Gota’s Citizenship: a political red herring?
Posted on November 13th, 2019

RUWAN RAJAPAKSE Malabe.Courtesy The Island

There are problems we must overcome if we are to accelerate Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic progress. As such, my well-intentioned provocations in the media have been about fundamental issues, such as intolerance, vengeance, and superstition.

But I feel compelled to step out of this neutral frame of mind, to counter some of the asinine thought processes surrounding Gota’s citizenship, in which the underlying concern can be traced back to racist or sectarian intuitions. I think a good many decent, ordinary folk whom I know and love subscribe to this “worry” about Gota, simply because they haven’t meditated on this matter deeply enough. Perhaps I might be able to open their eyes to this brazen political red herring.

Gota is a natural born citizen of Sri Lanka, deeply imbued with a Sri Lankan outlook, more than many of us and certainly far more than someone like myself. He is attuned to Sri Lanka’s culture, politics and development needs. His love for Sri Lanka was amply demonstrated, not by his having come back to help his brother after a stint in the USA, but by the output of his efforts after he came back.

His fearless strategic contribution to winning the war against terrorism, the transformation of Colombo under his supervision into a garden city, the innovative way in which he facilitated the reduction of Global Sea Piracy, and his commitment to the eradication of organized crime are some excellent reasons for believing in Gota’s sincerity of political purpose. I don’t wish to discuss other candidates here, but I have to say that I don’t see a “pro-Sri Lankan” track record of such magnitude in any one of the other candidates vying for presidency.

I say this while acknowledging that the present government and their constituent members have indeed done useful things, contrary to popular opinion, such as passing the Right to Information Act. But as a civil servant, Gota’s record is truly exceptional for recent times.

Some interested parties who didn’t like Gota’s candidature challenged the validity of his Sri Lankan citizenship last month. The case was dismissed by the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka. The Elections Commission of Sri Lanka endorsed his candidature shortly thereafter. So, as far as the law of the land is concerned, Gota is entitled to contest for the presidency, and take office if he wins. Period.

Perhaps out of sheer desperation on seeing the tide move against them, we now have an 11th hour attempt at discrediting Gota, by political forces on the opposing side of the campaign. The gist of their argument is that “Gota still retains US citizenship”. The “basis” for this latest conflagration is that A) His name has not appeared on an annual register of persons who relinquished their US citizenship, prepared by the US Government, and B) The fact that his legal team and his nephew shared a visual of his passport, stamped with the grammatically incorrect pronouncement “Cancel” (instead of “Cancelled”).

There could easily be an innocent explanation for both of the above frivolous concerns. I’ll let Gota and his political opponents thrash this point out, if they feel it’s worthwhile doing so. I don’t.

Why are we worried at all about Gota’s passport? As I said before, he is a native born Sri Lankan, who decided as an adult to live in the USA, in all likelihood for sound personal reasons. He lived out his experiment and returned to Lanka after some years, and performed exceptionally for his country as a civil servant, and more recently as a political leader. If there is some pending paperwork regarding relinquishing US citizenship, which is taking time – and mind I don’t say so –, then by all means let him sort it out quietly! He is a human being who merits our patience, on account of the services he has rendered to our country.

As far as any impropriety is concerned, the impartial judgments of the Elections Commission and the Court of Appeal, which concluded that he is a Sri Lankan and can contest for the presidency, is good enough to bury this concern and move on. No one, other than Gota himself, was hurt by this unsubstantiated bureaucratic concern. This is not a White Van; and whilst White Vans too were unsubstantiated concerns, at least they involved someone being hurt, in principle. So this concern is a category error, in a scientific sense.

The motivation underpinning this 11th hour “passport conspiracy” theory runs deep. In a country with many burning issues, which possibly requires a sturdy, proven candidate like Gota, we must ponder why some of us eagerly latch on to such a bureaucratic technicality to try and disable his political movement, instead of allowing a fair contest.

I suspect that at least part of the reason for this rather uncharacteristic love of bureaucratic details takes us on a journey away from reason, and into the realm of our tribal past, to instincts evolved on the African plains. “Gota might be one of them, not one of us”, and worse, “HE’S LYING!” It is these two voices in our heads, and the anachronistic instincts behind them, that also make us racists, and propels us towards vindictiveness and punitive justice. It is these instincts that stifle progress, through the shallow, inflexible social posture that they help create.

As former US president Barack Obama once said, “This idea of purity and [that] you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff. You should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids.”

What are we afraid of, ultimately, if Gota is indeed half-American (which I think he isn’t)? Are we afraid that Gota dreams of relaxing in the Rockies smoking cigars and listening to hillbilly music? Is that what we fear?

Why, ladies and gents, we had such a president before. Good old Mr. Yankee Dickie, who loved Buffalo Bill and smoked Hawaiian Cigars. Incidentally, unlike his able nephew, he was not such a bad performer, he liberalized our economy, raised our GDP, and took us away from abject poverty and Gantara Sarongs.

Sure, there was social upheaval during his administration, which led to violence. Some of this upheaval might have been influenced by poor decisions of his, like the lapse of policing on 25th July 1983. That’s why we say that no one is perfect, and certainly no politician is. Similar lapses occurred in April this year, under his nephew. We should look upon politics and politicians with a touch of pragmatism.

As a voter, I personally will ignore both Gota’s passport and Sajith’s cement bags, and not yield into my primitive, vindictive instincts. These types of concerns get amplified unnecessarily because of the competitive nature of the election process, and are difficult to judge at a distance. So instead, I’m going take a good, hard look at each candidate’s intentions and past contributions, and vote for the relatively better one.


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