Judging a book  by its cover

Books are inspiring as is well known. As much as the spoken word that has changed the history of mankind, the written word has made epoch-making changes in human civilisation. Adolf Hitler employed his fierce oratory replete with febrile intensity to electrify his audiences and inspired war ravaged Germany to regain its economic prowess and military might, though subsequently his megalomania plunged that country into a disastrous conflagration and chaos. Similarly, Maxim Gorky's unputdownable novel, 'Mother', inter alia, inspired millions of Russians and ignited their anti-Tsarist sentiments which fuelled a popular uprising to overthrow that repressive regime. Such is the power of the printed word!

Former Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka MP is reading a book by the late President J. R. Jayewardene, he has told the media. He is so highly taken up with it that he has idolised JRJ as the best leader and only President in the post-Independence Sri Lanka, who used his executive powers for the benefit of the country!

Gen. Fonseka has taken upon himself the task of 'restoring democracy' in this country and lashes out at the present government at every turn for his detention which he calls illegal. He also leads the JVP-led Democratic National Alliance (DNA). Therefore, the question is how JRJ could be his idol.

JRJ may be worthy of emulation in some respects, no doubt. But, he, in our book, should not be the role model for any leader, present or future. Why?

JRJ was notorious for bulldozing his way through. He not only suppressed the Opposition but also coerced his own parliamentary group into submission. It may be recalled that he obtained undated resignation letters from his MPs to prevent them from breaking ranks. He abused his presidential powers to the hilt to avoid a general election and extend the UNP's parliamentary term by six more years through a referendum so as to retain his five-sixths majority to make and amend laws according to his whims and fancies. Elections were rigged and his opponents including SLFP leader Sirima Bandaranaike were stripped of their civic rights so that he would be without a formidable challenge from the Opposition.

Soon after the election of the JRJ government in 1977, UNP goons were given free rein to disport themselves in barbaric violence against Opposition activists leaving hundreds of persons dead and thousands of houses and business places destroyed. Then, they attacked Tamils.

In 1983, the UNP again instigated a pogrom, where thousands of Tamils were massacred and their property looted and torched. JRJ let racial violence run its course without imposing a curfew immediately.

While Gen. Fonseka was praising JRJ at a press conference last week, ironically he was flanked by JVP MPs Vijitha Herath and Sunil Handunnetti. JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera must be spinning in his grave! It was JRJ who forced the JVP to go underground by proscribing it on trumped up charges so as to ensure that the Supreme Court would not be moved against the rigged referendum at issue. The JRJ rule gave rise to two armed uprisings, one led by Wijeweera in the South and the other by Prabhakaran in the North.

JRJ was not capable of ending the two rebellions either militarily or politically. Had he had his foreign policy right, he would have been able to defeat the LTTE way back in 1987. He unnecessarily antagonised India, which saw to it that the LTTE would survive his military campaign and saved Prabhakaran during Operation Liberation in the North. It was JRJ's blunders that resulted in the IPKF being sent here and the JVP plunging the country into bloodbath on the pretext of taking up arms against the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord.

Surprisingly, Gen. Fonseka has, while smarting from his detention, chosen to lionise JRJ, who had Vijaya Kumaratunga arrested and held arbitrarily on bogus 'Naxalite' charges in 1982. The JVP assassinated Vijaya a few years later.

There were many other undemocratic acts that JRJ committed unflinchingly by grossly abusing his unbridled presidential powers, with which, he boasted, he could not achieve only one feat––turning a woman into a man and vice versa. After all, Gen. Fonseka himself campaigned against the executive presidency that JRJ created, didn't he? One's mind boggles when he extols JRJ's policies.

JRJ was not the best president we ever had. Nor was he the worst. He like all other leaders, before and after him, was fallible; he could not resist temptation to abuse his privileged position for self-aggrandisement, succumbed to arrogance of power and had no qualms about doing anything undemocratic to perpetuate his rule.

One should not make the mistake of judging a political leader by his or her autobiography or autobiographical sketches. It is tantamount to judging a book by its cover.

Most of all, people are known by their idols!

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