In defence of Gotabhaya the idea and the icon
Posted on June 24th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

Courtesy Sunday Island

Sunday Island recently carried two articles that tried to undermine a probable foray into the 2020 presidential fray by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development in the previous government led by his brother President Mahinda Rajapaksa: ‘Stop Gotabaya-Rex! Choice of candidate a significant factor in defeating Gotabaya’ (June 10, 2018) by Kumar David and ‘Apples and oranges’ by Sanjana Hattotuwa (June 17, 2018). Both writers are fairly well known as political analysts of some distinction among the minority of local English language newspaper readers and interested Sri Lanka watchers abroad. The latter category of readers, I am afraid, have been thoroughly indoctrinated, for decades now, against the majority community the Sinhalese (75% of the population, particularly against the 70% Buddhists). Like other writers in English, they are little known to the general public, most of whom are monolingual in Sinhala or Tamil. It is regrettable that they expend their commendable intellectual energies in order to wittingly or unwittingly further push the nation state of Sri Lanka, where the people already live in quiet communal amity, into a cul-de-sac of sorts by trying to forestall the emergence of a universally acceptable leadership that will return the country to political stability and economic prosperity, while guaranteeing territorial integrity and national security. If the majority of Sri Lankans ask to be led by a Gotabhaya (meaning Gotabhaya or someone else equipped with similar ideas and abilities), why should Kumar David and Sanjana Hattotuwa worry about that? Aren’t they patriots at heart, though neither enjoys any known political following?

At the very outset, it must be made clear that this response to the aforementioned articles does not flow from any personal animosity towards or a special friendship with anyone. The three persons involved here – Kumar David, Sanjana Hattotuwa, and their common target Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – are complete strangers to me; I haven’t ever even seen them in person. But I would be able to spot them in a crowd because I have seen their pictures in the media. I respect all three, based on what information about them comes to me through the media, as three Sri Lankans, each valuable to the society in their own way; but I reserve my highest regard for the last mentioned for reasons that need not be specially pointed out to his compatriots who share a single defining national identity. Gotabhaya’s general demeanour, proven abilities and unbeatable track record, intuitively grasped by the masses, have  made them iconize him as a symbol of dependability in the present context.

I respect Kumar David as a distinguished engineering professor, a former Marxist revolutionary and a very articulate leftist political commentator. But, frankly, I do not subscribe to his doctrinaire political views concerning our country such as that integration with India is the final solution for Sri Lanka’s so-called Tamil question, or his idiosyncratic concept of ‘nation’, as used in his theory of a single Sri Lankan ‘political nation’ comprising three distinct but equal ‘cultural nations’, namely, Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim. I disliked his role (that of choice-maker, the choosing of the ‘single issue’ common candidate in the regime change project of 2015 that dislodged a well performing government led by the most successful executive head the country has ever had since independence.). But, being a lifelong learner, I relish reading him and listening to him because of his learned but lucid style of writing and the elegant manner of his spoken English. My admiration for the much younger Sanjana Hattotuwa as a journalist and a TV host  working in the English medium is hardly less. But, to me, he seems almost inaccessible, hovering as he is in the rarefied sphere of abstract theorizing out of touch with the local ground reality. But first, let’s talk about the earlier and older columnist.

Kumar David’s piece Stop Gotabaya-Rex! Choice of candidate a significant factor in defeating Gotabaya” (Sunday Island/June 10, 2018), is an absolute stinker. The insulting nickname coined for Gotabhaya who is just being drawn to the vortex of politics, obviously against his own natural inclination, by a nation in crisis, is ‘Gotabaya-Rex’. It is an allusion, as everyone knows, to a huge carnivorous dinosaur that roamed the earth some 65 million years ago that scientists  named Tyrannosaurus Rex (Tyrant King). The caption under the picture of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa with that of the Colombo cityscape that he miraculously transformed with his sound management skills as a civil administrator reads ‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy; now fiscal and financial virtuoso’ and serves as a subheading as well. The subheading is interesting. It implies that Gotabhaya started as a tinker and changed from that to soldier to spy, and now is posing as a ‘fiscal and financial virtuoso’. (KD probably wants to lend credence to the malicious falsehood that the Rajapaksas rose from rags to riches through corrupt politics, something repeated in Gordon Weiss’s 2012 book ‘The Cage’ about alleged war crimes committed by the SL army? Such misinformation as contained in that book has already gravely damaged Sri Lanka at the UN.) KD’s list is actually a sarcastic inversion of Gotabhaya’s unique achievements! He is only calumniating Gotabhaya for reasons best known to himself. However, the names of the jobs that KD pretends his bête noire did are oblique references to a few challenging tasks that he successfully performed as an important civil functionary during his  brother’s presidency: ‘Tinker’ was probably suggested by the fact that he got some abandoned or unused old colonial buildings in Colombo like the Dutch Hospital  renovated and put to good use; Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct in Colombo is a flourishing modern shopping centre today. All the new foreign investments invited to and established in Colombo were Gotabhaya’s achievements, as well known to the ordinary people. ‘Tailor’ is probably an allusion to the special interest he took in supplying the basic physical needs (such as suitable uniforms and costumes) of soldiers who engaged the enemy in unimaginably harsh conditions (inclement weather, inhospitable terrain, ruthless enemies lurking in the shadows, etc) and thinking up and introducing novel methods to achieve that purpose. ‘Spy’ might be a reference to his successful use of the state intelligence mechanisms to bring the civil war to an end. KD is mistaken when he taunts Gotabhaya as a fiscal and financial virtuoso. He only wants to make use of the available Sri Lankan intellectuals, professionals, and entrepreneurs in the field for national development.

The job of soldier was what he opted for, fresh from school at Colombo’s Ananda. He had an excellent service record in the army, which he joined in 1971. When he left the military after twenty years of service in 1992, he had risen to the rank of colonel, which means that he had just passed the physically more difficult phase of his military career; he did not leave the army out of cowardice, as a former colleague, turned enemy, charged him. He served in the army with distinction while governments changed. His being brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa whom J.R. Jayawardane had imprisoned (or just remanded, I can’t remember) on concocted charges for political reasons, did not cause Gotabhaya to be remiss in his duties as a military officer. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1990 during a UNP government; he was serving as the Commandant of the Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA) at the time of his voluntary retirement from the military in 1992. In the same year, before migrating to the US, Gotabhaya obtained a postgraduate degree (MSc) in Information Technology from the University of Colombo. In the US, he found employment at  the Loyola Law School Marymount University  in Los Angeles, California as a Systems Integrator and a Unix Solaris Administrator (Wikipedia). Gotabhaya used the experience he gained working in America in his urban development project in Sri Lanka. As a result of his valuable contribution to that task, Colombo achieved the record for the fastest developing city in the region. Due to his beneficent influence as Secretary of Defence, the KDA improved as a fully fledged state military university with a variety of new courses introduced and today it is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, United Kingdom. This digression is for the purpose of showing that Gotabhaya is not unworthy of being considered for the highest post in the land. But let’s return to KD’s article.

The very opening sentence  is a deliberate lie: Gotabaya’s candidature for the presidency has been announced with much fanfare.” No such announcement was made that day (May 13th) at the Viyathmaga Annual Convention 2018 held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo on the theme of ‘An intellectually inspired Sri Lanka’; nor has any such announcement been made since. Several alternative names from the Joint Opposition (JO) have already been suggested, but who the final choice of the JO for the presidency has not been announced yet. There was no fanfare either. The celebratory events at the beginning of the annual convention were normal on such an occasion. Even if that alleged event (announcement of Gotabhaya as a presidential candidate) took place, why should KD get so disconcerted about it? A prospective Gotabhaya presidency in default of a Mahinda return is now a cherished dream of the vast majority of Sri Lankans of all races who were hoodwinked at the end of 2014. This is where Gotabhaya the icon matters. But KD views such an eventuality as the worst thing that could happen to the country. That particular hotel itself was one among the results of the many new investments that Gotabhaya’s involvement in urban development was instrumental in attracting to Sri Lanka. As for predictions about his possible candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, these are usually made by people like KD who misled the Sri Lankan electorate by telling lies about the pre-yahapalana era, as has now been proved.

KD derides the fact that a few politicians of the Old Left attended the convention. He insults them as having ‘deserted geriatric beds to put in a showing’ at the event! There are some other geriatrics of the same vintage who have managed to piggyback to the corridors of power or virtual power against the people’s will, through collusion with anti-nationalist forces. The fact that KD gives an apparent eyewitness account of who attended the annual convention and who didn’t suggests that he was probably among this latter group attending it. The ‘Viyathmaga’ is Gotabhaya’s brainchild. It is this that prompted KD to mock him as a ‘fiscal and financial virtuoso’. Contrary to what he asserts, the Viyathmaga is not an elitist ‘chauvinist’ group of ‘Narrow nationalists and Sinhala chauvinists’. KD himself is being a chauvinist who is stuck in his outdated political opinions and in his xenophobia against the majority Sinhalese. KD is, as we know very well, an old hand at calling names. But name calling is no substitute for rational argument in a political or any other kind of debate. It only betrays the weakness of the name caller’s position. KD doesn’t present a shred of evidence to justify his Gotabhaya-phobia.

Now, turning to the other Gotabhaya-phobic we are here talking about, Sanjana Hattotuwa (SH), he says that what he is interested in is Gotabaya Rajapaksa as an idea, and Viyathmaga – his political project – as a platform”. Gotabaya as an idea’?… hmm! I wonder how you could think of Gotabhaya as an abstraction, an ‘idea’? He is a quite concrete physical entity. Or was it just a slip of the pen for ‘idealist’ on Hattotuwa’s part? No, obviously, it wasn’t. The word ‘idea’ was what Hattotuwa wanted to write and what he did write. To be fair by him, let’s remember that talented writers with something original to say sometimes shock their readers to attention by their sudden departures from the accustomed idiom. So, I for one, prefer to assume that, by describing Gotabhaya as an idea in the emerging circumstances, the writer means to say that the former defence secretary embodies the idea of a prospective presidential candidate for 2020 who is likely to be successful (in the estimation of the people who have iconified him). When translated into the idiom of (erstwhile?) yahapalana champions who are unforgiving Rajapaksa bashers, this image (‘idea’) becomes an authoritarian undemocratic murderous next president (in the form of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa!).

However, to belittle ‘Viyathmaga’ as his political project is a biased comment. It is not a political project yet, it will become one when the time comes. It is actually an apolitical futuristic project for economic development of a re-emergent Sri Lanka, for which he drew inspiration from China. He is a very humble person. He is not boastful. By organizing the qualified local experts, professionals, scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs like this, he wants to devise a scientific foundational framework that will be useful to build a sound industrial economy if and when he or another person nominated by his brother the former president is elected for the president’s post. He is not the kind of man who will make himself responsible for doing something he is incapable of doing. But as an experienced administrator he is good at getting the right people to do the right job in the best interest of the country.

So actually, when he calls Gotabhaya an idea, he means a mental construct of the person as the embodiment of certain qualities that either qualify (as his admirers think) or disqualify (as his detractor argue) for the post of president in 2020. The word ‘idea’ in my title is due to this reading of Sanjana’s article. Thank you, Sanjana! As for me, I am in the pro-Gotabhaya-for-president group. All these abuse of power charges, corruption allegations, etc., against him and his brothers, and the Rajapaksa family in general must be mere negative propaganda against them. That the country today is in a bad way is beyond dispute. What have the yahapalana politicians been doing? Blaming it all on the previous government. Three years of witch hunting has failed to produce any evidence of corruption or other wrong doing to jail the Rajapaksas. The actual happenings behind the scenes that played a decisive role in influencing the public opinion against them to the required extent to cause a regime change at the beginning of 2015 are now public knowledge.

All of us, including KD and SH, I believe, want to create an independent  happy stable prosperous sovereign Sri Lanka for ourselves, and more so, for our children and their children. Any Tom, Dick, and Harry cannot provide the leadership that is of paramount importance for achieving such a country. Gotabhaya has proved beyond doubt that he has all the qualifications necessary to run for president if he wishes. If the voters elect him president of their own free will, but not under duress, so be it! Why should KD,SH or any other patriot baulk it? Those who have enough cultural affinity to understand his words, doings, and mannerisms believe that Gotabhaya is suitable for the highest post. (Once an English friend of mine told me that Gotabhaya’s constant smiling, especially when responding to potentially hostile questions by journalists, was off-putting for him. I explained to him that in our culture that is accepted as body language (a person might sometimes use perhaps unknowingly) in such a situation, that indicates their patience and candour while denying false charges raised against them; it is as if they want to show that they are amused to hear such bare-faced lies uttered against them!)

Finally, may I make a friendly suggestion to KD and SH in all sincerity and seriousness. If you have bona fide intentions regarding the political future of our beloved motherland as I think you surely do, why don’t you go and meet with Gotabhaya personally and offer him some constructive criticism. I have no doubt that he will like that very much.

2 Responses to “In defence of Gotabhaya the idea and the icon”

  1. Christie Says:

    These Indian Colonial Parasites and their suckers want to see what India wants.

    That is wiping out of Sinhalese from the earth as India has done in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

  2. Charles Says:

    Kumar David with his Marxist Past and Rajan Philip the journalist if they are intelligent Tamils as they pose themselvs should try to work for the Unity of the Sinhala, Tamil Communities . If they don’t like the word minority forget about it but be Sri Lankans and join hands with the Sinhala inspite of running down Leaders of mother lanka who have proved their ability to develop this country and rally round them. Ranil or Maithripala have proved themselves to be dishonest and have no idea of how the ciountry should be developed and unite the Communities.

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