Fonseka and Ranil deserve each other
Posted on December 22nd, 2009

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Never in the annals of military warfare has an army commander led his forces successfully against the enemy and then turned around and fired indiscriminately on his own forces. But Sarath Fonseka, whose chest is overloaded with medals earned by the blood and sweat of his foot soldiers, will be remembered forever for doing just that. By accusing the forces of committing crimes they had never done, as stated by him, he has brought dishonour to himself, his army and the nation that stood by him all the way for him to claim the glory of victory which, according to him, was all due to him.

Army commanders are revered and honoured for being with his forces in times of war and peace. After the war they do not accuse their forces (falsely, if his denials are to be believed) of violating the basic norms of warfare. How can he now aspire to be the Commander-in-Chief of the forces when he is facing charges of falsely accusing his soldiers?  His joining the enemies of the people whom he fought so bitterly at the height of the war is bad enough. But falsely accusing the soldiers who fought for him is unforgivable.

In one single act of running down his armed force he has wiped out all the glory that he acquired ever since Gotabaya Rajapakse put his weight behind him and got his brother, the President, to get him appointed as the Army Commander. There were many rivals in the field who were aiming to get that post. One of them was Janaka Perera who was brought down by Ranil Wickremesinghe to target Fonseka who was his junior in Jaffna. Ranil’s idea was to use the reputation of Janaka Perera, another war hero, to denigrate Fonseka.

They were bitter enemies. Janaka used to bad-mouth Fonseka as a man who never won a battle. He was most critical of Fonseka for carrying out an operation in Jaffna when Janaka had come down to Colombo for a brief spell. It was an ill-timed, and poorly organized operation conducted to gain kudos for Fonseka who was aiming to prove that he was a better commander than Janaka. It was one of the biggest fiascos in Jaffna. Janaka blasted Fonseka for carrying out an operation without consulting the high command.

Janaka came home (in Melbourne) to mend fences with me after he started attacking Fonseka. This was a couple of weeks before he joined the UNP campaign in the Central Province. He was very critical of Fonseka saying that he is not conducting the war efficiently with minimum losses and casualties. He was also critical that Fonseka was not cutting short the war with effective strategies. He said that dragging the war without an end in sight was causing battle fatigue, leading to loss of morale among the troops.

I told Janaka that if he was in Churchill’s army and if he carped on issues like what he told me he would have been cashiered within twenty four hours. Noticing a streak of jealousy and pique, I defended Fonseka, and told him that it was the duty of generals to keep up the morale as some wars can drag on for years. Knowing Fonseka and his performances in the Killali and other operations I had faith in him at that time and I felt in my bones that he could deliver the goods which he did.

During our conversation I reminded Janaka of how the Tigers got Lt. Col. Lucky Algama after he joined Ranil Wickremesinghe. I told him that those who joined Wickremesinghe ended up like those who joined Prabhakaran: in total disaster. Janaka dismissed it and smiled, brimming with his usual confidence. Before he left he turned back, half way  down the verandah leading to the steps, and told me: “Don’t hit us, Mahinda!” Tragically, that was the last I saw of my friend Janaka.

Now Fonseka has joined Wickremesinghe and he is not faring any better. Fortunately, for him the Tigers are not there to target him once again. But my gut feeling is that the people will at the polls. Even the way the voting blocs are falling like dice indicate that he will have to carry his dying swan (his symbol) with him on January 26 as a consolation and go home listening to the last song. Ranil Wickremesinghe would have had a better chance of winning if he hitched his wagon to a lead balloon.

In the early stages Fonseka won waves of sympathy when the Tiger suicide bomber tried to get him. He was a battle-hardened soldier and his courage was as great as his ego. But it is his ego that finally brought him down. His ego was such that he refused to recognize the prime source of his power and success. It came essentially from his rapport with Gotabaya who lifted him up from oblivion and stood up for him after he helped to install him as the Army Commander.

Gotabaya not only covered his back all the way to Nanthi Kadal but was with him to give him all what was needed, especially military hardware and foot soldiers, to forge ahead in the battlefield. On one occasion when Fonseka’s Army was halted by the Tigers in Muhammalai with heavy casualties amounting to a loss of nearly 200 soldiers, even Ministers were going behind Gotabaya’s back and informing the President that war is not the way out and Fonseka can’t do the job. They told the President to stop the war and negotiate. 

A dejected President was having serious doubts about the progress of the war and Fonseka’s capabilities and strategies. He summoned and questioned his Defence Secretary and it was the assurances given by Gotabaya that kept the war going to the end. He told the Commander-in-chief that Muhammalai was only one battle and not the end of the war. He added that the morale was high and that the soldiers were capable of defeating the Tiger who were on the run. 

Of course, all three were indispensable links in the chain of command that won the war. Without the two links above him “”…” the President and Defence Secretary “”…” Fonseka could not have gone anywhere, either in his career or war front. Together they were the miracle-makers. Fonseka alone would have been a disaster as seen in his performance as a presidential candidate. His reputation and stature has taken a severe beating and “”…” make no mistake — this is only the beginning because the ripples of his vindictive politics to get Gotabaya, his comrade-in-arms who gave him everything, are not going to end in a hurry. This will haunt him for the rest of his life.

And the enemies of the nation, both at home and abroad, are having field day with the consequences of his self-centered, vindictive politics. The result is there for everyone to see: the ominous letter of Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution, addressed to President Mahinda Rajapakse.

At least now, after reading Alston’s letter, Fonseka should realize the damage he has done to the image of the professional Army that braved all obstacles and marched all the way from Mavil Aru to Mullativu, led on the ground by brilliant field commanders like Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva. Fonseka’s contribution to winning the war cannot be underestimated but his failure to consolidate the victories and honour his men and women will disgrace him forever. He is like the man who brings home a clean pale of milk and then drops a handful of cow dung into it.

Where’s the glory in that, eh?

However, as events unfold it is becoming increasingly clear that Fonseka and Wickremesinghe deserve each other. Both are clinging to each other and performing like “kahi gaani” (woman with the cough) and “hotu gaani” (woman with the snut). There isn’t much of a choice between the two.

Wickremesinghe hurriedly and desperately recruited Fonseka into his defeated army hoping to cash in on his reputation as a hero and a patriot. But Fonseka has lost both within a matter of days. He has lost the glamour of being a hero after he falsely accused his own men of committing crimes which they never did, according to him. And no patriot would join the enemies of the nation which Fonseka identified correctly and condemned unequivocally when he was serving as Army Commander under President Rajapakse.

Obviously, Fonseka cannot be trusted to honour his own words. The irrational way he denies today the promises and statements he made yesterday makes him look like a confused man who does not know his own mind. He has lost his road map and is at sixes and sevens. This raises a serious question and I ask it very reluctantly:: Has Fonseka overnight turned into Gon-seka?

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