Gotabaya and Mahinda: an unassailable combination | Daily News


Gotabaya and Mahinda: an unassailable combination

Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as Prime Minister at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday.
Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as Prime Minister at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday.

Time and again, when Sri Lankans sense a danger to their Motherland from multiple fronts, there is one trusted name that they turn to – Mahinda Rajapaksa – to save the country from the impending predicament. Today, he has been joined in this mission by his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected President on November 16 with an overwhelming mandate of nearly seven million citizens. Together, the two Rajapaksas have come to the defence of the Motherland on numerous occasions.

It was common “wisdom” for more than 25 years that the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cannot be won. Even many military experts were against the idea, based on the premise that the LTTE was one of the most ruthless, most powerful terrorist outfits in the world.

This idea was “sold” to present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa too when he became President in 2005. This was a significant year for many reasons. A tsunami had devastated the coastal areas in December 2004, killing more than 40,000 Sri Lankans and leading to billions of dollars in property damage. The former President had proposed a P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure) that would have ceded much of the control of the North-East to the LTTE in the guise of rehabilitating the affected areas. A fragile ceasefire with the LTTE had more or less ended.

Critical issues

The people felt that they needed a strong hand to deal with these critical issues that threatened the very sovereignty of the country. Out of the two leading contenders of the Presidential Elections in that year – Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe- voters felt more secure with Rajapaksa who won in the end.

Contrary to his perception as a “hawk”, President Rajapaksa did extend an olive branch to the LTTE to come to the negotiating table. Eventually, however, the LTTE launched extensive attacks in the East which prompted the Government led by President Rajapaksa to plan a counter offensive, which would end with the liberation of the East. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then the Defence Secretary, was in the vanguard coordinating the effort to contain the LTTE with the Tri-Forces commanders.

The success of the Eastern operation led the Rajapaksa duo to turn their attention to the North, where the Government controlled only the Jaffna area (liberated one decade earlier) and a few other places. This too culminated with victory for the Security Forces in May 2009. It also meant that the country was free of terrorism and finally united. The Rajapaksas were once again hailed as architects of the triumph against terrorism, along with the Tri Forces Commanders, Police/STF Chief and Civil Defence Force Chief.

Soon after the victory in the conflict, Mahinda Rajapaksa made a historic speech where he invited all Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity and religion to join hands to develop the country. “Majority-minority – I don’t like to use these words that divide our people. I want all Sri Lankans to come together”. Exactly 10 years later, his brother Gotabaya would utter much the same words upon his inauguration, inviting Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to join the journey for prosperity sans division and rancour.

While ending the war remains the single biggest achievement of the Rajapaksas, development was another area where they excelled. Special priority was given to the North and the East in this regard, as these two provinces had not seen major development projects in 30 years. The road network in both provinces were developed – in fact, the longest bridge in Sri Lanka is now in the East. The North and the South, which were divided physically and metaphorically, were once again joined by road and rail.

The Southern Expressway (which now goes all the way up to Mattala) plans were in the doldrums when they came to power, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa expedited the project which was completed during his second term (the expressway turns eight this month). The Expressway to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, which has been on the drawing board for nearly 40 years, was also completed in record time as was the Colombo Outer Circular Highway, which links Kadawatha and Kottawa.

Development projects

If one needs proof that the drive for national development runs in the Rajapaksa family, look no further than the gazette notification on the Ruwanpura (Ratnapura) Expressway issued soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed duties. During the election campaign, he pledged to expedite work on the Central Expressway, which is under construction but is in a moribund state. Several more expressways have already been planned. We hope that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will continue any development projects started by the previous President and the Government, without any political considerations.

One cannot forget the services rendered by present President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his tenure as the Urban Development Secretary, a post which he held in addition to the post of Defence Secretary. He launched a programme of urban renewal, which included the renovation of the Race Course, Arcade Independence Square, Dutch Hospitals (Colombo and Galle) and several other places in Colombo and elsewhere. He also launched a drive to build recreational spaces in Bellanwila, Madiwela, near Parliament, Battaramulla, Nawala, Kaduwela and several other areas, which have become very popular. He had more such plans in mind, but they came to an abrupt halt with the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015.

Under the UNF Government, the electorate perceived a marked shift towards the West at the expense of Sri Lanka’s traditional allies in the East including India and China, a lackadaisical attitude towards the needs and aspirations of the Sinhala-Buddhist community, a lack of focus on development and a near-total disregard for national security. To make matters worse, it had either stopped or slowed to a crawl many development projects initiated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. The spiralling Cost of Living added to their woes. The constant clashes between the Executive and the Government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on ideological, economic and other matters was the last straw for the voters. The October 26 scenario was also the result of this ideological gap.

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have always emphasized that national security should be the foundation of any nation. All other attributes such as personal liberty can only be ensured if a nation is secure from internal and external threats, they surmised. That is how they were able to face the challenge of terrorism and other threats to the Motherland. It was their belief that the national security apparatus including the intelligence network should continue unaffected even after May 2009 to face any new challenges such as religious extremism, transnational terrorism, trafficking in persons and contraband, people smuggling, money laundering and drug running.

Yet, to their dismay and to the disappointment of millions of people, the previous Government weakened the intelligence apparatus and even took into custody the top police officer of the Terrorism Investigation Division. Furthermore, the chasm between the then President and the Prime Minister meant that National Security Council meetings were not held on a regular basis. There was a spectacular failure to recognize the rise of fundamentalist religious extremism. This created the perfect background for a tragedy of immense proportions. Even when foreign intelligence services warned that fundamentalist terrorists were posed to strike several religious and commercial targets frequented by hundreds of people on or around Easter Sunday, it did not filter down to the men and women of the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies that had the capacity to prevent the attacks.

Easter Sunday terror attacks

The tragic result was the Easter Sunday terror attacks on churches and hotels in several cities including Negombo, Colombo and Batticaloa, killing nearly 275 Sri Lankans and foreigners. While the Armed Forces moved quickly to contain further damage and round up all the suspects, Sri Lankans were stunned to learn that the Government had advanced knowledge of the blasts but took no preventive action whatsoever.

It is in this context that most people realised that the country’s salvation lies in the hands of a strong, stable Government led by a Rajapaksa. It is a name that is synonymous with national security, having already delivered the goal of eradicating another kind of terrorism 10 years ago. There was a countrywide clamour from the Maha Sangha, other religious leaders, professionals, academics and the working class for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take up the challenge of contesting the Presidency, which he did a few months ago. Indeed, he received an overwhelming majority from the people to be decisive when it comes to terrorism and extremism of all forms.

Today, their fears have been allayed with the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. There have been countless comments in the mainstream and social media that the people feel really safe now. President Rajapaksa has also promised to catch any remaining suspects behind the Easter attacks and conduct a comprehensive probe. That is to the credit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Significantly, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also urged other countries to respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty when dealing with the country. One recalls how the Rajapaksa brothers told visiting UK and French emissaries during the height of the war that they could not influence decisions on the war. Therefore, countries that may wish to interfere in Sri Lanka’s affairs will have to think twice.

Gotabaya and Mahinda are a perfect partnership for a long innings in the local political landscape with their strong credentials in a range of issues from national security to urban regeneration. The people are eagerly awaiting a new chapter in local politics, one that would take them to the avowed goal of peace and prosperity.

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