Can GOTA steer foreign diplomacy like Mrs. B
Posted on September 12th, 2019

To answer that question, it is essential to first know how successful Mrs. B was in her foreign diplomacy and a comparison of the periods and scenarios during her rule and that which Gotabaya is likely to inherit. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister and held power from 1960-65 and 1970-77. She was not only the PM but the Minister of Defense and External Affairs too. This aligns to the recent policy declarations made by Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse. Sri Lanka had the best period of foreign diplomacy under Mrs.B – countries of the world still fondly remember Sri Lanka because of the relations Mrs.B nurtured while keeping national interest uncompromised. These are ingredients the nations looks forward to in a Gotabaya Rajapakse presidency!

Mrs.B & Non-Aligned Nations

The principle concept of the non-aligned nations was that – nations may be small & militarily weak but they too have a role to play in world politics. Non-involvement was replaced with non-alignment alongside engagement.

1961 Belgrade: Movement of Non-Aligned Countries Summit wherein, Sri Lanka became one of 25 founding nations of the Non-Aligned Movement.

1976 Colombo: Non-Aligned Summit

Dr. Vernon Mendis appointed Secretary General of the Conference

Ms. Manel Abeysekera in charge of protocol

Held in the BMICH gifted to Sri Lanka by China in 1973

Mrs. B Chairperson of NAM

Outcome of that was her ability to balance relations with both India-China /India-Pakistan and maintain a neutrality during the regional wars and even playing role of mediator. Her skillful use of personal diplomacy was seen in the manner she negotiated bilateral agreements while also securing foreign aid. All this she did while securing the national interests of the country and not an inch did she compromise Sri Lanka’s national interests. Nationalizing petroleum distribution, tea & rubber did not go too well with western governments but she went ahead nonetheless. Whether LTTE & JVP are the gifts she received for her nationalism is something to seriously think about. TNT/Prabakaran emerged the same year Mrs.B made Ceylon a Republic. JVP

It is this ability that has etched her place in history. She proudly stood and was proudly welcomed among the other greats of the time – Tito, Jawahalal Nehru, Fidel Castro, Sukarno, Nkrumah and Nasser.

She is far more fondly remembered by even her advisories than those who have willingly compromised the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

Mrs. B did all this as a virtual novice to politics. She was driven into politics following her husband’s ghastly assassination in 1959. The situation is not the same for Gotabaya Rajapakse. He has been very much involved in politics serving in a formidable role as Defense Secretary outshining all his predecessors and being the guiding light behind the war victory. Post-conflict his administrative acumen was shown in turning Colombo to one of Asia’s finest cities. Both took to their roles as a duck to water.

Petty politics has been the downfall of Sri Lanka’s progress. Non-aligned policies failed as a result of the UNP leadership taking a pro-West policy and successive UNP governments have continued to adopt same strategy inadvertently distancing themselves from good relationships within the Asian region.

Mrs.B & India

It is in first realizing the potential advantage of Sri Lanka’s geopolitical positioning that any leadership can adopt strategies to protect and enhance Sri Lanka’s geopolitical advantage while meeting the aspirations of countries seeking relations with Sri Lanka.

Not only did Mrs.B strengthen Sir Lanka’s geopolitical advantage but struck cordial ties with the Nehru family as well as other political counterparts. She ensured that they treated her on par with them and not given any inferior role. What is noteworthy and poignant is that she did not shirk an inch of Sri Lanka’s national interest and she appointed the cream to be her nominees – Shirley Amerasinghe was High Commissioner to New Delhi. When the Indians were stalling during the Srima-Shastri repatriation pact, all she said was that she would leave Delhi unless the agreement was ready for signature and that was that. (In October 1964 – 525,000 persons of Indian origin were repatriated to India while 300,000 were granted Sri Lankan citizenship). This is the type of leadership the nation looks forward to in Gotabaya Rajapakse

Note: In 1974 of the remaining 150,000, she agreed to grant 75,000 Sri Lankan citizenship & 75,000 Indian citizenship but the UNP for vote bank politics decided to grant all 150,000 Sri Lankan citizenship.

Another fete of Mrs B is the resolution of the maritime boundary between India & Sri Lanka resulting in Kachativu being declared Sri Lanka’s as a result of research & guidance of Foreign Secretary W T Jayasinghe and Legal Advisor Christopher Pinto.

With the Ranil Wickremasinghe government severing ties with China, Gotabaya Rajapakse will find himself in no different a position Mrs.B faced during the Sino-India war of 1962. For Mrs.B the animosity between India & China meant that it would affect Asian solidarity and she organized a Colombo Conference to mitigate & mediate. Fast forward with 21st century being Asia’s century and the rising power houses of India & China showing growing tensions, Gotabaya Rajapakse too finds himself in a similar position. Just as Mrs.B thought rightly, advisors of Mr Rajapakse must also look at the larger picture of the need to mediate to stabilize Asia.  

Mrs.B & China

Sri Lanka began post-independence diplomatic relations with China in 1957 under rule of SWRD Bandaranaike though for centuries Sri Lanka has had ties with China previously. The aid received by Sri Lanka from China during Mrs.B’s tenure came as soft term aid for development. BMICH stands as a monumental gift from China to Sri Lanka. She was much saddened when Premier Zhou En Lai could not attend the opening in 1973 due to cancer to which he succumbed in 1976 but China’s respect was shown by sending one of China’s 10 Marshalls who led the Chinese Revolution. Many of Sri Lanka’s proud monuments are pinnacles of Sri Lanka-China relations – Hambantota Port, Nelum Pokuna, Supreme Court Complex, Norocholai coal power plant, Lotus Tower to name a few.

With US pivot to Asia, renaming of United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on 30 May 2018, increasing US military and non-military presence in Asia, pressures to sign MCC, SOFA & ACSA – the Indian Ocean has become a volatile zone.

Mrs. B failed to make the Indian Ocean a zone of peace engraved in her NAM Summit in Lusaka in 1970 as a strategy to prevent power rivalries and her response to the expulsion of the indigenous natives by Britain to occupy Diego Garcia as a US base. Noteworthy is the manner that a UN Resolution was proposed by Sri Lanka signed by NAM countries but abstained by US-UK & France. Resolution 2832 (1971) declared the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace and it would be poignant for the Gotabaya Rajapakse team to see the relevance of this declaration in the present context of power rivalries.

At the Viyathmaga Convention, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse clearly indicated that there has to be a synergy in National Security Policy and National Economic Policy & Nation’s Foreign Policy. Undoubtedly so.

Mrs.B etched her place in economic diplomacy among the Group of 77 at a time when the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) was formed her nominee Dr. Gamini Corea went on to serve as its Secretary General.

Mr. Rajapakse can take a leaf from Mrs.B – foreign policy under Mrs.B was the best period Sri Lanka can proudly recall. Sri Lanka was respected by both West & East. The West in particular respected her steadfastness and resolve despite being a small nation. She steered foreign policy by ensuring a professional foreign service. Career diplomats were those patriotic and who put the country first. She appointed some of the best and respected personnel to head missions. She made it a point to read every diplomatic dispatch sent to her and ensured each had a personal comment and this is the type of direct involvement Mr. Rajapakse should follow. President Premadasa was also one to follow up on every instruction given and that ensured no lethargy or delay in carrying out orders given.

The UNP derogated her as ‘kusi-amma’ but her tenure remains the golden age of diplomatic engagement and foreign policy successes.

Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse need not follow anyone’s footsteps but in looking back to take a leaf or two out of any success story – he surely has to look at Mrs. B’s foreign policy and diplomatic relations for no government before or after has succeeded to outmatch what she achieved.

Shenali D Waduge

16 Responses to “Can GOTA steer foreign diplomacy like Mrs. B”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    I agree Sirima was way ahead of all post-1977 leaders but her foreign policy was a total failure.

    It did land her in global prominance but it did no good for Sri Lanka. This is the fate of other big names of the NAM movement too. Tito’s countries is no more. Castro’s country is stuck in a 1950s time capsule. Nassar lost territory, entire air force and war. Others didn’t fare better including Nehru losing war to China in 1962 and confronting Pakistan many times.

    The achievements we boast about are no real achievements. India simply didn’t honor its part under the Sirisema-Shastri pact from the very beginning. India didn’t accept any. The few sent to India were retunred back. Kachchativu deal is an ongoing disaster. Under it, Indian fishermen can violate Sri Lanka’s maritime area!

    During her time, Tamil terrorist groups emerged. Nothing much was done against them as world attention was on Lanka. In 1976 Sri Lanka held the NAM summit and Tamils held Vadukoddai Resolution. Nothing was done against them. Another NAM country, India, financed and armed Tamil terrorists against Sri Lanka.

    Thanks to NAM, we lost support from all powerful camps when war broke out.

    Although India followed an open non-aligned policy, in reality India aligned itself with both the US and the SU!

    Just because we assume a non-aligned position, it doesn’t mean others will follow. They won’t. Their policy is – you are either with us or with them.

    Coming back to modern times, China and Russia will never accept US citizens and their family members unless their family members give up US citizenship. Especially after the 2007 ACSA deal by one of them which brought US troops to the Indian Ocean. ACSA made Lanka a US military partner since 2007.

    Obviously they don’t buy our petty party political logic! We have stretched our good relationship with China and Russia too much and taken them for granted.

    Hopefully Gota will act with foresight and get his close family members to give up their US citizenship. Ultimately what matters is not various concepts (e.g. NAM, middle path) but what benefits Sri Lanka. Get it wrong, USA, China, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India will split the island to advance their agenda. Unfortunately, his involvement in the war does not go well with Lanka’s foreign policy plans.

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    How ridiculous is this comparison ? This is living in the dream world.

    1. Did Mrs. B carried white van allegation on the back ?
    2. Did Mrs. B carried massive fraud allegations on the back ?
    3. Did anyone file serious civil cases on Mrs. B in the USA which include torture ?
    4. One was a head of state for a long time and 1st woman head of state in the world and the other simply had a civil secretary position and a candidate for presidency only. First he should become a head of state for at least 5 years before such comparison is made.

    Both were involved in terrorist war which were handled well by both but that alone doesn’t qualify for such a comparison.

  3. Vaisrawana Says:

    Those who like to find out the truth about the White Van allegation against Gota, please watch this TV Derana Vada Pitiya video on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC20Mbqznlk&feature=youtu.be

  4. Nihal Perera Says:

    Shenali, we are talking about two different eras.. It was almost 50 years ago Mrs. B was in power. I have the utmost respect for her as she was the first woman prime minister of the world. Her foreign diplomacy should be commended, however her domestic policies were not the best.

    The world has changed drastically in 50 years, and the world order and geo-politics have shifted. No longer the West has the dominance over the world it once had, especially in Asia. SL was a little dot in the Indian ocean then and the West barely paid any attention to SL.

    The geo-political importance and dynamics of SL today has changed all that, thanks to the rise of economic and military superpower China. SL is a strategic location highly sought after by two biggest superpowers in the world: US and China. Not to mention India which is our closest neighbor and a rising power.

    Gota, if he becomes the president, he has to play a very fine balancing diplomatic act with China, US and India, which Mrs. B did not have to face during her time.

    The most important job for any future president (hopefully Gota..) is to navigate his ship very carefully in today’s trouble waters of the world, especially in South East Asia, taking advantage of the current tension between US and China, while keeping Indian interferences at bay.

    He has to be a cunning tactician and a diplomat at the same time while his priority number 1 is to save the sovereignty of SL. And, at the same time develop the economy, while safeguarding the security of the country. A very tall order indeed, but I am confident that Gota is quite capable of it, in comparison to other political parasites like Ranil, Sajith, Sirisena, Karu, etc., who are nothing but self-serving, incompetent and failed leaders of yesterday.

    Gota is a patriot, and has the experience and the capability to steer the country in the right direction making Sri Lanka one of the rising stars in Asia again. He is the leader SL needs desperately.

  5. Mario Perera Says:

    The non-aligned movement was and is a COMEDY.

    I remember President Premadasa convoking the beggars of Colombo and making them sing and dance on the stage. That was what Sirima and her pals of non-alignment were doing at the Colombo conference. Of course every body clapped. Who doesnot like a little fun?

    How can nations that are impoverished or beset with poverty be independent as non-alignment preaches? Even Cuba with its heavy dependence on Russia (Soviet Union then) was nevertheless strutting the non-alignment stage. Non-aligned Sri Lanka was feeding its people on Ala, Bathala and Magngnocca.

    The Non-Aligned Movement was and is the Club of the Poor. Calling international beggars non-aligned was and always is a JOKE. How wonderful if one can instill into the minds of Sri Lankan beggars that they are non-aligned! Perhaps they would take themselves so seriously as to prefer dying of starvation than stretching their hands for alms and harassing passers-by.

    If as Nihal suggests Gota is a patriot who ”has the experience and the capability to steer the country in the right direction”
    which Shenali thinks is what Sirima was doing with her non-alignment, then Sri Lanka will not be the ‘rising star of Asia’ but its EXTINCT STAR.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    HOORAY! Today the Appeals Court freed Gota from the Avant Garde case!

    Similarly, ALL of the remaining TRUMPED UP CASES designed to PREVENT HIM from becpming the NEST President of Sri Lanka will FAIL!

    EVERY DAY in EVERY WAY Sri Lanka’s LIBERATION from the CLUTCHES of TRAITORS is DRAWING NEARER!

    JAYAWEWA!

  7. Dilrook Says:

    Even if one believes Sirima was a foreign policy wonder, there are key differences between the two.

    1. Sirima didn’t have any allegations of violation of the internal humanitarian law and international human rights law despite 1971. This made her acceptable to the world. Not the case with GR – for no fault of him as I don’t believe he did those crimes. It is only an allegation but that is sufficient to deny him world recognition. Without such recgnition, GR cannot achieve even 10% of what Sirima supposedly achieved in the international space.

    2. Sirima was only Ceylonese. She never held citizenship of any rival superpower country ever. This too made her acceptable to the NAM.

    3. Sirima precedes NATO manipulation of South Asia through NATO citizens and their spouses. This only started in 1984. Rivals of USA (notably China and Russia) are fully aware of this danger. Only locals push it under the carpet.

    4. Sirima had it easy as she was the world’s first elected woman head of state which came with recognition and was seen as a symbol of progress by Lanka towards empowering women.

    5. Most officials and advisors under Sirima were highly educated and dedicated professionals from all ethnic groups. No worthless characters among them.

    6. Sirima was a born leader. In fact, ahead of her husband in her ability to execute political strategies. GR has no leadership qualities. GR is a suberb back office administrator. An asset any president or PM can have working under him.

  8. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dilrook,

    No leader who has accomplished anything worthwhile is without opponents and unsubstantiated allegations, and so does Gota!

    Even Abraham Lincoln, now accepted as the very personification of a humane leader, was accused of being a TYRANT and WAR CRIMINAL during his day.

    Lincoln was the Chief Advocate of TOTAL and MERCILESS WAR to FORCE the US Civil War to the EARLIEST POSSIBLE CONCLUSION! He APPROVED of Gen. Tecumseh Sherman’s “Rampage” through Georgia from Atlanta tp the Sea, and REVELLED in Gen Ulysees Grant’s unrelenting engagement in battle irrespective of the massive Northern military casualties as long as he kept the Confederacy on the defensive suffering losses, as a means of BREAKING the WILL of the Confederacy to CONTINUE to fight. Keeping up UNRELENTING PRESSURE on the LTTE and supplying the MEANS to maintain that pressure was also Gota’s policy!

    With regard to Gota’s suitability to be a National Political Leader, Ulysees S. Grant was somewhat like Gota, a terrific military leader but lacking the personal touch of Gen McCellan who was all personality and no ability. Yet, it was to Ulysees Grant that the US citizens later turned to prevent the revival of the Southern Rebellion and to consolidate and hold the Nation together in the wake of the Civil War. In the coming Presidential Election, the citizens of Sri Lanka will do the same!

    Patriotic people of high intellect who are decisive, clear in their thinking, and possess demonstrated administrative abilities can easily rise to become the greatest of National Leaders. A perfect example of that is the founder of Modern Turkey, Gen. Kemal Ataturk who was instrumental to defeating Turkey’s multivarious enemies in battle, and unifying and transforming the “Sick Man of Europe” into a vibrant Nation capable of defending itself far into the future!

    I know you are trying hard and working assiduously to downplay Gota’s suitability to be the NEXT President of Sri Lanka, but I think you are COMPLETELY WRONG!

    Fortunately, most thinking people in Sri Lanka, without an axe to grind, AGREE with ME that Gota is the MOST SUITABLE MAN to LEAD Sri Lanka, as we shall soon see in the looming Presidential Election

  9. Randeniyage Says:

    Unfortunately for politicians, court proven innocence in Sri Lanka is useless.
    How about Ranil ? He was freed from all Batalanda allegations yet he is guilty to most people,

    Sirisena will try hard and prove his partner is innocence. My predictions are coming true slowly.
    Wait and see, Sirisena or SLFP will not contest.

  10. Mario Perera Says:

    The partiality of all courts including the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court is a proven fact. How often have judges recused themselves from hearing matters pertaining to Gota?

    We know the wrong decision (unashamedly admitted) by the then Chief Justice Sarath Silva s regards Mahinda and the H

    ambantota Funds. Sarath Silva brazenly stated that had he given the right decision Mahinda would never have been president.

    Also what was the legal morality about a former Chief Justice appearing for Gota before the USA courts in the matter of the case brought against the latter by Lasantha’s daughter? That appearance was against legal ethics, tradition and morality. If such is the nature of the highest tribunal of the country we can imagine what the lower ones are!

    That the courts would stand by Gota as known to all and sundry.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

  11. Mario Perera Says:

    What made Sirima into a leader? No doubt her birth, but more so it was being the wife of SWRD. As such she harvested the homage traditionally paid to such elite families.

    When SWRD died, the leadership mantle should have naturally and logically fallen on C.P.de Silva. But he had the caste question against him. At the elections that followed Sirima who had the birth and marriage factors in her favour also had the island-wide sympathy for her widowhood. She played that card to the maximum and was known as the ‘weeping widow’. That was how politics worked in Sri Lanka at that time. As was commonly stated, Sirima jumped from the kitchen to the Prime Minister’s seat. She had no previous experience of real politics.

    How came that she became the leader of her party? Because the husband’s mantle fell on her. This is a third world phenomenon. It was not that she was a born leader, but that her birth and position entitled her to homage from those around her. It was that homage and NOT her unproven leadership qualities that made her the leader. That she was not a leader at the time of her appointment is shown by the fact that she was Felix D B’s mouthpiece for a very long time. She learned the job while on the job. She even had to accommodate within her party the Marxists whom her husband loathed.

    Her birth entitled her to HOMAGE, and that homage constituted her as a LEADER. I hope the nuance is clear.

    As regards the international stage, she became a record establisher being the world’s first woman head of government. This was a massive ego-booster for her, as she literally received the HOMAGE of world leaders…not for being a leader but for being a WOMAN, the first WOMAN to lead a country.

    She basked in that international glory and even imposed herself on that scene. She hoped that her world renown would act as a catalyst to sway the local voters because she was heading towards total rejection by the nation. The non-aligned conference of her day with her in the driving seat served as a last gasp of breath, her final attempt to revive her sunken popularity at home. But it did not work.

    She lost massively, and with that loss she lost both her leadership and also much of the homage entitlement that was conceded to her. Even her children revolted against her. Chandrika joined the party of her husband with whom Sirima was not on talking terms so great was their mutual antagonism. As for Anura he joined the UNP which his father had rejected! She never came to power again accept her nominal premiership under the daughter when she was literally on the rolling stool.

    We are a nation ruled by royal families until relatively recently. Place an elite clan on the throne, and whatever be their presumed leadership abilities they certainly enjoy the monarchy homage of boot-lickers.The three elite clans that that have ‘ruled’ Sri Lanka are the Senanayakes, the Bandaranayakes, and the Rajapakses. The first two could claim nobility as of right (in fact Dudley was made a pretender for the hand of Sirima, but the only thing he remembered of that encounter was the good food he ate, not the coy damsel seated before him!).

    The Rajapakses rose because they were tail-waggers for the Bandaranayakes. The father of the clan folowed SWRD, and Mahinda followed Anura everywhere Anura went. The Rajapakses were pretenders to nobility. The Senanayakes died a natural death for lack of progeny to assume leadership via HOMAGE. But the Rajapakses multiplied like rabbits and will always have aspirants to the throne. Furthermore having assumed elite status and become pretenders to the monarchy (Ayubowewa maha Rajaneni…remember?), they have reaped the HOMAGE of the monarchy nostalagic Tri-Sinhala. Just read Lankaweb and see for yourself! If their leadership was their striking feature, they would not have lost their throne to a gamarala just after four years of a six year stipulated reign, and that after giving political leadership to our war winning armed forces.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

  12. Mario Perera Says:

    Read:

    The Senanayakes and the Bandaranayakes died a natural death for lack of progeny to assume leadership via HOMAGE.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

  13. Randeniyage Says:

    “The Rajapakses rose because they were tail-waggers for the Bandaranayakes.”

    Not TRUE !

    From inside information within Rajapaksa family, they were very worried until last moment he would even get the PM position under Chandrika, let alone succession after Chandrika.
    They may have been tail-waggers but that is not the reason. Probably Chandrika had no choice or some other quality of the man she knew would not do her serious harm.

    Even more than the courts, manipulation come though handling of AG department, FCID etc.

    Just imagine, despite the 100% clear indication in the constitution, AG argued Sirisena’s dissolution of parliament last year was perfectly legal. Except the slaves with no ability to think naturally it was very very clear. 7 judges unanimously gave a decision proving AG was simply being 100% biased. This AG is now chief justice. Such a ridiculous and stupid interpretation against the obvious, yet our chief justice now !

  14. Nihal Perera Says:

    I appreciate various comments made above by all writers.

    However, there is no point beating the dead politicians and leaders in the past. What we should be concerned now is how can we get out of the current mess, and who can navigate the country to a safe harbour in the near future?

    Unfortunately, there is no guarantee how the future will be, no matter who leads the country. We can only hope and pray that the Lankan voters will not make the same stupid mistakes which they did for decades when electing a leader.

    The dilemma the majority of Sri Lankans are faced with is the poor choice of current candidates. None of them are worthy of, or capable of taking the country forward except Gota. He has his weaknesses, but he also has an excellent and proven track record of getting the job done – perhaps not the most democratic means. Then again, democracy is a hindrance, and sometimes stands against the development of the nation. Even in the West, so-called champions of democracy, and rule of law, often they don’t practice what they preach.

    In my opinion, what Sri Lanka needs is a strong, patriotic leader with a clear vision, who cannot be bullied or bought by minority groups and foreign powers, and put the country and its people first, over everything else.

    I believe, like many, that Gota has the character, ability, and experience to navigate the country out of current danger.

  15. aloy Says:

    I think none of the contenders who have declared so far are suitable to be the leader of this great country.
    We have to judge them from their past. Though Gota is an achiever he has a heavy load to carry. His economic expert from CB was once accused of mishandling CB doing the same type of scams. That is the reason the yahapalanaya rigged it again and again. We saw him roaming the world to get support for commonwealth games at H’tota without thinking of its costs to SL. These were the reasons for a majority of citizens to ditch Rajapakses. Have they reformed?. I do not think so. Therefore I believe we should be careful not to fall into the same pit again. If these people come to power what they would do is unimaginable.

    All rats that were in SLFP have jumped overboard. I do not know the extent of involvement of My3 in the 21/4 saga. But I know he somehow saved SL from the crooks of UNP to some extent. He can do it again by putting a complete outsider, who has a track record as an achiever without any serious blemishes. There are many Sri lankans who have been recognized overseas and fall into that category. They are not exposed to the type of corruptions prevailing in this country. He or she needs a platform which My3 can provide.

  16. Ananda-USA Says:

    Mewa ranga dena Baila, Mewa liya ganilla!

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