By Vishwamithra –
“The greatest enemy of clear language is insincerity.” ~ George Orwell
The separation occurred soon after the cessation of the war. In the immediate aftermath of the end of the war, the Rajapaksas had nothing short of praise and flattery for General Sarath Fonseka, the man who led his forces to a victorious end of the most destructive conflict between the government forces and the LTTE-led Tamil militant groups. There is no dispute about who gave military leadership to the soldiers of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The astute leadership qualities of General Fonseka, while he was still the Army Commander, were the qualities the Rajapaksas announced to the country as exemplary and worthy of idolization. Now they seem to be empty rhetoric. Politicians are notorious for such meaningless words. They rarely mean what they utter on the political platform. Being used to deception by words and action, politicians are seldom matched by any other for abuse of language. The Rajapaksas belong to that miserable category.
The war-victory gave them a very plausible avenue to trek. And they willingly chose to travel that path. Sarath Fonseka’s tirade against former Jagath Jayasuriya, Army Commander who in fact succeeded him, may have contained many truths; the allegations Fonseka hurled against Jayasuriya are not light; they are indeed in the realm of abuse of human rights and would have arisen the curiosity of many international organizations whose sharpened daggers are already in readiness to be used. Fonseka would have been justified had he been only a private citizen, having retired from the Army. Sarath Fonseka must remember that he is not a private citizen anymore. He is now Field Marshal and a politician and a Cabinet Minister. He being forthright will not suffice in the grand scheme of things; he should also be wise. Wisdom is not an inborn quality; it is a product of patience, it dawns on you when you have enough and grueling experience tempered by iron discipline of mind. Only a handful of Sri Lankan politicians could be classified as wise and Sarath Fonseka has time and again proved that he has not arrived at the lofty summit of wisdom.
Fonseka was the Commander of the Army when Jagath Jayasuriya is purported to have committed these gross violations of human rights. With all his wit, street-smartness, superlative skills and capacity on the military field and despite his acumen as an alert leader and domineering personality, Sarath Fonseka did walk into the political dump that the Rajapaksas mined. And he got burnt. His rhetoric as a candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Elections of 2009 went a way out of line; his perception of forthrightness was not framed within political correctness and he paid the ultimate price in politics- a defeat at the elections. And his humiliation did not cease at the elections. Mahinda’s vengeance apparently knew no limit. General Sarath Fonseka was arrested, tried and sentenced to prison. Fonseka’s political education was eventually sourced from within the prison cell.
The fake heroes who did not even throw a stone at the Tigers during the twenty eight-year-war against Tamil militants are now berating the hero who commanded the forces during a brutal and exhausting battle that claimed tens of thousands of men and women on both sides. It is in fact a great insult to those soldiers who fell on the battlefield to disparage the commander of the forces. Yet the excesses that may have been committed by both sides cannot and should not be condoned; nor could they be suppressed for what may come out is too bitter to swallow. That is to confront the human spirit.
When the spirit of any character is challenged with stark evidence of gross violations of fellow men and women, it is incumbent upon that man or woman to be accountable and that accountability; that element of accountability is an integral and differentiating quality of any human being who is counted as a decent and civilized one. Without that civility and decency, man falls into a quarry in which those who meander about in the land of degenerates and deranged. Our leaders must show some semblance of courage and moral purity in meting out justice and civility. The Joint Opposition which is guided by the Rajapaksas who, in the first place were the beneficiaries of ‘patriotism-euphoria’ that was almost flawlessly built up by their propaganda specialists; they have been using this tribal belief of nationalism which was always misunderstood for patriotism; they won elections, one after another, for Provincial Councils, Pradesheeya Sabha and Urban Councils with this phony patriotism. While ransacking the country’s national treasures like their own private property, they portrayed these alleged violators of human rights as war heroes.
The parliamentary Opposition at the time was deaf, dumb and blind. Embroiled in their own leadership battles, they hardly had any time to craft a strategic approach to counter this patriotism-based propaganda onslaught of the Rajapaksa goons. However, this patriotism-based propaganda not only gave a cover for the Rajapaksas, it also provided the general public with a triumphalism-based collective egoism, especially for Sinhalese Buddhists. Not only did the people get deceived beyond any precedent, the looters branded themselves as the custodians of all morals and good governance and phony patriotism was their sartorial elegance. The Opposition at the time feared this ‘patriotism’-garbed cabal that ruled the country. What gave away the nudity of their posture was the 18th Amendment. That 18th Amendment provided the ruling cabal with seemingly unlimited playing time on a field fairly barren of vociferous and courageous political minds. At the time, Sarath Fonseka was still in prison. His was a powerful voice of opposition against those so-called patriots; those ‘patriots’ feared a fresh voice; they wanted to still that voice and at least in the short run, they succeeded.
Now Fonseka is on a different wicket. He is a parliamentarian and a Cabinet Minister. And above all he is a UNPer. He has willfully engaged in a controversial subject: Human rights violations by Sri Lankan security forces. On top of that, he also indulged in hurling even harsher criticism against one of those Buddhist Monks whose social and religious standing, especially among the Colombo cocktail cockroaches is rather unimpeachable. But Fonseka’s words about Elle Gunawansa, another person garbed in saffron robes that had a not-so-pure image in regard to ethno-religious relations, were cutting and sharp. However, Fonseka’s flaw- not yet fatal of course- seems to be timing and not following through with his critiques and sustaining them.
What is even more telling is the deathly silence of the leadership of the coalition. That silence is not going to help them in the long run. They must respond one way or other. By being silent does not drive the issue away; on the contrary, it amounts to being perceived as politically impotence. Sarath Fonseka is not known for political correctness. As a matter of fact political correctness has helped the country in the wrong way. It has framed those who need to express themselves freely in a cosmetic cage of ‘correctness’. Yet Field Marshal Fonseka has chosen to free himself of the shackles of a caged animal. His character, that of a fearless leader and forthright speaker of the truth, should stand out as an exemplary one, yet it should not display any recklessness that no modern political leader of any caliber to reckon with would be weighed down by. Societal inhibitions need to be addressed, if any political leader aspires to gain political power through the ballet. The collective mindset of any electorate invariably oscillates between varying options; it tends to absorb more of the superficial stuff than profound political theories. The United National Party in which camp Fonseka is saddled with today has had some superlative leaders, both at the highest level and the second tires. M D Banda, U B Wanninayake, M D H Jayewardene, M V P Peiris, Sir Lalitha Rajapaksa of the fifties and sixties and Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Nissanka Wijeyratne in the seventies and eighties, cannot be matched by any second-tier leaders in any other political party. In terms of electorate-acceptance and real accomplishment of monumental tasks given unto them, no second-tier political leader even comes close. For that matter their accomplishments are not matched by the first-tier leaders of other parties.
But today Sarath Fonseka finds himself in a radically changed political culture, whose convoluted milieu is made up of utterly corrupt and short-sighted politicos. Their purpose of entering into politics is to enrich themselves at the expense of the country. What is more unpatriotic that that?
It is quite futile to dwell in the past and lament. If the environment is not sharp enough to produce good leaders, then we must change the environment. That is not easy and won’t be accomplished in just months a couple of years. But we all owe it our children that we leave a better place for them. Who amongst us is ready and willing to carry that burden?
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org