TNA’s defiant demonstrations in the pit of the parliament. TNA leaders like Mr. Sampanthan went to Tamil Nadu urging Tamil politicians to mobilize the masses to stop the ‘genocidal war’ against Lankan Tamils. They went to Western nations to promote mass demonstrations which too accused the government of Sri Lanka of genocide.

When the Presidential election was announced TNA MPs were not sure whether to field a candidate, boycott the election, or support one of the two main candidates. The majority decided to back the Former Army Chief despite the very serious allegations they hurled against the armed forces, but especially against Sarath Fonseka, in the past. The coalition of forces arraigned against the incumbent President seem to be united by one common purpose. “Poda Mahinda rather than “Vangal” Sarath Thorai – “F…off Mahinda”, rather than “Please come, Sarath Sir.” The TNA MPs who have decided to back General Fonseka have given the lie to the retired General’s claim that he alone must be given the sole credit for eradicating LTTE terrorism. They know fully well that without the political leadership given by given by President Rajapakse, the LTTE would still be around. It is he who must be made to pay for this and must be brought down. The General’s war effort against the LTTE would have been frustrated as happened to Generals Kobbekaduwa and Wimalaratne if not for the political leadership of the President and the Defence Secretary. He should know because Col. Gotabhaya and he were comrades-in-arms during theVadamaracchi offensive. All forces have been concentrated to oust the President using an embittered and ambitious man.

The Choice before the Electorate

Great statesmen like Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom the LTTE assassinated, independent thinkers, academics, retired diplomats, seniour lawyers foremost among them H.L. de Silva of revered memory, valiantly exposed and denounced the perfidious role played by of the Norwegians in crafting and manipulating Ceasefire Agreement between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Velupillai Prabhakaran. The same patriotic forces supported the candidacy of Mahinda Rajapakse because they knew that Wickemesinghe’s policy of appeasement would jeopardize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. With the exception of the JVP those elements that are backing the candidacy of the Sarath Fonseka ridiculed and reviled the war and especially the Army Chief. This ridicule did not have the intended effect - demoralize the men and women of the armed forces. In another country at the end of a bitterly won war victory, such individuals would not have dared to show their faces in public. Who would have imagined they would be restored to respectability by the very person whom they vilified?

The retired General said he answered these individuals at the time they abused him and that he does not believe in bearing grudges – wairaya. But his wairaya against the President and the Defence Secretary seems boundless. Can a campaign driven by a spirit of vengefulness and resentment bring any good to the country?

While the country remains grateful to the President for eradicating the LTTE and giving the people a safe environment to live in and raise their children, to oust him from power in less than a year after the defeat of the LTTE is to send the wrong message to the world. Sri Lanka has already become the laughing stock of the world. But there is much to be concerned about. The Mahinda Chintanaya - Mahinda Thought - is being vested with cachet of mysticism and magic once given to Mao ze Dong Thought. Even though the President said he was not born a prince, his sycophantic panegyrists continue to hail him as Mahrajanani – Great King. A supreme irony that these hymns are sung at election rallies where the people are implored to give the incumbent President a mandate to continue ruling them! There is no place in this day and age for absolute monarchs and despotic kings.

Independent persons not given to kow towing and not lured by offer of privileges, who supported his candidacy in 2004, are dislllusioned by what has been happening under the president’s watch outside the war zone. The President needs to be reminded of what he said in his first inaugural speech:

-“My policy will be to consolidate the rule of law to the maximum. The law of the country should be just. Everybody including the President of the country should obey and respect that just law. I would like to state here that I will not allow anyone to subvert law and order using political power and privileges.
- I am taking office for a short period - a period of six years. Political power is not a privilege but only a temporary trust. I am not the master but the trustee of the country.
- My Prime Minister, members of my Cabinet, the Armed Forces and the Police, the entire public service from the highest officer to the lowest rank should follow the norms of good governance
- I am not a prince born with a golden spoon in the mouth. Like most of you I am a leader that grew from the ordinary people. Therefore, I do not need new advisors to understand the problems of the people. I can understand them well.
- I believe my friends are those who offer just criticism and not those who sing hosannas in my praise. I will prepare the environment for it.
- I believe it is necessary to begin my term of office with the people's confidence in me intact.”

The ghost of Velupillai Prabhakarn is walking the battlements of the Vanni and calling for vengeance. The people must beware of those willing to talk to it.