| by Gamini Weerakoon
(January 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A politician’s desire to be remembered is only natural. To be remembered forever would be the acme of political desires. What better way would a Sri Lankan desire be remembered than for his name be inscribed in the Mahavamsa. (The Mahavamsa we have to explain to those uninitiated in our history is the record of kings and their reign said to have commenced around 2500 years ago and continues to date.)
Thus, to rub shoulders in history with the greats of the past such as Dutugemunu, Parakramabahu and other greats who followed them would be a tremendous boost to their egos and elevate them to the stature of living immortals among hoi-polloi Sri Lankans who refer to their glorious past ever so often but have only a scant knowledge of their history.
History of Lanka
The original Mahavamsa written by a monk Mahanama records names of 61 kings (including that of Vijaya) stretching over a period of 834 years till the end of Mahasena (father of Kasyapa of Sigiriya). Mahanama had drawn from earlier historical material in two other chronicles as well as oral traditions that had come down generations. He says that the earlier versions were ‘too long drawn out and there too closely knit and contained many repetitions…This Mahavamsa is free from such faults, easy to understand, remember arousing serene joy and joy handed down by tradition’, Mahanama claimed.
Thus the original author concedes ‘editing’ of the earlier versions. After him various other compilers had added on their versions.
We have said all this because there can be no objection to additions of the original texts by compilers of a latter day but now it appears that additions to this historical text are being made with much political vengeance.
We are not aware of whether the Senanayakes or Bandaranaikes had their own versions added on or latter day historians contributed their compilations. But under Ranasinghe Premadasa another section produced by scholar and diplomat Ananda Guruge was added on. We must confess that we have not read this edition to make comments on it.
However our attention has been drawn to reports that another edition of the Mahavamsa is being produced in the Rajapaksa era and an attempt is being made to draw in partisan politics to this historical text. We have read reports that the name of General Sarath Fonseka is not to be mentioned in the 30-year- terrorist war that has been concluded.
Certainly anyone rewriting or adding on new compilations to a historical text is free to do so as the original author of the Mahavamsa, Mahanama, has confessed he had done. But when supposed ‘history’ is being written particularly under the name of a text venerated by millions, blatant perversions, distortions and the suppression of the truth – known to the public – are not permissible.
We are aware that Adolf Hitler is reviled around the world even six decades after his death but his name cannot be excluded from history, even by the Jews. Without Hitler there would have been no history of the last World War or holocaust to report on. We are not aware of any historian attempting write the history of a war without the names of the leaders who led the opposing forces to battle. No civilised country or person would be mulish enough to attempt such an endeavour.
General Sarath Fonseka may have his faults but he is no Adolf Hitler. He was the ‘greatest army commander in the World’ to leaders of this government after his troops triumphed over the LTTE which was considered invincible by many military pundits both here and abroad. He became a national hero rivaling others such as President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabhaya. Fonseka warred for many years on the battle field and nearly succumbed to his injuries. He held on to the Jaffna peninsula perilously after the victorious LTTE cadres swept through the North and were about to wipe out a beleaguered 50,000 troops under him. He finally repelled them. He is the stuff great soldiers and generals are made of.
When an attempt is made to write about Sri Lanka’s 30- year- old war competent impartial historians as well as military strategists of renown should be called in. The crying shame of Sri Lankan journalists and writers is that there are enough hacks and parasites waiting for crumbs to fall of the big man’s table and wag their pens to ruling party tunes. ‘Historians’ of the security forces particularly in the army have many an axe to grind against Fonseka and also the surging jealously for his indisputable victories.
How did he do it?
The unanswered question two years after the war is: How did General Fonseka turn tables so soon on the ‘invincible tigers’? True, fortunes favoured him as it often happens in war.
The break up of the LTTE East wing from Prabhakaran was a major factor. But the relentless sweep down South and then through the Vanni jungles from west to east and then to the north is attributed to the iron discipline he enforced on his troops. There were no retreats and evacuation of camps as had been the earlier order of the day.
The paradox of this war hero is that while he languishes in jail another general who has the record number of his camps run over by the terrorists is once again brought out of retirement and rewarded with a lucrative civilian appointment.
Many of those in power after putting Fonseka behind bars want to obliterate his name from history. That cannot be done because General Fonseka is now a part of history and history cannot be obliterated.