Gota’s War – a review
Posted on November 26th, 2012

By Don Wijewardana

 It was only recently that I had the opportunity to read C.A Chandraprema’s Gota’s War.  Mahinda Rajapaksa successfully confronted the LTTE when all his predecessors failed miserably. One major factor that set him apart from the rest, was the pivotal role played by Gotbhaya Rajapaksa as the Defence Secretary.  As such it was a well-deserved recognition to write an account around the part he played in the war.  Like many others I was waiting to learn the background, what went on behind the scenes that helped in the victory. This book, to a certain extent, met my expectations.

 Chandraprema often provides a detailed account of the progress of the war as well as offers useful background related to some of the contenders such as the Tamil Nadu, development of politics of the north and the LTTE itself.  In this respect it has a wealth of background information. Sometimes he deviates from the main topic, for example when he delves into films that were produced on the war theme. Although some commentators have criticised this I enjoyed them. May be because I had seen some of them, and was highly annoyed by the misrepresentations. In fact I questioned the director of one such prize-winning film as to how much he was paid by the LTTE to produce it. He responded but without ever answering the question.

 Although we often hear of 100,000 casualties from the three decades of war that number remains a mere statistic in our minds. But Chandraprema’s figures of deaths, at each major confrontation bring home more vividly the reality of carnage inflicted by terrorism. And that does not include the thousands of innocent victims -men women and children of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities.

 Earlier on when I heard of the advice from certain Ceasefire monitors from foreign governments  “ƒ”¹…”not to confront but to negotiate’ because the LTTE was unassailable I thought it was a part of the tactics to demoralise the government. But it becomes clear that after three years of the Ceasefire Agreement the LTTE had fully rested, rearmed and recruited large numbers to form a powerful force that the government armed services may have found hard to defeat. That fact alone makes the accomplishment of the Rajapaksa government even more admirable and Gota’s role that much more crucial.

 I would have liked to learn more about Gota’s role especially during the last stages of the war but the book does not refer much to his contribution during that phase. A major drawback of the book is lack of an Index.  Compiling one would not have been that difficult with modern computer software.

 The author’s writing style and short chapters make the book easy reading. Although his journalistic approach helps in this, that has also imposed a major limitation. The analysis is not a historical account that delves into issues in depth but mostly touched at the surface sometimes making his scrutiny somewhat shallow.   This becomes glaring when he talks of the background to the problem. In a simplistic analysis he goes out of his way to pin the blame for the problem on SWRD Bandaranaike. In one instance he says “Bandaranaike’s lack of backbone and his ill-advised intellectual meanderings had much to do with creating many intractable problems in Sri Lanka”.  This is a grossly unfair statement without much basis. The reason for the “ƒ”¹…”lack of backbone’ as the author explains is that at a meeting in Jaffna, when he was 26 years old Bandaranaike had made a statement at a youth congress that a federal system of government would be good for Sri Lanka. Thirty years later, as a more mature and experienced man he told parliament he has changed his view. If that is a reason for branding him as backboneless there is no room for anyone to grow up. Many people, many countries change their thinking as circumstances change with time and new knowledge becomes available.  Besides, Bandaranaike’s “ƒ”¹…”meanderings’ about federalism were only of theoretical significance whereas it was JR Jayawardene who wrote the devolution into the constitution getting MPs to vote for it under duress. Also Chelvanayagam and Sunderlingam and a number of other Tamil politicians contributed in no small way to the problems while the entire blame is heaped on SWRD.

 His relentless attack on Bandaranaike does not end there. Later in the narrative he takes Chandrika Kumaratunga to task for the problems thus: “It did not help at all that the leader of the government was Chandrika Kumaratunga the daughter of the woolly headed and impractical SWRD Bandaranaike who was squarely responsible for most of these problems any way. His daughter was no less impractical and hardly surprising”¦” Here he was assessing Chandrika, and dragging SWRD Bandaranaike into it was completely uncalled for. That would not have happened if the writer was balanced and objective in his analysis. I expected such impartiality to be second nature for an experienced journalist. But this is only a sample of the manic frenzy with which he pursued the Bandaranaike’s.

 The shallowness of Chandraprema’s analysis is also seen from the fact that he ignored the more fundamental change Bandaranaike brought about through that legislation which caused unrest among the English-educated 10 per cent of the population that ran the country. By making Sinhalese the official language he enfranchised the 90 per cent of the population who did not play a part in the government before. In fact it was the new competition from the Sinhala educated for places in universities and positions in government and commerce that irked the English educated lot “”…” both Tamil and Sinhalese -that was at the root of so called grievances.  As it became evident during the court hearings, that was also a reason behind the 1961 coup against the Sirima Bandaranaike government. What SWRD Bandaranaike brought about was a revolution and many consider that was indeed the day Sri Lanka gained real independence. Chandraperuma does not even make a passing reference to this aspect.

 As for Chandrika the record was not entirely dismal as pointed out in the book. She was of course frightened into fearing the LTTE by the attempt on her life and she lacked the sibling power that Rajapaksa was bestowed with. But she was responsible for two important events that contributed significantly to change the course of the war. One was getting 35 countries to ban the LTTE by effectively utilising the services of a great patriot Laksman Kadiragamar. The other was to dismiss the Ranil Wickramasinghe government in the nick of time when he was about to seal the handover of the North and East to Prabhakaran under the Ceasefire Agreement without even firing a shot.

 Some balance would have added considerably to the value of this landmark study. But an otherwise very topical and useful work has been spoilt by the author’s lack of balance, objectivity and depth. Now who is woolly headed?

 Don Wijewardana is an economist and freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

2 Responses to “Gota’s War – a review”

  1. nandimitra Says:

    Lesson to learn, we must have leaders who are not proned to pressure from foreign govts.

  2. Leela Says:

    I wouldn’t give credit to ChandrikaK for ‘getting 35 countries to ban the LTTE’ but I shall not hesitate to give credit to that great man Kadiragamar for getting the UK to proscribe LTTE as terrorist Group in 2000 and paved the way for others to proscribe LTTE later on. ChandrikaK of cause may take credit for appointing Kadiragamar as her foreign minister.

    India banned LTTE in 1992. And the US designated LTTE as a Global Terrorist (SDGT) on 2 November 2001 together with many others after WTO bombing by Al Qaeda on 9/11. Needless to say, a few other countries followed suit. In 2006 only, 27 countries of the European Union listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization as a group. Canada did it in 2006.

    As for ‘dismiss the Ranil Wickramasinghe government in the nick of time’, ChandrikaK could take the credit for signing the necessary executive orders. But in my opinion, full credit should go to JVP and their ‘pariwasa’ government for strengthening hands of ChandrikaK to sign that order.

    That apart I agree with Don’s description.

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