Columns - 5th column

Light at the end of the prison tunnel

By Rypvanwinkle

My Dear Sarath,

I thought I must write to you when I heard that yet another court had sentenced you to one more term of imprisonment. Although this is nothing new for you now, I am sure you must still be disappointed with the events of this week.

And there was a difference this time too. Previously you had been tried by military courts and you were saying that those who tried you were your junior officers who had reason to be vengeful towards you. This time though, you have been found guilty by a civilian court.

I suppose, Sarath, you must be still finding it difficult to understand how you could be described as the ‘best army commander in the world’, awarded medals for you gallantry and be promoted a four-star general one day and then have all those accolades taken away only a few months later.

Of course Sarath, I am sure you now realise that none of this may have happened if you chose to take the easy way out and opted for a quiet retirement. Why, you could even have been our ambassador in some country-which is what army commanders are supposed to be when they retire!

But then, you were never one to take the easy way out, were you? So, in the same way that you fought back after being the victim of an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, you thought you will fight your last battle, not with Prabhakaran but with Mahinda maama himself!

Many will say that this is why you are where you are today. However, I must also point out that part of that is because of the company you kept: those who used you to run against Mahinda maama may have done so, not because they thought you could win but because they knew they couldn’t!

I’m referring to the Greens and the Reds of course. Instead of running the race themselves and being badly defeated by Mahinda maama, they let you run, so that they could wait for the next race with their reputations intact! In that sense, they used you just as much as the Blues used you earlier!

Of course, Sarath, you committed many blunders too. For instance, you teamed up with the northern party and voters in the south found that rather odd-the man who defeated the Tigers being supported by those who acted as the mouthpiece of the Tigers while the war was going on.

You must also not forget that you were not cast in the mould of a politician, Sarath. Being used to giving orders and having them obeyed all your life, you would have found the double dealing and opportunistic world of politics a challenge-and your awkward public performances reflected that.

But of course, it is your right to act as you please and you may be right in assuming that most people-be they blue, green or red-do not wish for you the fate that has befallen you, when even those who gave their judgments against you walk about freely today, only because of what you did for the country.

If that is difficult for you to come to terms with, you must be finding it even harder to figure out how you — the man responsible for defeating the Tigers — are in prison while some Tigers are ministers and other ‘KP’ Tigers are being given VIP treatment.

Even more disgraceful is the treatment meted out to you in prison where you have to go to courts to ask for a fan in your room — when others who seem to have instigated murder are afforded the best medical facilities and are flown overseas for treatment, without even being questioned by the Police!

But then, these are a reflection of the times we live in. There is of course an easy way out and that is to ask for a pardon — and these are being given out freely, even to mayors who have been caught pilfering public funds — but being the fighter that you are, we know you will never ask for forgiveness.

What next, you must be wondering. We are told there will be more allegations against you, so the circus will carry on. Indeed, ‘Sarath’ seems to be an unlucky name because the ‘other’ Sarath may also be the subject of inquiries very soon, we are told!

Remember, Sarath, those who feel sad for you are sad not only because of you but because they feel sad about a system which acts in this manner. And that is because no one-including the opposition, government officials and even judges-don’t seem to have the courage to do what is right.

If we are to find some consolation in Friday’s events, Sarath, you may note that the verdict against you was not unanimous. So, it just may be possible that there are people out there, even a handful of them, who are courageous enough to voice their dissent without fearing the consequences.

But of course we know that you have faced greater odds and fought for years knowing that your life was at risk every day. So, these challenges shouldn’t overwhelm you, especially when you know that most Sri Lankans are still grateful to you for the freedom from terrorism that they enjoy today.

Those thoughts should give you strength as you begin yet another sentence, with the prospect of many more coming your way. I don’t know what you propose to do in your prisoner’s cell in the next few days but I am sure there will be light at the end of the tunnel, even if that is some distance away.

Yours truly,
Punchi Putha

PS-Though we are not certain how you will spend time in your cell, we know what you won’t be doing-and that is to send out a birthday card saying ‘many happy returns’!

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