A resignation of an Olympian

Saturday, 27 April 2019 01:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The All Party meet the President summoned on Thursday demonstrated that they have no idea about this new game


Evil originates not in the absence of guilt. Evil originates in our effort to escape it. I cannot recall who said it. But it addresses our current predicament.

Yes. I am punning on the fact that Hemasiri Fernando was a colossus in the local Olympic movement. An Olympian is also a person who in adversity displays graceful detachment. Hemasiri qualifies. His sin is that he was honest. Our Defence establishment had no idea of the magnitude of the threat. Why? 

Is it because our Security establishment had doubts on the information and the credentials of the Indian agency? Although later retracted, Sirisena in the weeks before the ‘Oktoberfest’ publicly claimed that threats on his life emanated from unidentified sources in that geographical region.  

The exiting Secretary of Defence has explicitly and unequivocally stated that he “systematically disseminated” intelligence information received on recent attacks. 

The carnage has plunged the nation in to hitherto unknown horror and corrosive chaos. Combined it has eaten deep into our collective confidence to breathe free. 

He categorically states: “Information was disseminated to relevant officials and departments and I have done my duty. But some officials and relevant departments have not acted accordingly and as a result we have had to face this situation.” This carefully considered final statement of the outgoing Defence Secretary has to be considered in the context of the honest, unvarnished, forthright statement he made to reporters from the front seat of his car while on inspection of bombsites. 

“The government did not expect an attack of such magnitude to occur.” He said much more in that spontaneous response.

What is pertinent to this discussion herein is the unambiguous admission that Sri Lanka received the warning of the threat and its source was Indian intelligence and also that it had reached the highest levels of our Defence establishment. 

The Sri Lankan Defence experts arrived at their own estimate of the size and scope of the threat.

The Indian intelligence with exhaustive details of who, when and where reached us on 4 April. SLFP Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera says it was 9 April. Leader of the House Kiriella says it was on 4 April.

As the good Field Marshal observed in Parliament, does it matter? Was it acted on? And on what degree of gravitas, sobriety and determination? 

President Sirisena is also the Minister of Defence. He takes its purpose so seriously that he does not delegate his ministerial authority and responsibility to any one, not even when he travels abroad. 

The President left the island on 16 April to take part in the ‘Suprabhatha’ ritual and offer prayers to Lord Venkateswara at Thrupathi in India. After appeasing the deities in heaven he proceeded to Singapore for the heavenly pursuit of shopping, presumably in preparation for the pending nuptials of his son that was planned in the merry month of May at the Shangri-La, the symbol of post-war progress made under the man he beat in 2015 with the help of 6.2 million knuckleheads including this writer. Hemasiri Fernando in his letter of resignation has assured that he will assist the committee of inquiry appointed to find out how the horse bolted and who fiddled with the stable door. That is all well and good. Surely Mr. Fernando should know that those who hobnob with gods and lesser gods on Mount Olympus have a duty to shed light and wisdom on simple people like us curious to ascertain the truth. Did he apprise President Sirisena of the contents of the Indian Intelligence warning before the President left the island on his pilgrimage and shopping expedition abroad? Was he in contact with the President in Singapore after the events? 

The second question is vital. Sirisena could have called for personal assistance from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore to get back pronto to his ‘Mathru Bhoomi’ to appease the living, to grieve for the dead and to punish the perpetrators and fault the negligent. After all he has made personal requests to the Singapore Premier before, as in the case of Arjun Mahendran. As the Field Marshal who is being studiously kept out of the field by a vengeful President and a duplicitous Prime Minister noted in Parliament, Sirisena could have taken an earlier flight instead of returning past midnight. There was a flight that arrived at 3 p.m., then another at 9 p.m., before his midnight flight from Singapore. 

The Emergency regulations could have come in to force earlier and faster. We have a President who does not own up to his mistakes. When the Supreme Court held that he violated the Constitution by dissolving Parliament, he delivered a 40-minute homily to the reinstalled Prime Minister that he did it with absolute moral conviction – “sathbhavayen” – and on the advice of good and learned President’s Counsel. 

In the post mortem of the catastrophe, Mr. Hemasiri Fernando must tell the nation what the President knew and when he knew it. That is only part of the story. 

The Prime Minister says he did not know, and he was not told. The Defence Secretary who is known for his affability as much as his administrative ability is not the kind of man to keep the Prime Minister out of the loop. If he did that that, it would have been for good reason. 

Hemasiri Fernando became Defence Secretary following the constitutional coup of October 2018. If newspapers are correct, it was the result of a political accommodation. The Sunday Times of 28 October reported that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was to be appointed as the new Defence Secretary and was expected to assume duties the next week replacing Kapila Waidyaratne. Times also reported that the former Defence Secretary liaised with senior Police officers about security arrangements for Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.The story earned a picturesque plausibility when newspapers carried a photograph of Pujitha, the IGP, saluting the anointed Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary in waiting. 

The Monk Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera was handpicked by the then Army Commander General Daya Rathnayake to deliver ‘dharmadesana’ in Army camps just prior to the last presidential elections. This priest with the pleasing appeal of an Apollo propounded the theory that the Buddha was a Sri Lankan and was born in our land like no other. 

Our chauvinist reading of history is decidedly at variance with Indians scholars such as Romila Thapar recognised for their grasp of the Ashokan era. 

Is it possible that the President who torpedoed the Prime Minister’s Colombo Port deal with India just before the October political blow-up had serious misgivings on India’s intentions in furnishing this dire warning? Is it possible that this scepticism prompted the withholding of this information from the Prime Minister? To India IS terrorism is an existential threat. President Sirisena prior to his pilgrimage and shopping expedition had a different existential dilemma – his re-election. How will he proceed from here on?

For how long will Prime Minister Wickremesinghe cling to the notion that he is the super strategist? That he alone is the patrician whose competence in the foxtrot can beat Mahinda’s charisma and Sirisena’s inflated ego?For 30 years we confronted the idea of justice in a plural democracy. The idea of the unitary state was our obsession. From the Arabised heartland of Muslim ethnoreligious identity in the Eastern Province, there has emerged a warped idea of an unforgiving god. They are not demanding devolution or sharing power. They are in hurried pursuit of heaven. It is a different ball game. The All Party meet the President summoned on Thursday demonstrated that they have no idea about this new game. It is very unlikely that Sirisena has read the writings of Lee Kuan Yew who carved out an oasis of political stability while maintaining excellent relations with the largest Islamic nation state Indonesia and the most economically developed Asian Islamic nation state Malaysia. He described how to fight Salafist Jihadism. Fighting this menace needs a strategy. It is not killing the worker bees that matters. Get at the queen bee.

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