After having won an impressive victory over Gen Sarath Fonseka, his former Army chief, in the prematurely called Presidential elections on January 26, 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has got the Parliament dissolved before it had completed its term so that fresh elections to a new House could be held. The new elections are scheduled to be held on April 8, 2010.
It seems to be his hope and calculation that his party and others supporting him would win an equally impressive victory in the elections to the Parliament by taking advantage of the confusion prevailing in the ranks of the opposition after the defeat of Fonseka in the Presidential elections. If his hopes are realised, this will enable him to undertake a programme for finding a solution to the grievances of the Tamils and putting Sri Lanka back on the road to economic recovery.
Mr Rajapaksa was within his rights in calling for premature parliamentary elections and nobody could have objected to his action. What is, however, highly objectionable is the manner in which the President and his two brothers--Mr Gothbaya Rajapaksa and Mr Basil Rajapaksa-- have been trying to humiliate Gen Fonseka and intimidate his supporters apparently in order to ensure that the votes, which Fonseka got in the Presidential elections, do not get translated into votes against Mr Rajapaksa's party and its electoral allies.
A campaign of intimidation and vendetta was started against Fonseka and his supporters after the Presidential elections.Over a dozen officers of the Armed Forces--three of them Majors-General-- have been sacked on national security grounds without specifying the reasons in detail. They were apparently suspected of being loyal to Fonseka and not to the President.
The purge of Fonseka's supporters in the Armed Forces was followed by the arrest of Fonseka himself in an undignified manner despite the fact that he was the chief of the Army and had displayed commendable leadership qualities in having the LTTE crushed. Fonseka himself once narrowly escaped being killed by the LTTE. This showed how the LTTE considered his elimination important for achieving its objective.
While many people--including the President himself and his two brothers--played an important role in the elimination of the LTTE, the role of Fonseka and his come-back after almost having been killed by the LTTE fired the imagination of the officers and other ranks in the Armed Forces and made them fight as a team with determination against the LTTE. When the history of the victory over the LTTE is written, Fonseka's generalship would stand out in any account.
In its long history. the Sri Lankan army had not produced many heroes to whom the soldiers can look up to for inspiration. Fonseka was an exception as a professional soldier. Apparently blinded by political ambition after the victory over the LTTE, Fonseka conducted himself in an erratic and irresponsible manner and tried to play down the role of the President and his brothers and others in the victory.
His over-sized pride in himself and in his role and the bad advice which he received from those around him made him cross the limits of decency and loyalty and make wild allegations against the President and Mr Gothbaya, who, as the Defence Secretary, co-ordinated the operations against the LTTE.
Mr Rajapaksa had valid reasons to be angry against the General, but he has allowed the anger to get the better of him. His post-election actions against the General--including the circumstances of his arrest in an undignified manner not under the ordinary laws of the land, but under the special laws governing the Armed Forces and his plans to have him court-martialed under charges relating to violations of national security when he was a serving General have given rise to suspicions of a vendetta against the General for having dared to criticise the President and his brothers and for letting himself be used by the opposition in an attempt to have Mr Rajapaksa defeated in the Presidential elections for a second term.
One could also discern an attempt by Mr Rajapaksa and his brothers to make it difficult for Fonseka to influence the forthcoming Parliamentary elections by keeping him in detention fighting cases started against him by the Government. Mr Rajapaksa does not seem to realise that his actions could not only create public revulsion for his style of functioning, but could also sow the seeds for the politicisation of the Sri Lankan Army and make it go down the way of the Armies of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The political leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot escape their share of responsibility for politicising their armed forces and facilitating the military dominance of the political life of their countries by actions which were exploited by the Army to project the political class in a bad light.
If democracy has till now survived and flourished in Sri Lanka, an important contributing factor was the wisdom shown by the predecessors of Mr Rajapaksa in maintaining the professionalism of the Army and keeping it politically neutral. By deviating from the path of wisdom followed by his predecessors and by conducting himself in the manner he has been doing due largely to sheer spite, Mr Rajapaksa has already broken the healthy traditions which had won Sri Lanka the respect of the international community.
If Mr Rajapaksa does not pull himself back and refrain from such vindictive actions, there is a danger of Sri Lanka meeting the fate of Pakistan and Bangladesh due to the unwise actions of Mr Rajapaksa and his brothers.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.