Monday, October 19, 2009

From Hero to Zero: The Fonseka fallout

from Sunday Times Political Column

...Soon after he assumed office as Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya declared, at a meeting of officers that "though I was not rewarded then, I have now been rewarded by the highest in the land by President Mahinda Rajapaksa." During his parade to mark the Army's 60th anniversary, on October 10 Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said, "I am happy that I made a contribution in the final phase of the humanitarian operation, as the Commander Security Forces of Wanni."

Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya added: "The leadership provided by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Commander in chief of the armed forces will go down in the history of the country. I wish to note that his promise given to the public and the dedication, which no other leader had helped to achieve this victory. We salute the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who has the experience in the battlefield for the guidance provided. We cannot forget the commands given by him which were implemented through the efficient officers on the field."

The third and perhaps the most significant element are references Gen. Fonseka made to Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He said in the very last paragraph of his speech,"I wish to thank the President for the leadership and Defence Secretary for the necessary support provided to end the war which lasted against the LTTE for the last 30 years. I also thank the war heroes, their families and all people in the country."

Quite clearly, what he said about Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa was far from commensurate with what he (the Defence Secretary) had done. Some facts are well known whilst the others are less: In his first year in office, President Rajapaksa, had wanted to replace Gen. Fonseka. It was the Defence Secretary who fought tooth and nail to obtain for him an extension amidst severe pressure not to do so. It was the defence Secretary who was instrumental in putting together a team, with the support of his brother Basil Rajapaksa, that 'worked on' India and managed to turn them around. He was the one who was able to have a direct link with the Commander-in-chief and make requests on behalf of the Armed Forces, including the raising of the numbers almost by two-fold, and it was he who stood firm in the face of external pressures holding the President's not to yield. It would be grossly unfair to say the Defence Secretary just provided "necessary support" to end the war. It is well known he did much more.

The entire wherewithal needed for the war effort- both men and material - was provided by the Defence Secretary. His influence as the President's brother opened doors for him both in Sri Lanka and abroad. He made several secret missions abroad to ensure that the supply lines for the war effort continued without disruption. Without this, leave alone winning, but fighting a separatist war would not have been possible. He was also instrumental in having the armed forces commanders rewarded for their role in militarily defeating the guerrillas. Gen. Fonseka was given a prime plot of city land worth Rs 90 million. He also received a duty free vehicle said to be worth as much as Rs 40 million.

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