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Observations on the ‘labyrinthing’ of Sarath Fonseka

Leaders sometimes suffer a lot on account of being lied to by their most trusted loyalists. Loyalists are given to painting rosy pictures about things. They are deft and slashing ‘i’ and ‘m’ from impossible and then replacing ‘possible’ with ‘probable’. Naive leaders with little experience and unable to lay a finger on the political pulse of a nation broaden grin, swell chest and strut around; they start flapping non-existent wings and believe that they are about to fly. They can only jump. And then they fall. Hard.

On November 22, 2009, I wrote the following: ‘There is poetic justice when those who would turn people into pawns are turned into pawns themselves, or kalaveddas, if you want to go with the metaphor of currency.

Sans the omniscient eye and being humanly frail and being blinded by ambition and complacent with self-importance great leaders and men and women who have the potential to be great leaders, suffer great falls. Yes, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put Humpty together again.’ Switch ‘Humpty’ with ‘Fonseka’ and you’ve got a perfect description of what happened on January 26, 2010 and in the weeks that followed.

Everyone loves a winner. Few would stand with a loser. It’s less than four weeks since four million people stood with Sarath Fonseka. Today, those who hailed him as saviour and were in the forefront of his campaign have abandoned him. Ranil Wickremesinghe in quite a matter of fact manner strangled the swan. Mangala Samaraweera has found that elephant to be a more reliable beast-brand. Rauff Hakeem, likewise, doesn’t mention ‘swan’ any more.

The TNA and R. Sampanthan, who screamed to the Tamil voter that Fonseka would deliver them a separate state, have decided to contest alone.

Who is left? Well, to put it bluntly, the answer is: those who are so crippled that they would settle for any prop. Yes, the JVP. That’s the usual no-options story. Comrades Tilvin, Anura, Vijitha, Lalkantha and Somawansa just don’t have any other choice.

Had he won, all these people would be fighting each other to lick his boots, I have no doubt, but today the General’s political worth has come down to a useful slogan and nothing more; ‘Please Release Fonseka’.

Sarath Fonseka must ponder the how and why of his predicament and indeed there’s something that all politicians can learn from what happened to a man who was hailed as hero.

There was something that Fonseka did not see perhaps because it was in the small print of the whole presidential proposition. There was a ‘use by date’. After that, the product cannot be sold. It has to be repackaged. Fonseka’s problem is that. After January 26, 2010, no one was interested in re-packaging him. Ranil Wickremesinghe doesn’t want to be part of any coalition where he is not recognized as the leader because that would be risking his Opposition Leader post.

Any coalition that contests under any symbol other than the elephant would have Fonseka as leader and therefore contender for that post. Why on earth should Ranil want to risk this?

Fonseka’s problem is that he believed his own hype and he swallowed the hundreds of lie-pills that Mangala and Co administered; indeed he overdosed and now finds there’s no room to swallow his pride. Does the JVP care? Well, they scream that they do, but is that all ‘genuine’? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The truth is that the JVP has to avoid one thing like the plague: the bell symbol. They’ve been hoofed out of Sirikotha by Ranil Wickremesinghe who doesn’t want Tilvin and others to hold him to ransom, now or at a later date.

Today the whole idea of the entire opposition contesting on a common platform has been abandoned. The JVP knows that contesting under the bell would be suicidal for two reasons. First, their numbers will drop to single digits. Second the true strength of the party, the so-called vote-base, will be revealed. They cannot risk this. They need Fonseka to help them out.

This is a possible scenario, for example. Fonseka contests from the Colombo District. He is quite likely to get more than 150,000 votes.

Fonseka, a man without a party, cannot fill the Colombo list with friends and family. He will have to accommodate some JVPers and it is possible that one or two will manage to cling to his shoe-laces and make it to Parliament.

Now imagine the JVP contesting Colombo as the JVP, i.e. under the bell symbol. Any takers? Some, yes, but I think the JVP would struggle to get even one candidate elected.

None of these things will be consolation for Fonseka. Here’s a man who wanted it all and was fooled into believing ‘all’ was within reach. He can settle for ‘Leader of the Opposition’. Can he and should he be happy as a back bencher in the Opposition having to salute Ranil Wickremesinghe?

In that article I wrote in November I referred to ‘The General in his labyrinth’ the brated novel by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garc¡a M rquez where he fictionalizes the last days of Sim¢n Bol¡var, liberator and leader of Gran Colombia. Garc¡a M rquez, tracing Bol¡var’s journey from Bogot to the Caribbean coastline of Colombia in his attempt to leave South America for exile in Europe, portrays the man not in the grandiose terms popular history remembers him by but as a pathetic protagonist, a prematurely aged man who is physically ill and mentally exhausted. I implied that this would be the fate that awaits Sarath Fonseka.

It is common for people like Fonseka to be likened to the Greek mythological figure, Icarus, son of Daedalus, imprisoned by King Manos in the labyrinth Daedalus built for the Minotaur. Daedalus, master craftsman, built wings so he and his son could escape.

Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax holding the feathers together melted and he hurtled down to earth and died. Fonseka certainly thought he could fly. He jumped and fell hard on his behind.

He did not perish. But he remains a victim of the labyrinth that he willingly got people like Mangala Samaraweera to build. The man is no longer important.

His name is. His ‘labyrinthing’ is important. They make for great slogans and that’s the piece of straw that Tilvin and others are clutching at right now. Good for the JVP. For Sarath Fonseka? A come down.

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