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EXCLUSIVE: Making an Example of Gen. Fonseka

"The President’s offer was thus motivated not by a grain of kindness but by a bushel of malevolence. It is all part of the plan. The Rajapaksas would want to break Fonseka both physically and psychologically, to turn him into a wreck in full public view. A broken Fonseka can be neither an inspiration nor a threat. And his subjugation would be an example to all really existing and potential opponents of the Rajapaksas."

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him; you must love him”. -
Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

(October 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lankans, look and beware; meditate on the fall of Gen. Sarath Fonseka and realise the costs of impeding the Rajapakse juggernaut.

Fonseka, war-winning Army Commander, scourge of the Tigers and Sinhala hero, is in the Welikada Jail. He will stay there for the next 30 months, engaged in hard labour, like any common or garden convict.

Fonseka’s fate is symbolic and it is meant to be. It is a daily, hourly reminder to Lankan citizens not only of the dangers of resistance but also of its pointlessness in Rajapakse Sri Lanka. Fonseka in his cell is meant to make any Sri Lankan think twice before seriously opposing the Rajapaksa Inc.

In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka there is room only for one kind of opposition, the ineffective sort, the wavering sort, the sort that neither threatens nor angers the Ruling Family. The sort Ranil Wickremesinghe (and even Sajith Premadasa) excels at. Such an opposition is a Rajapaksa requisite, because it helps maintain Sri Lanka’s democratic façade. This way, the Rajapaksas and their acolytes can continue the pretence that Sri Lanka is a functioning democracy, even as they accelerate the transformation of Sri Lanka into a Family tyranny.

So, ineffective and wavering opposition will be permitted as a red herring, while any effective or determined opposition will be countered with unbridled ferocity. And from time to time, examples will be made of effective opponents, as warnings to the rest of us not to violate the rules of the Rajapaksa game.

The Rajapakse modus operandi in countering resistance is ruthlessly effective; cut the tallest tree in the forest, from the very bottom, as an example to the entire forest. Uprooting bushes or bringing down smaller trees may not have a universal effect; such low-level targeting may not deter bigger or stronger actors. But when you target the biggest and the strongest, and do so with impunity, their smaller and the weaker brethren would become naturally discouraged. So Lasantha Wickramatunga was killed in broad daylight in a busy intersection, in a high security zone. And Sarath Fonseka was convicted by two obviously biased military tribunals, deprived of his rank, honours, pension and parliamentary seat and sentenced to 30 months of rigorous imprisonment. It is not enough to assassinate and persecute; it must be done in a way which sends an unmistakable, unequivocal message to other would be trouble-makers. If Ranil Wickremesinghe undergoes a miraculous transformation tomorrow, and becomes effective, consistent and determined in his opposition to the Rajapaksas, an equally deadly fate will befall him; any effective successor too will be treated in the same manner. It is a diabolically clever way of keeping the opposition weak and inept, without resorting to large scale persecution. Pick your target with care, strike with deadly efficacy and wait for fear, cowardice and apathy to do the rest.

The Rajapaksa message to the populace is thus clear: be islands unto yourselves; focus on matters private and let us run the country; and if you must dabble in politics, do just that, dabble. You can be anti-government so long as you do not become a serious irritant or a threat. The moment you pass the boundary-line of inept opposition and become an impediment to our dynastic project, you will be stigmatised as a traitor (and perhaps even a terrorist or a friend of terrorists) and dealt with mercilessly.

Crime and Punishment

The President has offered Fonseka a Hobson’s Choice: ask for a pardon and I may consider it. The purpose is to compel the still recalcitrant Fonseka to abase himself before the Rajapaksas. For the Rajapaksas, incarcerating Fonseka is not adequate; they want to compel him to submit himself to their authority, to bow before them, to cease being an opponent and become a supplicant. The rigorous part of the imprisonment is aimed at forcing Fonseka to his knees out of sheer desperation. It is well known that Fonseka is suffering from health complications caused by the 2006 Black Tiger suicide bombing. Rigorous imprisonment is bound to endanger his health, perhaps seriously. The Rajapaksas would be counting on either an ailing Fonseka or his despairing family begging for a pardon.

The President’s offer was thus motivated not by a grain of kindness but by a bushel of malevolence. It is all part of the plan. The Rajapaksas would want to break Fonseka both physically and psychologically, to turn him into a wreck in full public view. A broken Fonseka can be neither an inspiration nor a threat. And his subjugation would be an example to all really existing and potential opponents of the Rajapaksas. And it would also satisfy the Rajapaksa thirst for vengeance. Fonseka committed the ultimate crime when he challenged Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and made a serious effort to deprive them of the power they consider to be theirs. According to the Rajapaksa worldview, no punishment would be severe enough for a crime so heinous.

So Fonseka, like thousands of Tamils incarcerated on suspicion of being Tigers, is denied justice and freedom, even as well known Tiger leaders KP and Daya Master are being granted every indulgence. In the end, what counts is whether one is loyal to the Rajapaksas or not. Obedience to the Rajapaksas wipes out all sins while no merit is strong enough to outweigh the crime of disobeying the Ruling Family. Sarath Fonseka prospered so long as he remained a Rajapaksa acolyte. When he went against the Rajapaksas all his past services to them, his unequivocal opposition to the Tigers, his impeccable Sinhala supremacist credentials and his war-hero status counted for less than nothing.

So, we are supposed to look and beware. The Rajapaksas want us to regard the fate of Fonseka as a modern day morality tale, a story outlining the ethos of Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. The fate of Fonseka is also a morality tale of a different sort. When Fonseka was part of the war-time triumvirate, he demanded the right to impunity for ‘patriots’, i.e. for the Rajapaksas, for himself and for the Lankan Forces. He was impatient with the rule of law, ignored claims of justice and irritated by both criticism and opposition. He helped the Rajapaksas in their quest to replace the rule of law with the law of the rulers, undermine democracy and media freedom and persecute critics. Today he is a victim of that very process of de-democratisation and lawlessness he fostered and defended. Fonseka assisted in creating the monster which is now devouring him. And it is a fate which can befall any of us. We need to defend Fonseka, unconditionally, because not doing so would be tantamount to undermining our own defences.

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