Where do Fonseka’s paths of glory lead Lanka?
When civilians make an awful mess of things in running a country, the tendency among a section of the population, particularly among ‘old soldiers’, is to cry out for the military. Recently an old soldier was expostulating: ‘Bloody hell they can’t even conduct an examination for school children let alone kill bloody mosquitoes. At least they’ve had the sense to ask the army to take on the bloody Dengue menace’.
While we wish the army success in this latest ‘humanitarian war’ against Dengue, our confidence in military rule is not as great when we consider military rule in some countries for quite some time.
Our friendly neighbour Pakistan has been under the military jackboot for more than half the time after Independence. Civilian governments were permitted to exist by the grace of the Pakistan military and were thrown out when they failed to march in step to army commands. But can a country be in a worse state today than Pakistan is?
Libya had the mercurial Muammar Gaddafy for four decades. Libyans under the military jackboot of this eccentric egomaniac finally rose to overthrow him, undoubtedly helped by the Western powers.
Egypt is another country that has been under Generals since the fifties since Gamal Abdel Nasser ended Egyptian monarchy and declared it a republic. Gen. Hosni Mubarak was the last military strongman who ruled this land of the Pharaohs for over three decades. The military has not by tradition confined itself to barracks but expanded into various forms of business and today even after an immensely popular revolution, the military establishment is tenaciously holding on to power. These are good but fearsome examples of the military grabbing civilian power.
In Sri Lanka former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka is now re-entering the political field after his first abortive attempt at presidency that landed him in jail. Fonseka undoubtedly is one of the most committed and valiant soldiers of Sri Lanka who led Sri Lankan troops to victory in the first ever war defeating the most serious threat to the country’s integrity since the conquest of the British.
But military heroism is not a qualification for leadership in civilian governance. Georges Clemenceau, a French political leader in the 19th Century, is attributed with the saying: ‘War is far too important subject to be left to generals’. If even war cannot be left to the sole discretion of military leaders, civilian governance should certainly not be for military types.
It would be said that Fonseka is seeking power through the ballot and not the bullet or the bayonet. But the Sri Lankan voters should not merely go by political pledges and commitments made. It’s a global experience that promises made by politicians – military or civilian – is to gain power to be forgotten soon. There are many factors to be considered before a voter casts the ballot for Fonseka because of his military background.
His demeanour and attitude as a military man is seen by the public as one of aggressiveness, haughtiness and rudeness typical of a military commander. Such an attitude can be appreciated in the barrack room or the parade grounds. But can such military brashness be compatible with quiet, staid, dignified and polished attitude associated with the chanceries of power? The basic question about Fonseka is whether he would fit into the office of the highest in the land – presidency.
Would it be a case of putting a bull in a China shop?
No doubt Sri Lanka has had and continues to have many such bovine species of varying temperaments in our pottery shops – valang kades. But that should not be a precedent to having the most exuberant of all buffaloes in the valang kade. We are fast running out of pottery.
In the last presidential election Fonseka became the obvious choice to lock horns with Mahinda Rajapaksa who was claiming to have led the armed forces to victory in the separatist war against terrorism. We all are well aware about the claimants and claims made on the ‘Gold’ for the victory against terrorism. Whether the claimants are those armchair strategists who fought the war from air conditioned chambers in Colombo or the humble rural and urban youth who in unprecedented acts of heroism stood against impregnable advancing armoured vehicles and blew themselves up, the people have decided. But it is time to see beyond the human carnage. Most of us tend to forget the fact that that ‘War’ is now three years past and that we have to reap the benefits of ending that human carnage and not seek power and glory in the horrendous acts that wiped out the flower of our youth.
However, the politics of the country has boiled down to the question: Who won the war? On the one hand we have the Rajapaksas – Mahinda and Gotabhaya seeking immortality as saviours of the Sinhala nation. Fonseka is also staking his claim.
The fear of Fonseka’s desire for militarization – he wanted the army to be doubled in strength soon after the victory – is now matched by the Rajapaksa regime’s military expansion into the labyrinths of ‘urban development’. Thus Fonseka continues to be a creation of Rajapaksa muddle headedness. Is Sri Lanka heading for militarisation of government despite the disasters caused by generals in countries like Pakistan, Libya and Egypt?
The majority of Sinhala people, after years of war hysteria, have gone on for three years of war euphoria. But for how long? No country can go on and on with the glories of the battlefield. It’s time the Rajapaksa’s called it off and Fonseka, if he wants to lead the country, spells out his battle plans to boost the economy and stop patting himself vigorously in his back.