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Why I Was Critical of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Then But am Supportive of him Now

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The impact and landmark nature of the Viyath Maga annual convention is discernible in the coverage in the country’s top business paper which has a wide corporate readership, the Daily FT, owned, I might add, by the Wijewardene family, hardly backers of the JO or the Rajapaksas. (http://www.ft.lk/article/601558/Mahinda-pricks-Govt.-over-plight-of-public-servants http://www.ft.lk/article/602544/ViyathMaga–Professionals-for-a-better-future).

As for the politics of Viyath Maga, if the choice is between the Rajapaksas– especially an MR+GR slate– and Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was described on TV a few days ago by his Oxford educated cousin Prof Rajiva Wijesinha as “a slimy crook” and “a disgrace to his grandparents”, I think Viyath Maga has indeed made the right choice and I am happy to have done so too, within and outside their company and well before their founding.

Following my speech at the Viyath Maga Annual Convention at which Gotabhaya Raapaksa played a prominent role, at least two well-known journalistic commentators, one early middle aged the other a senior citizen; one bilingual, the other writing solely in English, have resurrected my 2014 critique of Gotabhaya. That doesn’t require investigative journalism– indeed a more extensive version of my critique of Gotabhaya’s excesses is available in my full length book, “Long War, Cold Peace” (Vijitha Yapa, 2014 edition).

Whether it is Gotabhaya or Mahinda or anyone else, when they do something wrong I have criticized it then– unlike some who remained silent, in fear or for personal gain. On the other hand when I think they have overcome their mistakes and are infinitely preferable to those in power or about to take power, I support them. If they are better in power than those in Opposition, I support them then too– which is why I supported President Premadasa.

What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, though often one has to choose between the lesser wrong and the greater wrong. Gota, then and now, was always better than Ranil and CBK, the traitors. But even patriots make mistakes– which I criticized at the time.

If not for incidents like Weliweriya we wouldn’t have lost the Catholic vote in Gampaha and therefore lost Gampaha, which impacted on the whole election.

If not for the moronic mistakes that the previous Government made, with the illiterate Sajin Vaas Gunawardena as Presidential Advisor on International Affairs (something that Gota had little to do with) we wouldn’t have lost three times in the Geneva arena where we won almost a two-thirds in May 2009.

It is those mistakes that opened the door for Mangala’s treachery in 2015 and today. The petition against the Weliweriya shootings was drafted by three of us who had fought against the west in Geneva: Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha and myself. Tamara was anti-Ranil in 2015; Rajiva was pro-MS but swiftly returned to an anti-RW stance, and I fully supported MR in 2015 January and August elections.

While I retract none of what I said, that critique was embedded in a concrete context and is rendered outdated and therefore largely irrelevant for four reasons.

Firstly, as I argued in my writings throughout the second term and on TV and public platforms during the 2015 campaign, MR’s and GR’s mistakes—which I had robustly criticized—were greatly outweighed by their respective and joint merits. Their pluses outweighed their minuses.

Secondly in 2014 at the time of writing, the dynamics that prevailed were regime dynamics. From 2015 to 2019/2020, the preponderant dynamics will be movement dynamics, in which the composition and ideology of the Joint Opposition (JO), a populist center-left formation, will be a crucial determinant. Thus a Gotabhaya Presidential candidacy will resemble 1956, 1970, 1988 (Premadasa) and 2005, much more than it will 2014.

Thirdly, as a former critic of Gotabhaya, I have seen at close range how he has changed positively; evolved for the better. His background as a decorated combat officer who has been educated in several military academies, and as a highly successful developmental bureaucrat of the sort that Premadasa and Sirisena Cooray would have prized, has made him a more thoughtful strategic Realist in all things. This is a man who has matured to the point of being able to rescue and uplift his country if he is elected leader. GR potentially, is our Deng Xiao Peng, Putin or Raul Castro.

Fourthly, I recall Trotsky’s point about opting even for “the devil’s grandmother” in certain circumstances. Even if everything critical I said about Gotabhaya in 2014 were as relevant now as they were then and were to come true under a GR presidency, I would unhesitatingly choose Gotabhaya over Ranil-Mangala-CBK and the treasonous disaster they are visiting upon this country, just as the Russian citizenry unhesitatingly referred Putin to the national disaster of the Yeltsin policies, the Filipinos preferred Duterte, the Turkish preferred Erdogan, and the Indians, Modi.

People can change for the better and the worse. Gota has changed for the better but even at his worst, he was and is better than Ranil Wickremesinghe, the man who, according to ex-Sandhurst instructor Prof Paul Moorcraft’s book, called off a Special Forces LRRP hit on Prabhakaran and is therefore responsible for every life and limb lost in the war since that moment!

Let’s cut to the chase. If one wants to know what the educated urban middle classes which provided the crucial swing vote that brought the new Government into office in 2015 think currently about RW, MR, GR etc. read this report by a credentialed researcher and scholar: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Eavesdropping-in-Colombo-Colonial-slang-rules-the-local-tongue–125168.html

Bottom line: Ranil has never ever won a presidential election, and judging by the official SLFP’s stance he isn’t going to be able to abolish the presidency either. So, come December 2019 it’ll be a Presidential election, MR cannot contest, and if it is RANIL vs. GOTA who do you think is gonna win? Would Dr. Pakiyasothy Saravanamuttu’s CPA dare to do a public opinion poll?

I think that Mahinda as PM and Gota as President is the best possible leadership combination the country could have in the foreseeable future— though I must admit that I hope Kumara Gunaratnam can make it and usher in a progressive and socially just Sri Lanka devoid of racism and religious chauvinism, turning this island peacefully into the Cuba of Asia, within my lifetime.

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