Tuesday, May 18, was a day for celebration to most Sinhalese but not Tamils who appeared to consider it a day of reckoning, at best, having suffered most in the thirty-year-long ‘war’. The usual outcome of all prolonged military conflicts, it is said, inevitably leaves behind ’An army of cripples, an army of mourners and [...]

Sunday Times 2

True national heroes and those unsung


Tuesday, May 18, was a day for celebration to most Sinhalese but not Tamils who appeared to consider it a day of reckoning, at best, having suffered most in the thirty-year-long ‘war’.

The usual outcome of all prolonged military conflicts, it is said, inevitably leaves behind ’An army of cripples, an army of mourners and an army of criminals’.

The winners and losers of this ‘war’ too have not being exempted from the pathetic fallout of these ‘post-war armies’.

However, the official stand of Sri Lankan governments has been that it was a national triumph — a triumph for the whole nation, against a brutal separatist terrorist movement — not a racist conflict. True. But as an independent observer of the political scene, even 12 years after the terror group leader was killed in the swamps of Nandikadal and his terrorist organisation wiped out, we see no celebrations on the part of the Tamils on this day.

As a fulltime journalist during the military operations against the terrorist group, we were supportive of the operations and openly held out that the only solution against the intransigent megalomaniacal leader was a military solution. Our regret today is that even after 12 years of victory over terrorism, we see no evidence of national reconciliation.

National Heroes Day has come and gone this year without the usual patriotic and nationalistic outbursts while paying tribute to the true national heroes.

To single out ‘a national hero’ in the context of the times is quite a difficult task because heroes are often created by powerful and influential individuals or groups who have subjective interests in their creations. But on Tuesday, the nation paid tribute to an undisputed 28,619 National Heroes who made the supreme sacrifice in defending their motherland from terrorists. The true heroes comprised 23,962 from the Army, 1160 from the Navy, 443 from the Air Force, 2,598 Policemen and 456 personnel from the Civil Security Department.

President Gotabaya on this day, 12 years after victory, promoted 452 officers of the Sri Lanka Army’s Regular and Volunteer Force and 4,289 other ranks to their respective next rank. Our congratulations go out to these officers. It will also be natural for state employees as well to hope for such promotions and attached perks, unless these army promotions were routine ones made on Heroes Day. In these days, in the civilian sector, pay cuts and retrenchment are the natural order of things.

Countless number of civilians, too, suffered during the terrorist conflict and during the JVP insurrection — some also making the supreme sacrifice in as much those heroes of the armed services.

They served the nation and kept the economy going despite the life-threatening dangers hovering over them. They served the government as well as the private sector but received no allowances, compensation or even attention. They are the heroes unknown, unheard of and unsung who lived through the five turbulent decades in this paradise island.

The National Heroes’ Day reminds us that traditional civilian government service is now bristling with highly decorated service officers in key administrative posts. Two such posts are the defence and foreign secretary posts. The expectation was that military men in key posts would get the processes ‘ticking away’ but is it so? ask doubting Thomases? Foreign policy is in contagion at Geneva and has now spread to Ottawa.

National Security was supposed to be the prime reason for moving top proven ex-army veterans into key posts after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks but the issue after two years seems to be getting fruitier and nuttier with cardinal demands being made to fix the original sinner; monks, former pillars of the Rajapaksa party, alleging deep conspiracies and the Attorney General saying police investigations haven’t produced sufficient evidence to prosecute the real criminals.

Meanwhile, natural disasters have resulted in stalling implementation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto — Visions of Splendour and Prosperity. National security now encompasses a much greater area than prevention of terrorism. It involves protection of the populace from pandemics and providing them sufficient nutrition to live on. Rajapaksa wants to stick by his pledge in his manifesto of making Lanka going green and has banned importation of inorganic fertilisers and insecticides.

On election platforms, he promised free fertiliser to farmers but did not say it was organic fertiliser he was talking about and not the imported inorganic fertiliser that has been used for decades here and the world over. Imported inorganic fertiliser would cost billions of rupees. Rajapaksa is sticking to his guns and manifesto and is turning away ship loads of containers carrying the inorganic fertiliser that farmers want.

The issue obviously transcends all others for this involves the basic issue of the survival of the nation: Food security.

Rice is Lanka’s only strategic produce for the survival, like in most Asian countries.

Japan on losing World War II succumbed to all pressures of the victorious Americans except to relax controls on importation of American rice. Japan still steadfastly refuses importation of rice because it is of strategic importance. Despite all calamities that Japan faced during and after the war, the nation survived on the rice it produced.

In Sri Lanka, the Kandyan warriors successfully warded off Portugese, Dutch and British invasions, using the natural endowments — the mountainous terrain, access through which impeded invading forces greatly. Having invaded the hill capital, they found it deserted without food while the natural allies of the inhabitants, the Malaria mosquito, delivered the coup de grace sending invaders back to Colombo groggy and raging with fever with the defenders hot on their heels.

Historians of repute such as Paul E Pieris have described how the British finally overcame Kandyan resistance. They got to the their ‘bissas’, of villagers where stocks of rice were kept and destroyed them.

With the destructions of their stocks of rice and other food such as fruit trees, the Kandyans were starved to death and defeat.

The aim of D.S. Senanayake, Lanka’s pioneer fighter for Independence, even before Independence, was to make the country self-sufficient in rice. The clearing of jungles in the so called Dry Zone, restoration of tanks of the ancients and the construction of new life giving tanks such as the Gal Oya were the beginning. For 72 years, this tradition has continued through successive governments, the last being President Sirisena whose contribution was the Moragaskanda reservoir and complex.

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa decision of withholding in organic fertiliser to farmers would markedly reduce the output of rice in Lanka unless he can produce an efficient substitute, scientists have pointed out. The impact of this move on the National Security affecting the country’s only strategic produce needs rethinking.


(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and former consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)


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