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
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
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
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