In the early Mahavamsa, Generals figure lightly. The later Culavamsa, however, is full of stories of military intrigue, with Generals supporting coups, taking power or getting slain. If one may call this current period the ‘Chootivamsa’, one can see that Generals are still suspect, only today they can’t be executed.
They have to be put through a pseudo-judicial ritual which accomplishes the same thing. In this light, the only thing confusing about General Sarath Fonseka’s jail term is the judicial language that surrounds it. Those legal terms are really just literary flourish. Underneath, it’s the same old story.
In a nation where the ruler is effectively the state, the only crime is betraying the ruler. Thus, someone like Karuna Amman could — in his capacity as then Eastern LTTE leader — massacre 113 Sri Lankan police officers and still be a Minister in the ruler’s court. While he has committed unforgivable crimes against the arms of the state, he has sworn allegiance to the head. Thus he can stand.
Another example is the Rajapaksa family’s pet tiger, KP, former arms dealer for the LTTE. Despite being responsible for countless deaths of troops, he is given much more freedom than the General who fought him. In fact, KP, is still allowed to refer to the late Prabhakaran as his leader, telling journalist D.B.S Jeyaraj “I can never be estranged from him. My loyalty and respect to him never changed. He was my leader and friend and like an elder brother to me.” This in a government sanctioned interview. These rights are all because he does not challenge the king.
The Mahavamsa is the story of kings, their successions and descents, and our modern history is only superficially different. What matters is not ideology or law, but fealty to the king. Or President in this case. That act can forgive all sins, and withholding it draws severe punishment.
This is what has befallen General Sarath Fonseka. He served in the war to unite Sri Lanka under one flag, but grew disillusioned with the ruler. Accordingly, he resigned, filed papers to run in an election and tried to overthrow the ruler democratically. That ruler used state resources, media, and armed troops to ensure and secure his re-election and then promptly arrested the opposition candidate. In a constitutional democracy this is tyrannical behaviour, but that is, perhaps, reading the wrong text. In the context of the Mahavamsa, this is business as usual. You need to neutralise the Generals before they neutralise you.
Thankfully we live in a more civilised age where challengers to the throne are not physically impaled and killed in front of the public. Instead, they are impaled in the courts and left to serve as a reminder in jail. The journalist Tissainayagam was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour for what he wrote, a sentence Mahinda personally commuted to show that he can give and take away. In the same way, Mahinda commuted a maximal three year sentence to 30 months, enough to look generous while still requiring Fonseka to lose his elected seat in Parliament.
As such he neutralises the one popular opposition figure while retaining the eunuch Ranil Wickremesinghe to guard the UNP harem. Mahinda has done everything with the language of modern democracy — trials, charges, etc. — but the underlying forces are the older and more powerful prerogatives of royal rule.
Mahinda rules this country and even you served the flag, loyalty to Mahinda is the only thing that matters. If Karuna and KP will serve Mahinda, all is forgiven, they can even continue to revere Sri Lanka’s sworn enemy, Prabhakaran. Sarath Fonseka, however, served the flag and turned on Mahinda. That, among all sins, is unforgivable. We are living in the next book of the Mahavamsa and the ruler is Mahinda. That’s about all you need to know.