By Buddhisiri Dharmapriya
Today 18 November, is the Diamond Jubilee of the birth of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. His 75th birthday. He completed 50 years in Parliament in January of this year. That is an international record. It is as if there are no political characters even among world renowned State leaders who have engaged in active politics for such a lengthy period of time. It is quite correct to identify the story of history which saw several eras of upheaval in Sri Lankan politics during the 75-year life time of Mahinda.
Without mentioning the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa, there is no way of writing about recent political conflicts, battles and transformations in Sri Lanka. Wherever there was a public people’s struggle, Mahinda was there. Mahinda who awoke before anyone else entered active politics prior to everyone else in current political field. We know without a doubt that he will leave politics after everyone else too. The Sri Lankan politician who did not live dual lives, namely political life and personal life, is Mahinda Rajapaksa.
His opponents thought that Mahinda will give up politics in January 2015 when he was defeated by former SLFP Secretary Maithripala Sirisena. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa bade farewell to Temple Trees and went to the Medamulana Walawwa, opponents said that Mahinda Rajapaksa had been hung on a window of the ancestral home. History has turned a full 360o circle, in reverse. Now the Opposition is in a position where they are hanging from windows!
The Rajapaksas joined the Ruhunu Giruwapattuwa politics during the era of the State Council. D. M. Rajapaksa became the lion of Ruhuna when he stood up on behalf of problems of the farming folk against the white government during the rule of British Colonialists. At the first Parliamentary Election held in this country in 1947, Mahinda’s father D. A. Rajapaksa contested the Beliatta seat through the UNP and won it with a majority of 8,022 votes. The other brother in the Rajapaksa family Lakshman Rajapaksa won the Hambantota seat then. D. A. Rajapaksa, D. M. Rajapaksa, Lakshman Rajapaksa and George Rajapaksa the brothers were like the bark to the tree and attached to politics in the Hambantota district. It was on this strong family background that the foundation for DA’s son Mahinda, was laid.
At the parliamentary election of 27 May 1970 the youthful Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the youngest Member of Parliament, and by 2013 reached the pinnacle in Sri Lankan politics, that of President and became State Leader of the Commonwealth with world leadership.
His journey was not a comfortable one, conflict free, nor one strewn with rose petals along the way. It was a very tough journey, but he prevailed through struggles and challenges.
Once Mahinda was involved in a murder case, simply because he was a good-natured person.
Unlike at present, if parliamentarians, ministers and VIPs were sent to prison they had to be with the other prisoners. The modern five-star democracy where if one of these persons was imprisoned, he went to the prison hospital, from there in a few days to a paying ward at the General Hospital, did not exist then. Mahinda was sent to the remand prison. His family members were fearful since Mahinda’s enemies had an opportunity and facilities to murder Mahinda while he was in prison.
At that time, the members of the Rajapaksa family were living in the house at Mirihana, Nugegoda. Mahinda was strongly against his mother coming to the prison to visit him. Mahinda knew that it would be difficult for her to see how he was living inside the prison. However, he was unable to prevent his mother from coming. When she came, Mahinda attempted to show her that he was enjoying his imprisonment. Nevertheless, his mother was in tears.
“Amme, bigger people than us have been in prison, N. M., Philip, and Colvin were in prison. One cannot engage in politics without being put in prison.” Mahinda told her.
His mother who returned home, became ill and bed-ridden. On a day in November 1985 when Mahinda, accompanied by prison officers was escorted to see his mother, Dandina Samarasinghe, she had already passed away. Mahinda stepped into the future, taking strength from a number of such sensitive occasions.
During the 88-89 period of UNP terror the entire country had become a raw grave. The Carlton House in Tangalle was the only refuge for parents of the Hambantota District who came there wailing because their children had disappeared. The Carlton House was overflowing with relatives who had come to ask Mahinda to look for their missing children. Charred bodies smouldering on tyre-pyres was an extremely common sight at that time. Although people came with their grief and sorrows, there was nothing Mahinda could say or do.
“The country is an open grave. We have to oppose these things. We cannot do these things being in hiding. Let us establish a human rights organisation and work in public.” This was proposed by Mahinda to members of the opposition, in Parliament.
As expected, Superintendent of Police Kudahetti lying in wait near the aircraft accosted them and took into custody the files that were in Mahinda’s bag. Mahinda and Vasudeva went to Geneva carrying only a certified report of the photographs and files taken into custody by the Police. Amidst all these difficulties, Mahinda explained in detail the actual situation to the Human Rights Council.
The Paada Yaathra was due to leave on 16 March 1992. Posters saying that the Paada Yaathra was paving the way for Eelam were pasted all over Colombo city. That provided stimulation to those opposed to the government. The historic march halted for the first night in Ratmalana. It was not party leaders who helped the Paada Yaathra. It was the general public. The Paada Yaathra which travelled 185 miles throughout 8 days and was a tedious journey was the massive step towards bringing back to power the SLFP which had almost reached its end. When the Paada Yaathra reached the sacred city of Kataragama it had become a huge flowing river of human beings. Mothers of children who had disappeared, joined the Paada Yaathra crying give us back our children. A school Principal from Embilipitiya walked in the Paada Yaathra carrying a photograph of his son who had gone missing asking that the Premadasa administration be smashed into smithereens. Their heated cries sharpened the protests of the UNP. There was no one in the SLFP, then or now who could have animated a people’s struggle such as Mahinda Rajapaksa. At present the SLFP is suffering the curse of being deprived of that enormous stamina and nothing else.
In Mahinda’s life story the radical revolutionary can be seen within the role of the Opposition. Mahinda’s luck of hand succeeded in raising up the Party which was floundering badly. Within a short period of time unimaginable to anyone, he raised it up again.
However, those who hindered Mahinda in his forward journey and handcuffed him was none other than the frontline leaders of the Party itself. The Bandaranaikes feared Mahinda Rajapaksa more than J. R. Jayewardene. Mahinda moved forward within the SLFP, not by clinging on to the hands of the leadership. It was with the blessings of the common people. What happened often was kissing the hand that could not be cut. It was the majority membership of the SLFP which lifted Mahinda towards the candidacy of Prime Minister in 2002 and in 2005 was elevated to that of President.
Mahinda won. Not only in 2005 but in 2010 too. Mahinda did not have time to shed tears of happiness at his triumph. The burden of the aspirations of the people weighed on his shoulders much more.
Strategically knowledgeable Mahinda
Age, caste, status was not a barrier to anyone to say the words, Ape Mahinda Mahaththaya. Even the youngest children in all villages knew that Mahinda would not do anything wrong to them. Mahinda’s sharp eyes, genuine smile was a reflection of his personality as well as his moustache and shawl together with his handsome stature and appearance, and over-riding all of that his non-violent simple existence attracted the general public to him.
Mahinda knew that to win on the war front, the most suitable leader was his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Unhesitatingly, in the very first hour he handed over the post of Defence Secretary to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Mahinda was strategically knowledgeable and very daring to even get western forces in international politics to dance to his tune in the palm of his hand. On the other hand, he established a strong Cabinet and placed the country on the right path. It was from then onwards that the war moved forward step by step while destroying Tiger camps, one by one, towards victory.
Many people have forgotten how the international community got thoroughly excited when Prabakharan’s defeat was confirmed. Japanese Peace Envoy Yasushi Akashi came to Sri Lanka, every two weeks. There was nothing more than Special Peace Representative of Norway Eric Solheim arriving and leaving Sri Lanka. He travelled from Wanni to Colombo and back and prepared plans for intermediary peace. During the final round, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband arrived in Sri Lanka and met President Mahinda at Embilipitiya.
He told Mahinda that since there was huge loss of life, the war had to be halted immediately. Reply to Miliband, President Mahinda reminded him, “It is important to remember that Sri Lanka is no longer a Colony of Britain.”
Mahinda who won the war and united the country, took it towards the path of development. Villages and hamlets were transformed into cities, and Sri Lanka’s development began to flow within its territory. The North which was broken up due to the 30-year war, was developed through the Uthuru Wasanthaya or the Northern Spring and the East which was as devastated awoke with the Negenahira Navodaya and the path was paved for the aurora of awakening to fall into the lives of the Tamil people. The Southern Expressway was constructed and after twenty-five years the Uththara Devi train reached the Kankesanturai Railway Station. Children in the North and the South of the country who ran off the road to save their white uniforms from the cloud of dust that arose when a vehicle passed by walked to school in the morning with faces wreathed with smiles, on carpeted roads.
The opposition was not pleased about this change. They began shouting that there was no good governance and that it was a requirement. The people did not listen to them. Various conspiracies arose. Conspirators succeeded in bagging a piece from the board of draughts of the SLFP, led by Mahinda. Minister Maithripala Sirisena became a victim of the conspirators. People of Beliatta asked Mahinda during a Presidential Election meeting in January 2015 whether the hand that had been feeding Sirisena had now been bitten. Mahinda said that is how politics is and smiled knowingly.
Mahinda was defeated in the Presidential Election held on 8 January. People of Giruwaya came in droves unabated to the Medamulana Walawwa to ask for forgiveness for defeating him and to share the sorrow of defeated Mahinda. Their wish and expectations were Mahinda. There is no life sans expectations. Mahinda who handed over Temple Trees came to Weeraketiya in an Army Helicopter. When Mahinda arrived at Medamulana, the area was one big river of people. That was to welcome, not victorious Mahinda but defeated Mahinda.
Truly, Mahinda never expected such a crowd of people. Subsequent to ten years of government rule, the State leader was exhausted. Inside the helicopter he thought that he should look to something else and it would be great if he could relax at leisure. They took it over to continue so we should not hinder them. We should allow them to go ahead and do it, he thought. People who were at Medamulana saw their defeated leader arriving and began wailing and crying. They wanted to hear Mahinda speak a word! There was no platform where he could speak so that everyone gathered could see him.
Mahinda climbed on to a window ledge of Medamulana and told the people that they should learn to put up with both victory and defeat. We are used to winning as well as losing. That day tears welled up in Mahinda’s eyes not due to his defeat. It was because his heart melted when he saw the crying adults and realised that they loved him so much.
This story does not end here saying everyone lived happily ever after. Adding a new component to the culture of this country which is thousands of years old, people began flowing in rivers to Carlton House in Tangalle to see the defeated Mahinda Mahaththaya from all over the country. Supporters of the victorious candidate, President Maithri, from Polonnaruwa hired a bus and came to Tangalle to visit defeated Mahinda. The river of people arriving in Tangalle to see Mahinda, swelled every day to immense proportions. They did not expect anything. These groups of people were simply happy to see the face of Mahinda Mahaththaya after standing in line for hours and salute him.
This continued until the end of the year 2015. Groups of people going to Kataragama on pilgrimage, from whichever area of Sri Lanka they came made it a point to go to Carlton and visit Mahinda. Tangalle became the hub of this new culture. They themselves got organised to entertain these groups who came and went. It was the defeated candidate, true leader Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the hearts of the people. The leader of the general public who won over their hearts totally was Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda realised that he could go on a journey on behalf of the country in the future as well. Wimal, Gammanpila and others transformed Mahinda’s journey into the ‘Mahinda wind.’ This ‘Mahinda wind’ blew from Nugegoda, Ratnapura and Kandy. This reached a peak when a river of more than five hundred thousand people turned up at Galle Face.
Birth of Pohottuwa (SLPP)
The members of the SLFP who accepted Ministerial posts in the government of good governance began to leave one by one, giving up their posts and joined hands with the ‘Mahinda Wind.’ Mahinda as well as Basil knew that the SLFP would not allow the Rajapaksas to raise their heads again. Basil very cautiously took steps to register the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. A majority of people embraced the new political party, ‘the Pohottuwa’ in an unexpected manner. What the UNP saw as the only solution was to hunt the Rajapaksas. All three, Basil, Namal and Yoshitha were sent to remand prison. Although Basil was released on bail, he had to go to Court on all five working days of the week. Mahinda had to bear all of this in an indifferent manner.
It was a mystery for the country, as to who was going to be the Presidential Candidate from the Pohottuwa for a year. However, Mahinda engaged in campaign with great interest until the Presidential Election was almost at hand but did not endeavour to reply to that particular question. It was at the last moment that an announcement was made that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was to be the Presidential Candidate from the SLPP.
Even by then the wave of people had risen very high. The leader whose roots were in the hearts of the people, was Mahinda. Mahinda accepted this unlimited love with both hands and at the last minute and the last second put Gotabaya on a pedestal.
That was how this historic vote of 6.9 million was built. Today Sri Lanka is progressing and is guided due to the awe-inspiring brotherly love of Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil.
Mahinda is the hope and trust of the people regarding the future of Sri Lanka. There is no opponent in view who could match Mahinda. This is the moment of time that is passing when the people-friendly common leader of people is required by the country and its people. We wish this, great exalted man who is like the beacon to the nation of Sri Lanka, a long life!