Exclusive! ‘India must be on guard against Tamil separatists’
Posted on February 9th, 2015

Nitin A Gokhale, for Rediff.com in New Delhi Courtesy Rediff.com

‘India’s friendship and support is very important to Sri Lanka. It is a matter of regret that India appears to have thought otherwise.’

‘Sri Lanka’s relationship with China has always been of an economic nature.’

‘The docking of Chinese submarines in the Colombo harbour was only for re-supplying and not for any military purpose.’

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the fight against the LTTE, speaks to long-time Rediff.com contributor Nitin A Gokhale in an exclusive interview.

Then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse, right, hugs his brother Gotabaya. Photograph: Sudath Silva/ReutersGotabaya Rajapaksa, former defence secretary of Sri Lanka, former army officer and former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother, was largely seen as the driving force behind Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV that decimated the Tamil Tigers and ended an intense, quarter century long civil war in the island nation in 2009.

Considered a hardliner in the recently ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused variously of war crimes, of militarising the Sri Lankan society, of driving Colombo into Chinese arms and much more in the nearly nine years that he headed Sri Lanka’s defence ministry.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who lived in the US before returning to Sri Lanka in 2005 to help his brother fight the LTTE, has been under intense pressure from the new Sri Lankan government that is probing various acts of omission and commission allegedly committed by the previous regime.

Exactly a month after the Rajapaksas lost power in Sri Lanka, Gotabaya agreed to his first detailed interview with long-time Rediff.com contributor Nitin A Gokhalethrough e-mail.

Although one short interview is not enough to understand the man and his action — “I have to be careful these days,” he says — here’s a short glimpse into his thought process and actions.

You handled the country’s security apparatus for a long time. How do you react to the charge that your government has left the country more militarised? That you created a military disproportionate to Sri Lanka’s size?

We did not leave the country ‘militarised.’ as you say. Quite the contrary would be true in fact.

The Sri Lankan military establishment was expanded during the war to the extent that was necessary to win the war against terrorism.

You have to remember that the terrorists that we were up against in Sri Lanka were categorised even by the FBI as the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation.

Defeating such an organisation was no easy task. It took an integrated land, sea and air offensive to defeat the LTTE.

One of the key requirements was to have enough manpower to hold the territory that the ground forces wrest from the control of the terrorists. We expanded the military for that purpose. But after the war there was no more expansion.

Furthermore, after the war, we did not allow any of the anti-LTTE armed groups in the north and east to carry weapons any more.

If we wanted to, we could have allowed the anti-LTTE and anti-TNA groups in the north and east to continue to carry weapons on the excuse that there were over 11,000 rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres around, and therefore weapons were necessary to ensure the protection of the anti-LTTE groups.

If these groups had continued to bear arms the whole voting pattern in the north and east would be different. It was we who brought freedom from armed conflict and terror to the north and east as well as the rest of the country.

Today people are free to vote for whoever they like because of the achievements of our government.

Have you left the country polarised?

I don’t think so. We were in government, so people opposed us and politically motivated people don’t usually say good things about their political opponents. Some say that we left the country polarised.

There was no question about the fact that we had to take on the LTTE. But that was not a war against the Tamil people.

It was we who liberated the Tamil people from the LTTE.

When the Tigers were around where the Tamil people ever able to vote freely at elections?

At the presidential elections held in 2010, the Tamil people of the north and east have voted in large numbers for the army commander who served in our government during the war.

At the 2015 presidential elections, the Tamil people of the north and east once again voted for the cabinet minister who held the position of acting minister of defence when the president went overseas during the war.

That should be sufficient proof that we did not leave the country polarised.

Your critics allege that President Mahinda and you ran Sri Lanka like a dictatorship with midnight raids, surveillance and intimidation of opposition being a common occurrence. How do you respond to these accusations?

Sri Lanka was never a dictatorship.

We are a democracy and under the government that I served in, we held the most free and fair elections ever held in this country.

After 2005 when our government was first elected to power there were elections almost every year. All those elections were free and fair.

We lost the 2015 presidential election because the election was free and fair.

As for these midnight raids, there may have been night time searches during the war, but never after that. This talk of surveillance and phone tapping is a figment of some people’s imagination.

During the tenure of my government, none of the Opposition parties were harassed or persecuted in any manner.

On the contrary, the president had cordial relations with politicians of all Opposition parties. The lines of communication were always open which is why so many members of the Opposition joined our party at various times.

Even a vociferous critic of our government like Mangala Samaraweera was on the verge of joining our government. That was possible because there was never any enmity between our government and members of the Opposition.

Nearly six years after Eelam War 4 got over, looking back would you have done anything differently?


As defence secretary you took a decision to source most of your military hardware from China over the past decade. Was it a conscious move or was your hand forced by India’s reluctance to help you?

All Sri Lankan governments since the war began in the 1980s sourced most of their arms and ammunition from China. That continued under our government as well.

When the final phase of the war began in 2006 under our government, India was unable to sell us arms because of pressure from Tamil Nadu.

If it was possible to buy weapons from India, we would certainly have done so. I explained the situation to Vijay Singh, my counterpart, in New Delhi at that time.

He too agreed that given the situation that Sri Lanka finds itself in, she has no option but to buy arms supplies from whoever is willing to supply them.

There was a period between 2006 and 2008 when you had an excellent rapport with the Indian establishment, but somewhere closer to the end of the war, the relationship seemed to have deteriorated?

What really went wrong? If you can elaborate a bit?

I would say that the relationship with India remained on a very good footing until the war ended and even beyond.

In the last few years, however, India may have misunderstood Sri Lanka’s relationship with China.

We have always had excellent relations with China. In the last few years, a number of projects were initiated with concessionary loans from China.

I think Indian policymakers misread this as a sign of Sri Lanka drifting into the Chinese orbit.

How important was India’s help in your fight against LTTE?

India’s understanding of the issues faced by Sri Lanka during the war was crucial.

On a mutual agreement we formed groups of key officials on both sides called ‘troikas’ with the external affairs secretary, defence secretary and national security advisor on the Indian side and myself as the defence secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, the secretary to the president, and my brother Basil Rajapaksa as the advisor to the president on the Sri Lankan side.

The members of these troikas could phone one another at any time of the day or night and Basil kept the Indian side informed about everything that was happening at the ground level in Sri Lanka.

India was also aware of the threat that the LTTE posed to India as well. So this understanding helped.

Were you disappointed with India’s stand at the UNHCR?

I feel that India should have stood by Sri Lanka in the UNHRC given the fact that she had a policy of not supporting country specific resolutions in the UNHRC.

But given the pressure that Tamil Nadu was able to exert on the Indian central government at that time, I understand that India did not have much of a choice.

How important is India’s support and friendship for Sri Lanka?

India’s friendship and support is very important to Sri Lanka. It is a matter of regret that India appears to have thought otherwise.

There have been tensions between India and China for many decades, but Sri Lanka has traditionally had close relations with both nations.

Sri Lanka’s relationship with China has always been of an economic nature.

The docking of Chinese submarines in the Colombo harbour was only for re-supplying and not for any military purpose.

Do you fear retribution by the new regime in Sri Lanka or even a witch hunt by Western nations now that you are no longer in power?

I do not fear any retribution from any quarter or Western witch hunts. We knew the risks involved when we took on the LTTE despite resistance from interested nations.

We fought terrorism to a finish because that was our duty by our nation.

The people of Sri Lanka still appreciate the sacrifices we made and the risks we took.

Getting voted into office or voted out of office is a different matter. Churchill too was voted out of office soon after he won World War II, but that did not mean that the British public did not appreciate the leadership he had provided during the war.

Is there a possibility that LTTE rump or sympathisers of Tamil Eelam may try and make a comeback in Sri Lanka?

When we were in power, we were always vigilant about such a possibility. That vigilance has to continue.

India too should be on her guard against any attempt by Tamil separatist forces to set up a base in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil separatist ideology came to Sri Lanka through Tamil Nadu and Tamil separatism has a much longer history in India than it does in Sri Lanka.

India made a bad mistake by encouraging Tamil terrorist groups in the 1980s. India should be careful about sending the wrong signals to the wrong people once again.

Image: Then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse, right, hugs his brother Gotabaya. Photograph: Sudath Silva/Reuters

Nitin A Gokhale, for Rediff.com in New Delhi


2 Responses to “Exclusive! ‘India must be on guard against Tamil separatists’”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:


    Dear LankaWeb readers,

    I have translated from Sinhala into English President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rebuttal of the FALSE allegations leveled against him by various officials of the new GOSL.

    This letter, which strictly confines itself to FACTS ONLY, CLEARLY SHOWS the DEVIOUS & UGLY nature of the PAID MUD SLINGERS who are trying to tarnish the image of this DECENT, HONORABLE and COURAGEOUS man that we Sri Lankans were fortunate enough to have as our President for 10 years, during one of the most difficult, yet victorious and productive times in the history of our Motherland!

    Jayawewa Mahinda Rajapaksa Janadhipathithumani !

    Obathumata Thunuruwan Saranai !

    Hatarawaran Devi Pihitai !

    1 kotiya = 10 million
    Please feel free to bring any necessary corrections to my attention. Thanks!

    Mahinda Rajapaksa
    Carlton, Tangalle

    Phone: 047 2240344
    Fax: 047 2241113
    Web: www DOT MahindaRajapaksa DOT lk
    E-Mail: MahindaRajapaksaPresident AT gmail DOT com

    February 09, 2015


    Members of the current government are continuing to make false and misleading allegations regarding me.
    I believe it is necessary to respond to these charges to prevent the public from being misled.

    In a recent Rupavahini program, it was reported that a sum of Rs. 100 bilion allocated for 2015 to the Presidential Secretariat by my government was reduced by the new government to Rs 2.72 billion, and that the balance was released to provide assistance to the public. I would like to categorically state that at no time did I allocate a sum of Rs. 100 billion to the Presidential Secretariat. The full funds allocated to the Presidential Secretariat for 2015 was Rs. 9.59 biliion. There were 25 government departments, including the National Salaries Commission and National Maritime Committee, operating under the direction of the Presidential Secretariat. The expenses of the previous Presidents and their families also fall under the purview of the Presidential Secretariat. The Executive and Administrative departments of the Presidential Secretariat provided all the services, and the most of the funds, necessary to maintain these departments. Therefore, all of the funds allocated to the Presidential Secretariat do not go towards maintaining itself.

    The total funds budgeted for maintaining the President’s Office in 2015 was Rs. 3.75 billion. This amount is only a part of the expenses of the Presidential Secretariat. Of this President’s Office budget, Rs. 1.0 billion was allocated to the assistance provided by the President’s Office to Small Enterprises and Projects throughout the island. When this amount is deducted from the total, the budget of the President’s Office is reduced to Rs. 2.75 billion. Therefore, the amount mentioned as being allocated as the budget of the new President’s Office is this amount.

    Another story related by some is that USD 16 million in public funds was spent to order a special plane for my use, and that the new government has refused to take delivery of it, and has made arrangements for new owners to assume responsibility. I hereby state that no special aircraft was ever ordered for my use. While Sri Lankan Airlines was arranging to buy new aircraft for its own use from the Airbus Corporation, they had arranged to obtain a kit to remove some regular seats and convert that space into a special compartment to accommodate VIPs as needed, and had instructed their accountant to cost it as an option. The USD 15 million that was mentioned was the manufacturer’s estimated cost of this facility. It was an option that was to be provided free-of-cost.

    There is also an allegation that I have built official Presidential residences at various locations throughout the country for my reacreational use. The President’s residences at the Temple Trees, in Colombo Fort, as well as the existing residences in Nuwaraeliya and Mahanuwara, have existed from Colonial times, and were used by the government leaders of this country. The Presidential residences in Anuradhapura, Embilipitiya and Mahiyangana were built by President R. Premadasa. I must point out that none of these President’s residences were built during the tenure of my government. It was reported recently that the Temple Trees and Colombo Fort President’s residences would be opened for public viewing. We must recall that while I was living at Temple Trees, thousands of school children and elders came to tour this Presidential residence. While I enjoyed the opportunity this afforded to talk with them, I also used the opportunity to learn from them the development needs in various parts of the country. Furthermore, thousands of citizens participated in my Poya day activities at the Temple Trees President’s residence.

    A report was published that some vehicles belonging to the Presidential Secretariat have still not been returned. It was reported that 22 Defender Jeeps were “found” in Borella, and that 53 vehicles were found to have been abandoned in a land in Colombo, Pettah. The places where these vehicles were found are the official storage parking lots belonging to the Presidential Secretariat. These vehicles were found where they were supposed to be. Many of the vehicles found in Pettah were high security vehicles from the 1980’s decade, that could not be auctioned off according to routine operating procedures. I myself have handed over per regulations all of the vehicles used by my Office. The assignments of remaining vehicles allocated to various officials and departments of the Presidential Secretariat can be found in the
    vehicle records of the Presidential Secretariat.

    Mahinda Rajapaksa
    Former President of Sri Lanka.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    FULLY AGREE with GR. Hopefully the new govt. will continue with his good work.

    “Getting voted into office or voted out of office is a different matter. Churchill too was voted out of office soon after he won World War II, but that did not mean that the British public did not appreciate the leadership he had provided during the war.”

    Golden words. This is what some FOOLS fail to understand.

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