Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Chagie’s predicament inspires novel, highlights Lanka’s pathetic response to external threats


Early Sept. 2018: Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage (left) with Maj. Gen. Nirmal Dharmaratne at Saliyapura Anuradhapura at the former’s farewell. Gallage retired after having served the Army for over three decades. Dharmaratne, one-time Special Forces Brigade Commander’s article on Gallage can be accessed at (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=190504)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Australia, during the yahapalana administration, humiliated Gajaba Regiment veteran military strategist Chagie Gallage. Accused of unsubstantiated war crimes, Gallage was denied an Australian visa. Gallage’s predicament didn’t receive the media attention it really deserved. The parliament conveniently refrained from taking up the issue. Even nationalist groups ignored the plight of a GOC (General Officer Commanding) of fighting forces.

Denial of Australian visa to one of the seniormost officers never attracted wider media attention though the writer, on several occasions, discussed the issue, both in the print media, as well as on television talk shows.

However, ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ (Immortal Story of a Dead Soldier) launched in June 2019 dealt with Gallage’s dilemma. Award-winning author Sena Thoradeniya says his latest novel was inspired by The Island reportage of the incident.

Since then the US found fault with Army Commander Lt. General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Acting Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Geneva betrayal

The author cleverly used exchange of e-mails between Jayashankar (a senior officer of the Sri Lanka Army) and Melina (a Sri Lankan living in Australia) to explain the denial of visa on the basis of Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the then UNP-SLFP coalition on Oct 01, 2015. The entire chapter 11 (p 229- p 283) dealt with the e-mail exchange between fictitious characters, protagonist Jayashankar and Melina. In spite of them being fictitious characters, the exchange of e-mails and the novel as a whole discussed the origins of India-sponsored terrorism, Operation Liberation in 1987, high profile Indian intervention, Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE, despicable INGO/NGO operations, and the Geneva Resolution etc.

The author mercilessly attacked the UNP over the Geneva betrayal and discussed how the despicable resolution facilitated the separatist agenda over a decade after the successful conclusion of the war. There hadn’t been a previous instance of an author using e-mails to narrate a story of this magnitude. Thoradeniya’s 327-page novel can be considered a sort of a political essay meant to educate the electorate. Perhaps Thoradeniya should send a couple of copies to the library in parliament. Thoradeniya dealt with a range of contentious issues that hadn’t been properly discussed in and outside parliament.

Once, one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC flayed the parliament as the most corrupt institution in the country. Thoradeniya’s immensely readable novel contained much more facts than the 100 lawmakers mentioned in their speeches in parliament. ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ again proved the pathetic state of our parliament and continuing deterioration of the once august assembly. In addition to lawmakers, Thoradeniya’s well-crafted piece of work should be of interest to the armed forces, particularly to those joining the peace-time military. It would be the responsibility of the military high command to ensure those joining the armed forces received a thorough understanding of the crisis caused by the Indian intervention in the 80s.

Jayashankar’s response to denial of Australian visa reminded me of Maj. Gen. Gallage’s angry reaction. Having retired on August 31, 2018, Gallage declared at Gajaba Regiment home at Saliyapura, Anuradhapura, he was leaving the Army as a war criminal. A week after retirement, Gallage dealt with a range of issues, in his farewell speech on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment. There had never been a previous instance of an officer having the courage to declare at a farewell banquet, that he had been categorized as a war criminal. It would be pertinent to examine why Gallage declared: "So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.’

The writer revealed Gallage’s predicament on the March 23, 2017 edition of The Island in a front-page lead story headlined "Chagie denied Australian visa over ‘war crimes’ allegations" with the strap line "Unsubstantiated UN claim cited as reason".

Fonseka’s plight overlooked

Thoradeniya’s effort should be appreciated. However, the absence of reference to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka being denied a US visa also during the yahapalanaya administration on more than one occasion is certainly an inadequacy on the author’s part. The assertion that the then President Maithripala Sirisena hadn’t been consulted and therefore unaware of the Geneva Resolution cannot be accepted under any circumstances. Perhaps the author hadn’t taken all factors into consideration before coming to that conclusion. President Sirisena and the SLFP cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for Geneva betrayal as the latter was a full yahapalana partner at the time the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha accepted it. But overall there hadn’t been a similar novel before though several authors dealt with the war and related issues, both during the conflict and after the successful conclusion of the war.

Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera set the record straight immediately after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government withdrew the sponsorship of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. Let me reproduce the relevant section from Samaraweera’s statement: "The final text of the resolution was largely negotiated over the telephone, with the President and I at the same hotel in New York, and the Prime Minister in Colombo accompanied by the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time and the Ambassador of the US and High Commissioner of the UK. Once consensus was reached, the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time who was in Colombo had coordinated with Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and conveyed the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council.

"Once the resolution was adopted by the Council, it was tabled in Parliament on 23 October 2015. There was broad consensus in the House. Members from the major political parties represented in Parliament – including the UNP, SLFP, TNA, and JHU – spoke in favour of the resolution. We all agreed that Sri Lanka had to come to terms with its past and reflect and introspect in order to move forward and achieve reconciliation, peace, stability, and prosperity that had eluded our nation since Independence.

Author Thoradeniya lambasted the reportage of the conflict, particularly a section of the English press hell-bent on undermining the war effort. Thoradeniya also found fault with some sections of the military, too. Having covered the security round since 1987, the writer realized Thoradeniya’s well-founded concerns. Having read ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’, Thoradeniya’s presence at a recent event at Nelum Pokuna Theatre to mark National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s 20 years’ service as a member of parliament is understandable. The main speakers at the event, Ven. Induragare Dharnarathana and Prof. Raj Somadeva dealt with the external threats on the Sri Lankan State and the government. They pointed out how the government could be weakened by deterioration of the State.

Parliament exploited

With the next parliamentary election scheduled to be held on April 25, 2020, it would be pertinent to examine the challenges faced by Sri Lanka. Thoradeniya dealt with the growing threat posed by those proposing to choose a President by way of a vote in parliament. The JVP pushed hard for an Amendment to do away with the executive presidency in the run-up to the last presidential poll in Nov 2019. Coupled with the 19th Amendment enacted in early 2015, the 20th Amendment would have placed the country totally at the mercy of those propagating separatist agenda.

Actually, Thoradeniya’s novel can be useful to the media, both print and electronic, as well. In the absence of cohesive effort on the part of media organizations to enhance the knowledge of journalists, perhaps Thoradeniya’s novel can be quite useful to those really interested in knowing the real situation. The media, too, is manipulated by interested parties and there are some who enjoyed being used by foreign interests. Unfortunately, the yahapapana government actually co-operated with those pursuing an anti-Sri Lanka agenda, both here and abroad. Co-sponsoring of the Geneva Resolution in 2015 can be easily considered as the culmination of their operation, having engineered the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat.

Thoradeniya meticulously dealt with the UNP-TNA-JVP-SLMC forming an alliance ahead of the 2010 presidential election to create an environment to promote separatist agenda. Having failed to ensure General Sarath Fonseka’s victory at the 2010 presidential election, the UNP-led coalition achieved its objective at the 2015 presidential election though it couldn’t bring the project to a successful conclusion.

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP candidate in August 2019 and his eventual triumph at the Nov 2019 presidential poll should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s failure to set the record straight. For want of proper strategy, Western powers had been able to use unsubstantiated war crimes allegations to clear a path for external intervention. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage had been victimized as part of their overall strategy meant to weaken the Sri Lankan State as well as the government.

From South to the North

Thoradeniya narrated how protagonist Jayashankar, having engaged in counter-insurgency operations against the JVP in the 80s, subsequently joined the Army in its northern campaigns and how quickly he realized the difference in southern and northern theatres. The author discussed the developments over three decades with the war-winning Army at the receiving end much to the disappointment of the ordinary people. A government betraying its own Army is certainly unheard of until President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe sold out the country at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In fact, betrayal in Geneva had been part of the high profile that brought the UNP-TNA-JVP and the SLMC together with the blessing of Uncle Sam. It was nothing but a well hatched conspiracy. Unfortunately, the Sri Lanka electorate turned a blind eye to the TNA backing General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll. Having accused Fonseka’s Army of massacring thousands of civilians on the Vanni east front, in 2009, the TNA conveniently forgot its own accusations. The Tamil electorate, too, had no qualms in exercising their franchise in support of Fonseka. They ensured Fonseka comfortably taking all northern and eastern electorates though the districts, outside the predominantly Tamil areas, overwhelmingly voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Four war criminals

The then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis having declared in mid-January 2010 three Rajapaksa brothers and Sarath Fonseka war criminals arranged the TNA support for the latter at the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Had the project succeeded, a resolution against the Sri Lankan military could have been presented to Geneva in 2011. President Rajapaksa’s government never really took the Western powers backed political project seriously. Instead of properly countering the challenge, President Rajapaksa, having a second term, played politics with the issue. His administration also squandered millions of USD on a futile propaganda project in US at the expense of those struggling to make ends meet. The parliament simply let down the armed forces. President Sirisena, in spite of promising to take up the issue of senior military officers being denied US, Australian visa, did absolutely nothing. None of the Defence Secretaries appointed by President Sirisena took any interest in the matter either. President Sirisena’s last choice as the Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in January 2019 openly declared that his military personnel would be prosecuted within two weeks over what he called the most heinous murders in recent history. Fernando was referring to 11 wartime abductions allegedly carried out by the Navy. Addressing an event at Nalanda College to felicitate him, Fernando requested the Tamil diaspora to furnish evidence, if available, against any Sri Lankan soldier involved in war crimes.

"Everyone who joins the Army does not become a war hero. To become a war hero, a soldier has to earn a medal and their accomplishments should be announced by way of a gazette. As of now, there are only 39,000 war heroes in Sri Lanka. Of them, 34,000 belong to the Army. Nearly 4400 represent the Navy and 868 belong to the Air Force. A soldier who joined the Army just three months ago is not a war hero," Fernando explained. "Especially a murderer cannot become a war hero. He is only a murderer," he said.

Fernando displayed his incompetence when he declared that the government didn’t take Indian intelligence warning on National Thowheed Jaamat (NTJ) threat in April 2019. Fernando, in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, had no qualms in declaring that it was not the responsibility of the government to provide security to hotels. President Sirisena, contesting the April 25 general election on the SLPP ticket certainly owed an explanation how he picked Fernando, who was ever ready to find fault with his men, to be the Defence Secretary.

Thoradeniya’s novel discussed how those responsible for the protection of the State and the government deliberately jeopardized them. Jayashankar’s contribution to the crushing of the second JVP inspired insurrection even at the risks faced by his loved ones and the subsequent northern campaigns underscored the pivotal importance of the Army’s readiness to suppress threats to elected governments from whomsoever that took up arms. Protagonist Jayashankar’s looking down on brother officers also reminded the reader of those who sought to exploit and abuse their rank, in some instances at the expense of the war effort.