Mahinda Failed to Emulate Modi Magic
Posted on August 24th, 2023

Dilrook Kannangara

Modi is a remarkable political success story in the world’s largest democracy. He has not only protected his vulnerable vote base from the threats of terrorism, separatism, poverty, external threats and demographic challenges, India has made unprecedented and even unbelievable progress under Modi’s leadership. His strategic thinking and visionary skills have turned him into a celebrity. Indians around the world pay good money just to see him and hear him out. Global leaders from the Global South to the Global North and from the West to the East reach out to Modi. He is the most sought-after political leader in the world.

However, Modi was not without controversy. India’s minorities have accused him of war crimes, human rights abuses, racism, extremism and violence. Even the West accused him for all these even before he became the PM and after he assumed the top post the West opted to tone down these allegations temporarily. Well, you cannot make everyone happy, unless you are an ice cream charity. Overall Modi is the most successful Indian leader ever and the most effective.

Both Modi and Mahinda are polarizing political figures. Both have been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses by the West and some internal elements too. Both used nationalism to propel their political forces. But the legacy of them differs vastly. More importantly the fate of their respective nations which were influenced by them in no small measure are poles apart. India progresses rapidly but Sri Lanka collapses in every aspect. Modi is gaining popularity by the year while Mahinda and his associates are losing popularity and even basic respect every passing year.

What failed Mahinda where Modi succeeded?

Modi Magic #1 – You Cannot Make Everyone Happy

Modi understood that you cannot make everyone happy. Trying to make everyone happy only bankrupts you or the nation as it is costly to attempt and gives no economic or political returns. Having understood it, Modi segmented, targeted and positioned his national agenda accordingly. His target was the Indian Hindu majority. Others could join the bandwagon if they pleased but Modi would not change a thing to accommodate them.

Mahinda disastrously failed in this regard. He tried his very best to appease everyone. His supporters included a wide range of people across all ethnic, religious, political and even military-terrorism divides. It is the popular view but it has no traction in the political and economic fields. Mahinda thought he could balance competing political, ethnic and economic issues, the north and the south, through a contradictory but loyal approach. His brother Gotabaya will be the one for the south and his other brother Basil will be for the north, so to speak. The north would be won by showering it with economic benefits (over 85% of borrowed funds from 2009 to 2013 were spent in the north) while the south (not the geographic south but the rest outside the north and east of the island) was to be won by selling his war victory.

The north rejected Mahinda and his policies in total and considered anyone who opposed Mahinda to be a friend. The south followed. For completely different reasons. By 2022 Rajapaksas had to hide in navy camps, navy ships, foreign countries and give the reigns to their enemy just to stay safe from the people. No one came to their rescue, not the people and not the military. This is the outcome of trying to appease everyone – no one will be appeased.

Modi Magic #2 – Make Alliances That Tangibly Benefit the Nation

Under Modi, India followed a highly productive, opportunistic foreign policy. Certainly not a non-aligned policy. He didn’t hesitate to team up with anyone that benefitted India. He was not driven by emotion, philosophy and other nonsense. As a result, India gained from the East and the West, Russia and USA, China and Japan, Arabic nations as well as from Israel, from Iran as well as from Saudi Arabia. He didn’t drag India into controversy just to make himself happy.

Sadly, Mahinda totally failed in this regard. He openly forged close ties with Hugo Chaves, Ahmadinejad, Kaddafi, Palestinian Liberation groups, etc. that had no benefit whatsoever for Sri Lanka. Not only they were economically and politically useless, the relationship Sri Lanka had with them dragged the island nation into needless global disputes. Rajapaksas eventually suffered a similar fate as them.

Modi Magic #3 – Decisiveness

The biggest contrast between Modi and Mahinda is decisiveness. Although Mahinda was decisive about the war, that’s all. Modi on the other hand, is decisive on all matters. Blaming the weak and small size of Sri Lanka is misplaced. Although India is much larger and much more powerful than Sri Lanka India’s challenges and adversaries are also many times more powerful than Sri Lanka. This includes both internal and external forces against India and Modi.

A big part of Mahinda’s indecisiveness boils down to family concerns. His extended family interests always became a massive burden on him. Looking after all their interests and the national interest is simply not possible. Modi on the other hand has no such baggage.

Modi Magic #4 – Wisdom

PM Modi has the ability to see through beneficial political alliances and ruinous ones. Mahinda does not. Modi refrained from making ruinous alliances no matter how tempting they looked. He and his party would rather run alone and suffer election loss than team up with shady political parties with ethnic tribalism. Sadly, Mahinda did not have the wisdom to separate the two. He teamed up with SLMC, TMVP, EPDP, WPF, etc. that are tribal political parties that do not sit comfortably with Mahinda’s constituency. These alliances did more bad than good. They were quick to change allegiance as it benefitted them.

Modi Magic #5 – Consistency

PM Modi is the same person who was once the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Although his views expanded to national and international levels, he remained close to his roots. This is the main attraction of Modi. Mahinda failed to do so. He and his family members drifted more towards the global West. His sons too drifted towards ‘Colombians’ – the island’s west. This move made them unhinged from their roots and essentially uprooted them. When they were under physical attack no one came to their rescue as they had uprooted themselves from their bases.


One may argue that Modi is a divisive figure whereas Sri Lanka needs a unifying figure. India needs and gained a unifying figure more than Sri Lanka whereas Sri Lanka failed! You cannot unify everyone. Unifying with elements that are burdens for the national interest does no good. India has a clear policy (inclusive or otherwise it is a clear and useable policy) whereas Sri Lanka ended up with a cesspool of policy confusion that pulls it in three different directions. This is the difference between success and failure, nationally and politically. Modi won where Mahinda failed. India won where Sri Lanka failed.

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