By Emil van der Poorten –
One thing that strikes anyone with any experience of participating in and/or running political campaigns of any description in any part of the world is the ineptitude of the UNP’s strategists during the days since the writ was dropped for a general election.
When/if the Ranil Wickremesinghe/UNP coalition, whose long title escapes me at this time, wins the forthcoming election it will be due to one or both of two factors: the public’s monumental distaste for all that Mahinda and his Minions stand for and did while in power or pure, unadulterated good luck!
The Rajapaksa-led opposition, for its part seems to be stuck for something to use in any “attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence” strategy. Instead they are running around the country, transporting, wining and dining hordes of “catchers” much as they did prior to the Presidential election in an attempt to convince those subscribing to a “hooray for the winning side” (“dinung-paththata hoiyya”) that they better back the Rajapaksa horse in this particular race! There is also the endless bleating about the “Affaire Mahendran,” which is not particularly effective because, apart from the transaction involving a sum of money beyond the comprehension of most Sri Lankans, 99% of those being preached at wouldn’t understand a bond from the proverbial hole in the ground! The UNP coalition, of course, in one of its grosser acts of ineptitude, sought an injunction against publication of the COPE report on the subject, immediately keeping the issue alive and lending credibility to the allegation that they had a great deal to hide! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot (while walking backwards, at that!). As a footnote to that business, the most violent and venal group to ever govern Sri Lanka keep whining about the fact that not every one of the 100-day targets of the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe coalition was achieved. Coming from a government that singularly distinguished itself by its ability to “disappear” its opponents via white vans and was certainly without par in the matter of self-aggrandisement, complaining about the non-fulfillment of someone else’s 100-day national targets takes nerve!
What has fascinated me most about all of this posturing by both sides has been the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his henchmen who are facing time in the crowbar hotel if he doesn’t make a comeback, keep claiming – continuously and without contradiction – that MR single-handedly vanquished the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
It is simply a matter of historical record that a significant time before the final confrontation at Nanthikadal – we’re talking months and years here, not days and weeks – the LTTE’s supply lines had not only been attacked but been completely destroyed. Thanks to intelligence reports supplied by the much-abused “Western Powers,” freighters bearing every kind of supply from the military to the civilian were being sunk, literally, thousands of miles before they were within reach of Sri Lanka’s shores by the Sri Lankan navy. This is not information that I have gleaned from some obscure “kalay paththaray.” These were official government bulletins appearing in the mainline newspapers of Sri Lanka.
Also, every military strategist worth his salt, has assessed Velupillai Prabhakaran’s decision to face the Sri Lanka armed forces in orthodox battle field formation as a blunder unparalleled in guerilla war history. He simply did not have the firepower or the manpower to successfully wage such battles, notwithstanding suicidal young men and women to whom death meant little. They didn’t become a human juggernaut, they simply became cannon fodder. His predicament became even worse when he was encircled on a tiny salt marsh, blasted by mortar, cannon and multi-barreled artillery, fired on from the sea and bombed from above, all of which must have made Dante’s inferno look like a Sunday school picnic!
Thanks to (now-Field Marshall) Sarath Fonseka, the wholesale racketeering in the purchase of arms and ammunition had given way to honest procurement of good and reliable supplies. In addition, there is little argument that Fonseka, despite his other character flaws, inclusive of a very short fuse of a temper and a perhaps inflated opinion of himself, was not corrupt and was a brave man with significant military and command skills who cleared the army of its major flotsam and jetsam on its way to the final denouement at Nanthikadal.
Possibly the single most important strategic element in the whole jigsaw puzzle of the war was even farther back in the history of the struggle. That was the defection of the man considered the military genius without equal in the LTTE, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known as “Colonel Karuna.” And guess who masterminded that desertion? The much-reviled Ranil Wickremesinghe during his brief sojourn as Prime Minister under Chandrika Kumaratunge’s Presidency!
The Chinese (and the Russians?) did provide armaments very freely to the Rajapaksa regime, arms which would otherwise have had to be purchased through other devious means at greater cost.
Sri Lanka had warplanes to pit against three pitiful crop-duster propeller-driven aircraft which needed one of the pilots to “invent” a “bomb-release” when they decided to “hit Colombo from the air,” creating unparalleled consternation in Sri Lanka’s capital. This description does not constitute cynicism after the fact. It is a simple re-telling of the panic that ensued when one of these “warplanes” was sighted in the skies of Colombo and the better part of its “establishment” began plans for mass evacuation!
Once the LTTE decided to go into orthodox battle mode, it was just a question of time before they would be annihilated. It was plain to see, at least two years before Nanthikadal, that the Tigers had “bought it.” I recall a piece I wrote to Montage Magazine at the time stating that fact in the simplest of terms. You didn’t need some talisman-hawking soothsayer from southern Sri Lanka to predict what was as plain as the nose on one’s face. I’d suggest you give your head a (very hard) shake if you think that Prabha’s boys could stand up to the Sri Lankan armed forces which did then, and still do now, rival those of the Russian army’s at half a million men and women!
The coup de grace could have been administered infinitely more swiftly to Prabhakaran’s rump without the massive loss of civilian lives that resulted from what was essentially, a public relations exercise, playing on the (justified) fear that the Sinhalese (and some Tamils) had of the Tigers. This was manipulative cynicism at its worst. When I recall the constantly repeated information that parents had to pick up every child at the end of the school day at the school gate to ensure their safety (from Tiger attack) on their homeward journey, I look at the hordes of parents at school-closing time at those same gates today and wonder what difference there ultimately is in the matter of fear of a random suicide bomb versus the possibility of your son or daughter not reaching home because they’ve been abducted or worse.
I don’t know about the Hague, the International Criminal Court and all of that, but I do believe that those calling the shots in the matter of military policy at that time should be prosecuted for deliberately prolonging a conflict in order to maximize the publicity they could garner from it, while, literally, thousands of civilian lives were lost. It seemed that the lies uttered as cover-up grew to yet another dimension with plummy-voiced Goebbelses fabricating one set of lyrics for the BBC and high-living Ministers of Foreign Affairs singing a different song to Al Jazeera!
The number and size of the posters and “cut-outs” grew steadily and reached a veritable crescendo before the fall of Nanthikadal. One side-bar to that progression was when then-General Fonseka, in a fit of pique, decided to contest Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Presidential election meant to capitalize on the rampant triumphalism following the final destruction of the LTTE. The triumphant trio of Mahinda, Gota and Fonny had to be reduced to two, just the Brothers Rajapaksa (on each and every poster and cut-out). It did make for a few odd-looking reconfigurations!
Earlier, when the rocky outcrop inland from the eastern coast was taken by Sri Lankan forces, not only was the event stage-managed but a stamp issued to commemorate it. I am old enough to recall an iconic event in the war in the South Pacific in 1945. That was the capture of Iwo Jima which was commemorated with probably the most famous stamp ever issued during World War II, a stamp carrying the image of US marines raising the stars and stripes on that blood-soaked little Pacific island. Guess what? The stamp commemorating the Sri Lankan event in our Eastern Province is a dead ringer for that most famous of US stamps! Coincidence? I hardly think so, given the connection between the top-most layer of the Sri Lankan army and the US of A!
Why I have gone to the time and trouble of detailing what I have in the previous paragraphs is because the unconscionable conduct of the governments that were distinguished by their absolute control by Mahinda Rajapaksa have not so much as been referred to by those talking in high-falutin’ terms of Yahapalanaya and all that’s good, peaceful and on the side of the gods, in this election.
I would submit that Mahinda Rajapaksa as the embodiment of peace, all that is good and the epitome of statesmanship and good governance is not simply a product of his crass and bully-boy publicity machine. Its underpinnings have been provided by the “insurance buyers” who have made a fine art of running with the hare of the UNFPA and hunting with the hounds of the Ranil-built coalition.
I hope I am right in my (eternally optimistic!) belief that the Sri Lankan nation will not be gulled by the demagogues and racists again and, instead will make a decision driven by the wisdom that centuries of culture should have endowed them with.