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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Premadasa's Predicament

15 December 1992

Tenali Raman was the royal court jester during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya, the emperor of Vijayanagar in India, between 1509 and 1529. One evening, Tenali found himself among several nobles, who were boasting of their heroics in the war.

General Apadsahayan: "With a mere handful of my men, I attacked a whole battalion of the enemy, and forced them to retreat".

Nagama Nayakar: "I held a pass alone against 50 of the enemy's talented guys".

Kondamraju: "I cut off the tail of the leading elephant which carried the enemy commander-in-chief-".

It was Tenali's turn to talk. He quipped, "What is all that beside what I did. I cut off the leg of the enemy commander-in-chief on the battlefield itself."

Kondamraju: "Why didn't you cut off his head?"

Tenali: "Because some fellow had done it already before me".

A few years ago, President Premadasa told a similar tall tale to the Sri Lankans. After the LTTE fighters bloodied the nose of the Indian army station in Eelam and gained international recognition. Premadasa claimed that it was he who sent the Indian army back. Tenali Raman would have been elated to hear this story.

And Premadasa is still creating stories of that type. The Hindu (Int.Ed.) of Oct 3rd reported that while in Katmandu, the Sri Lankan President had claimed on Sept. 5th, "We have come a long way in containing terrorism and we are nearing a solution. Out of some 10 militant groups in Sri Lanka, we are left with only one group -the LTTE". Then, while visiting New Delhi, the Sri Lankan President blurted that his government is committed to "devise a peaceful negotiated settlement involving all the parties concerned", while pointing out that "operations by the security forces in the North (Eelam that is), which were necessary for the protection of innocent civilians, would continue". One would like to know, who are these "innocent civilians" who have pleaded with Premadasa to continue the "operations by the security forces in the North". Maybe, he was euphemistically referring to the quisling groups as "innocent civilians". Even if this is the case, Premadasa is capable of telling a lie to one's face.

One can guess Premadasa's predicament by reading between the lines what the Economist magazine wrote in its Sept. 5th issue. "A year ago the opposition tried to impeach him (Premadasa), claiming he was guilty of 'treason' and corruption. He survived by a parliamentary manoeuvre, although he chose not to answer the charges. The President shrugs off criticism, but the signs are that he is deeply sensitive to it... The President needs a success, and the best success for him would be in the war against the Tamil Tigers who are fighting for a separate state in the north-east of the island... The army is in no mood to surrender the free hand it has been given to take the war into the Tigers' stronghold in the north. And the army may be the crucial element in the survival of the government."

Yes, that is right. The Sri Lankan President was lucky that the military high command sided with him during the impeachment crisis he faced last year. But one day will come when he may not be able to count on his luck. So, he has begun playing a jig-saw game with the "military heads". The powers of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which was set up in 1984, was clipped last April and transferred to the service commanders and the police chief. But through a gazette notification dated Oct. 11th, Premadasa had transferred the power back to a single general (Hamilton Wanasinghe) under the JOC. According to the news reports, this big change in military high command was made because "military losses reached a monthly average of more than 100 killed, desertions rose rapidly and some 3,700 men left the army". Only two months ago (in the Sept. 15th issue of the TN), I wrote in this column about the desk-top dreamers who head the military in Sri Lanka.

One Tamil proverb says, "Thalaiyanaiyai maarrinaal thalaivali theeruma?" (translation: Can a change in pillow cease a headache?). The recent changed military high command to tackle the LTTE in the battle front is just an example of Premadasa trying to change his "pillow" for attaining his version of "peace". What he should realise is that peace, like pregnancy, obeys the "all or none" law. Either it is complete or it is zero. We cannot have "partial peace" or "coercive peace" at the threat of a gun.

To President Premadasa, I submit the following Confucian anecdote from the 4th Century BC China. He may find it somewhat useful to reflect upon. When Confucius was crossing the T'ai Mountain, he overheard a woman weeping and wailing beside a grave. He thereupon sent one of his disciples to find out the cause of that woman's grief.

Disciple: "Some great sorrow must have come upon you that makes you weep".

Woman: "Indeed it is so. My father-in-law was killed here by a tiger; then my husband; and now my son has perished in a similar manner".

Confucius: "But why then do you not go away?"

Woman: "The government is not harsh".

Confucius (to his disciples): "There! remember that bad government is worse than a tiger".

For those who may doubt the authenticity of this story, I submit that I culled it from the book, Asian Laughter (1971), edited by Leonard Feinberg.

Postscript:  The Donkey in the Tiger-Skin

This is an Indian folk tale, though I guess that it has its origins from Aesop's Fables. There was once a washerman who owned a donkey which had grown weak due to lack of food. One day, the washerman saw a dead tiger while wandering in the forest. We got an idea to stitch the tiger skin on the donkey to fool the farmers so that the beast could feast on the barley fields at night. The plan worked for a while and the donkey had barley meal heartily while the farmers were scared to come near the "tiger". Once, the donkey heard the bray of a female member of its species and feeling happy, it returned the bray. That braying noise alerted the farmers and they did not waste much time in killing the "tiger look alike". The washerman learnt a lesson that some animals in the world should be left as they were created, rather than attempting to camouflage them to "look ferocious"



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