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To whom does the country belong?

Over the last fortnight General Sarath Fonseka's comments on “Sri Lanka for the Sinhalese” have pushed him into waters which could or maybe should prove turbulent even for him, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Oct 08, 2008 01:09 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Army chief lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka is known to be a competent swimmer.

Over the last fortnight however his comments on “Sri Lanka for the Sinhalese” have pushed him into waters which could or maybe should prove turbulent even for him.

In a recent interview to a Canadian newspaper, Fonseka said: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people…We being the majority of the country, 75 per cent, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country…We are also a strong nation … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.”

The Army boss came under strong criticism from various quarters including political parties for his statement which many described as arrogant and brazen.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think-tank, said it had to be criticised because of “the fact that the Commander of the Army feels free to represent his personal opinions and enter into public discussion about policy matters that are constitutionally the proper domain of the political executive.”

But Fonseka, whose boys are currently claiming a string of violent successes against the LTTE, followed up the statement with one more – a defence so stubborn that it can only expected from an army man.

“The truth is that this country is ruled by Sinhalese for centuries and centuries. China is ruled by Chinese, England by the Englishmen and Germany by Germans. This is because these countries are ruled by the majorities,'” Fonseka told a local newspaper in a second interview on Sunday.

Leaving aside the rather simple, almost naïve, China for the Chinese’-logic, Fonseka’s opinion raised complex questions: how does one define the Sinhalese? Should one use the parameter of religion, ethnicity or language? And does the ruling political executive concur with Fonseka on the issue as there was no reaction from the government? According to a Colombo-based human rights activist, such remarks are dangerous since they might appeal to some sections of society.

“It (the statement) goes against the spirit of the Constitution. Usually, such statements are made by politicians. For the first time, I’ve heard it from a person of his stature,” he said.

Fonseka, who survived an assassination attempt in 2006, is unlikely to be deterred or depressed by such criticism. But he would have to summon all his swimming talent to steer clear of such controversies in the future.