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Leading an army of the deserted

As nomination day approaches for the Presidential Race there is hectic activity on both sides to demonstrate popularity. The challenger Fonseka is no doubt having an uphill task which he would have known when he decided to take on winner in the last round.

But the situation is not something what can be described as strategically advantageous when looked at from the point of view of a military strategist, which is noticeably the tone of the Fonseka campaign.

There are very reliable reports that General (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka who, in the view of some who have been taking a closer look at his strategy, expects to be Sri Lanka’s first Generalissimo if elected, is looking at methods of how his opposition could be kept in check or even eliminated, in the style of General Franco of Spain, Marshal Stalin of the USSR, Commando Supremo Il Duce Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China and later Taiwan. Even his close supporters are said to be worried about this.

The managers of his campaign are reportedly having a difficult time in portraying him as a true military leader, since he shed his uniform so fast and donned the white topped political garb of opportunism and convenience. A major problem faced by them is said to be that some of the best photographs of his days in uniform will have to be carefully edited to remove any trace of his rival and Commander-in-Chief, as well as the Defence Secretary, from the image. Poster designers are reportedly having problems because most of his best pictorial record of recent victory has the three of them, with focus being more on his rival in the coming race. There are special contracts being offered to experts who can air-brush images out of photographs to get solo shots of the would be Generalissimo in the strategic pose he would like to be seen.

If that is a problem for Phoney-Honey’s publicity strategists, there are other problems that are fast emerging that will need much more than his experience in military strategy to deal with. The General, retired or not, is losing his key strategists and regional commandants so fast, as well as seeing a rapid decline in his would be allies. The haemorrhage is such that by the time the bugles are sounded for the final battle he may have to fight with his ranks moving single file like a straggling and depleted infantry corps.

Sri Lankan politics is known for its cross-overs at crucial times. It is not unusual to see politicians changing sides on the eve of an election, and the political long jump is ably demonstrated by those of many political hues. But Fonnie’s problems are not of the usual kind. If the coming contest is looked at from eyes of military strategists Phoney-Honey is losing key staffers from his Ops Room right down to the field.

The loss of SB Dissanayake, the leader of the Opposition in the Central Provincial Council and the UNP’s National Organizer could be easily described as the loss of his Chief of Staff, knowing the political clout and strategic capabilities of the man in the rough and tumble of electoral politics.

The losses of personnel among others in the political-officer cadres also show major gaps in his ability for strategic manoeuvre as the going gets tougher. Those with a sense of history will look at the loss of a heavy weight from Matale, as similar to the loss of key figures of the Sinhalese who rose against the Brutish in the Matale rebellion.

The Central Theatre is has suddenly weakened with loss of key figures in the Central Provincial Council, as well as the Kandy Municipal Council. These are NCOs who could have been expected to hold the lesser ranks together as the battle progressed.

The situation in Wayamba, where the Fonnie’s rival was returned with an overwhelming majority in the recent lesser battle for control of the Provincial Council, there are signs that the infantry is taking a cue from the officers from whom Fonnie would have expected much, and deserting to the other side. Johnston Fernando seems like a Johnny Mine among the ranks of those trying hard to swim with Finnie’s swan, against a tide that is gathering in strength daily.

In the key battleground of Colombo, there are other officers who remain attached to the green elephant and not making it easy for Fonnie to manoeuvre, There are dire warnings coming from the former Deputy Mayor Sally, who in real battle could have led a whole battalion, about what Fonnie will ultimately do to those who laughed at the capture of Thoppigala, the comparison of Alimankada to Pamankade, called him fit to only lead the Salvation Army, and the one who called his strategy bovine, and that any fool could win a war. But, that seems to be all that Fonnie is left with, except for the Rathu Sahodarayas, whose belief in remote control governance has blinded them to the realities of rising Bonapartism in a white politico shirt.

If the desertion of the existing cadres from the Swan Legion is a case for growing concern, there is also the loss of those who were expected to be allies for behind the scenes, or covert operations, who are also moving to the other side. There are many who can have good reason to oppose Sirisena Cooray, but it is a folly to write him off where political strategy is concerned. It is hard to forget that when the elephant was thrown out of the running due to a faulty nomination paper in the last CMC polls, it was Sirisena Cooray who made the UNP don a thick pair of spectacles and romp home with a majority in what was, sorry for the pun, a spectacular race for control of the dirty profits the UNP has enjoyed for decades from the Colombo Municipal Council.

With the UNP jettisoning both the elephant and the green colour from the Phoney-Honey campaign, on would have thought of Coorey as the one man to put the pieces of the old party together, when the decision was taken to back the floating swan of Fonseka. But this defection to the ranks of his rival is as bad as what happened to the Sri Lanka Army when the UNP (or what is left of it that supports Fonnie today) betrayed its Intelligence Wing, and Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, with the outing of the Aturugiriya Safe House. But, with Fonseka deciding to cast his lot with such types, it must not be much of a surprise that he has to face such situations as the race gets hotter.

With all his would be officers deserting him in droves, in essence what General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka will be leading into battle in the coming weeks looks more like an army of the deserted, than a well oiled fighting force. It will need much more than the military strategy he used to carry out the wishes of his political masters to defeat the LTTE, to make even limited progress with such depleted ranks. He will certainly need much more funds than what Prabhakaran’s mother could give him, and even that may not be enough.

It looks like his strongest ranks will be from the JVP. It is interesting to know that Fonseka began his life in the military with a role in destroying the JVP’s uprising in 1971. Just like him having no qualms in joining the UNP that betrayed the Intelligence Corps of the SL Army, the JVP of today will also have no problem in supporting a person who honed his skills against insurgency by attacking them. In all probability he will soon begin to see red; not the red shirts of the JVP cadres who may be the only fighters around him, but the more frightening red of defeat.

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