Sharing the fruits of victory

Our Diplomatic Editor broke the story last week and our Political Editor expands on it in his column next door to this space.
Last week, the President of Sri Lanka got a tinge excited about the possibility of a mutiny - a coup of sorts - and thought it fit to convey his fears to the departing Indian High Commissioner in Colombo.

The envoy, Alok Prasad, who from all accounts played a decisive role in swinging the approach of the Indian central Government towards assisting Sri Lanka's military offensive against the LTTE, felt the requirement to alert his own Government of the Sri Lankan President's fears.

Our Political Editor gives more details of last week's events. It would appear that the President's fears were somewhat premature and not based on hard intelligence reports. One would, however, suppose that he felt it was better to be safe than sorry, and prepare for eventualities.

Eventually, there was nothing to report, with the 'suspects' meeting the President and re-assuring him of their loyalty to 'King and Country'. Last week's episode has its roots in the sidelining of the Army Commander soon after the crushing of the fascist LTTE military machine in May this year.

The Defence Ministry was to say that those in uniform must not indulge in politics, and should they wish to do so, they must leave the Armed Forces. That is a perfectly legitimate statement. Politics ought to be taboo for those in uniform, even though once upon a time, Deputy Ministers wore uniform and prosecuted the 'war'.

But the converse is also applicable. Politicians must not use the Forces to promote their own political agendas. In the fresh flush of victory by the Armed Forces, and as understandable euphoria swept the country at the end of a near 30-year bloody insurrection, huge billboards and banners appeared in all towns and villages, hailing the troops, and above them, the politicians and commanders.

We were constrained to point out in our editorials at the time that there was a succession of events by previous Governments and leaders who tried in their own way to stem the LTTE tide, that contributed to the victory. They built special Army and Police units which fought behind enemy lines; they launched major offensives; they trapped the LTTE at the negotiating table. On May 25 after the LTTE was defeated we said;

"President Rajapaksa too tried the peace option by going for talks with the LTTE, until the LTTE again kicked the negotiating table aside and kept prodding him to a point of no return. It was at this stage that that he read the public mood, and felt justified in proclaiming that the LTTE was not interested in a political negotiation. It was then easy to convince both home and a large constituency abroad, that there was no way other than a military solution. And that lessons from past experiences showed not to allow another ceasefire. The single-minded pursuit of that military solution must go to the Defence Secretary together with the Service Commanders who saw through the final home run".

One cannot therefore forget the great sacrifices made by so many in this unfortunate chapter in Lanka's contemporary history. The contribution, individually and collectively to this monumental task by the fallen commandos, the pilots, the engineers, the foot-soldiers, the policemen, as well as the Vice Admirals, Majors-General, Colonels and the like cannot be overlooked.

Recently, concerned citizens have quite rightly pointed to the sacrifices made by ordinary citizens - the people who braved the random and indiscriminate bombings in the cities, in buses plying on rural roads, and much more than anyone else, those living in the so-called 'border-villages' of Gomarankadawela, Thantrimale, Weli-Oya. Not to be overlooked too, the Buddhist monks of yesteryear who gave selfless leadership to these hapless villagers who broke the contiguity of the North and East by their sheer presence, as much as the villagers in Kattankudy, Eravur, Potuvil etc. They are the unsung heroes of the 'war'.

The battle for credit - whether it is the political leadership or military leadership -- is not new and exclusive to Sri Lanka. The saga of betrayals is as old as history itself. During World War II, Adolf Hitler rose to power on the backs of a private army later known as the 'Storm Troopers' or the Nazis. After assuming the German Chancellorship, he needed the loyalty of the National Army which resented the presence of a private army. Hitler concocted a story that the head of the 'Storm Troopers' was organizing a coup; had the man arrested and eliminated.

When Hitler launched his unwise attack into the then Soviet Union, the Russian leader Stalin tried to make peace with Hitler but his overtures were contemptuously spurned. Town after town began to fall into German hands, and when they were at the gates of Moscow, Stalin gave the command of the Red Army to Marshal Georgy Zhukov. He turned the tide. Defeating the Germans in Stalingrad, he went on to Berlin to accomplish one of the greatest military turnarounds in history. As many as three million Russians died in that campaign.

At the victory parade in Moscow, Stalin took the salute from the balcony of the famous Red Square which was decked with red banners and cut-outs of Lenin and Stalin. Zukhov rode a white stallion inspecting the troops. He was the real hero with those present cheering him with cheers of "Zukhov, Zukhov, Zukhov". Within a year, Stalin had him arrested on criminal charges of "trying to take too much credit for his part in winning the war", and transferred him 700 miles from Moscow to Odessa. The Navy chief was also arrested, and then demoted, the Air Force chief arrested and tortured. The rest of Stalin's rule is, as they say, history.

Parallels there are many; and no one individual or group of persons can claim exclusive credit for vanquishing the LTTE. It is unfortunate that the fruits of victory cannot be equitably distributed and shared.

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