By Laksiri Fernando –
Dr Sarath Amunugama began his review of C. A. Chandraprema’s book with its title “Gota’s War.” Perhaps he was not very comfortable at the beginning, and said “When you read the book you learn that it does not mean that Gota won the war single handedly,” which of course is obvious to anyone.
But what he tried to hide is the glorification of a person in the name of war against terrorism and an unashamed attempt at building a personality cult in Sri Lanka. Amunugama babbled to say that “What the title means is that the war with the LTTE is looked upon, through the eyes of one of its most significant players, namely Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.”
If the author wanted to ‘look upon’ the war ‘through the eyes’ of Gota for example, then the title should have reflected that angle without naming the war by his name. I have searched hundreds of titles of books on wars and found that only ‘Napoleonic wars’ were primarily named after Napoleon. It is perhaps no coincidence that Amunugama quoted Napoleon, “I want only lucky Generals,” and said “He [Gotabhaya] probably remembered Napoleon’s dictum.”
The implicated equation of Gotabhaya to Napoleon apart, it was not clear who were these ‘Lucky Generals.’ There was no mentioning of the former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, at all. Perhaps it is a ‘prohibited’ word in this game of family politics. Perhaps he was an unlucky General. For an objective review, his name however should have figured whatever his failings.
Amunugama says, “When I discussed this book with Mr Chandraprema, he tactfully suggested that I should concentrate on the early chapters dealing with political processes” for the review. That is mainly what he has done and there is no major qualm about it except for one or two points.
He makes a false distinction between mob violence and state sponsored violence and more seriously justifies the former saying “the successive mob violence in Sri Lanka both in the South and North, as pointed out by the author, have been a part of the birth pangs of ‘new nations’ of Asia.”
It is surprising to know that Amunugama calls Sri Lanka a ‘new nation’ which has a history of over 2,500 years where different communities lived peacefully for most of the time. When he says that mob violence is part of ‘birth pangs’ he is not only indifferent to them but also justifies them as natural. He has said this not in isolation, but in the midst of Dambulla mob attacks on a Muslim Mosque recently.
Dr Amunugama is not an ordinary politician. He is prominent to have a leftist background during his university days and with ostensibly liberal and progressive viewpoints for a long period thereafter. He was also considered a person free from communal views. But the following is what he says today. He again refers to mob violence or ‘birth pangs’ of the ‘new nation.’
“In all these cases a significant fact is the perceived injustice by a stronger community. While that majority community may be stronger in terms of brute strength, they feel that they have been cheated or let down by a partner with whom they have lived together, and even depended on for economic progress.”
He admits that the “majority community may be stronger in terms of brutish strength.” But there is a “perceived injustice by the stronger community” for example the Sinhalese majority. That is that “they feel that they have been cheated or let down.” So you attack the minorities, ransack them and even kill them. This is the sociology of ethnic conflict according to Amunugama.
Of course he might say that he was ‘quoting’ his former teacher Professor S. J. Tambiah to justify Sinhala violence. But he was simply misquoting him quite unashamedly I might say.
My main question to Dr Amunugama is the following. There is no doubt that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa played a key role during the war against terrorism along with the others as he has admitted. As he points out it may be “a very happy and rare coincidence that the country’s chief executive and the chief executive of the defense forces were so close that there could be no misunderstandings or conflicts in the execution of the military offensive.”
But no one can hide the fact that the two are brothers. It is also a known matter that if not for the external pressure that the armed forces could have won against the LTTE at the Vadamarachchi operations in 1987 or even thereafter. Therefore, there is no need to give credit to a single person. That is not proper history writing.
More serious is the fact that Defense of the country is still kept in the hands of the brother of the President. He is also not the only family member within the key positions of the Government. While it is true that family is an important institution in the Sri Lankan society, keeping political power within a family has far reaching implications for democracy and good governance. There is something called nepotism that civilized people detests.
Perhaps the eulogy that Chandraprema and Dr Amunugama accorded to Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is a good occasion to bid farewell to him. And if he is a proper professional person, as many people claim, that is something he himself should initiate to do.