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The Most powerful man in Sri Lanka is brother Gotabhaya not President Mahinda

By Ashok K Mehta

After winning a war that no Sri Lankan President dared even try to, and emerging triumphant from every election he has fought since 2005 President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is directly responsible for altogether 78 institutions, and Minister for the country’s Defence, Finance, Planning, Ports and Aviation and Highways, would unarguably be the most powerful man in Sri Lanka today. Not correct

His brother, Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa, a former Army Colonel from the Gajaba Regiment and Defence Secretary, is the real power behind the throne. He is a presidential appointee, invited back from the US in 2005 to lead a faltering war. Mr Gothabhaya Rajapaksa presides over a Rs 202 billion post-war Defence Budget, an increase of Rs 26 billion over last year and higher than health, education, welfare budgets.

Besides control of the armed forces, police, Coast Guard and intelligence, his charge extends to Urban Development Authority and Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and even aspects of tourism. Government Ministers kowtow to him though he is not answerable to Parliament. In his book there are only two kinds of Sri Lankans: Nationalists and terrorists. Once great friends during the Jaffna battles in the late-1980s, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and he are now bitter foes.

It was Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa who picked up the gauntlet thrown by BBC’s Stephen Sackur last month to one of the most fierce and punchy HardTalks in recent times. The duel consisted of half-a-dozen or so sharp exchanges punctuated with a couple of sudden freezes in conversation, both alternately astounded and dumbstruck.

To the charge that “so much power” was concentrated in one family — another Rajapaksa, Basil, is Economic Development Minister and senior presidential adviser with oversight of wildlife conservation and investment and tourism promotion boards, head of task force for reconstruction of war-ravaged North-East and Special Envoy to India; a fourth brother, the eldest, Chamal, is the Speaker of Parliament and the President’s son, Namal, a first time MP and the country’s first son is the latest induction into the family powerhouse — and that it controlled 75 per cent of the entire Government Budget, Mr Rajapaksa replied straight off the bat: “They are all elected by the people of Sri Lanka. The President was elected by a huge margin. We won the parliamentary and provincial elections. This is democracy.”

Mr Sackur shoved the knife deeper. “One of your brothers is called Mr Ten Per Cent.” There was no response from Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa to this allegation which was repeated a second time. The story doing the rounds in Colombo is that by appointing the eldest brother as Speaker, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa has ensured that any impeachment motion, if ever, is not entertained.

Mr Sackur noted the heavy presence of soldiers in the north, more than one year after the successful conclusion of the war. He quoted former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama as saying that “majority of the Tamils are mentally still with the LTTE.” Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa maintained that the threat was still alive and the country had suffered from 30 years of terrorism. The Prabhakaran dictatorship had brainwashed the people under Tiger control. He said a lot of pro-separatist activity was taking place internationally, aided and abetted by former LTTE diaspora, so “it is imperative that we remain vigilant”.

Why was the Government displaying an authoritative tendency by continuing with the Emergency decree, Mr Sackur asked, and added: “There is no free Press in the country.” Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa explained that the Emergency was needed to protect the country and while the Government was committed to relaxing Emergency regulations and restoring peace, “We have to take whatever steps necessary to ensure terrorism does not raise its ugly head again.” This was followed by a feisty exchange on the mysterious killing of the editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga. Surprisingly, Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa did not mention, as he has elsewhere, that the Army (Gen Fonseka) was instrumental in his assassination.

After the small arms fire, Mr Sackur resorted to heavier weapons. He pointed out how Sri Lanka had isolated itself from the West and the EU on account of human rights violations. “Look at your friends: China, Iran, Libya, Burma, Pakistan…” Mr Rajapaksa fired back: “Why do you exclude India and Russia who supported us? Western countries have a big Tamil diaspora, especially Canada, and depend on Tamil votes.”

The battle was hotting up. Mr Sackur raised the issue of alleged war crimes and the need for an independent investigation of the last stages of the war when 700 civilians were reportedly killed by the Army. There was audio visual evidence and Mr Sackur quoted a report by the International Crisis Group which alleged that the military deliberately shelled hospitals and targeted civilians. The figure of civilians killed by Western sources is 40,000.

Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa was not going to take these Western fabrications lying down. He said: “Our military is highly disciplined” and totally denied violation of human rights. He blamed the LTTE and said: “We declared safe zones.” Mr Sackur interjected “but you did not respect them” and mocked, “If you are so sure that no war crimes were committed, why not hold an independent international inquiry?” A visibly agitated and angry Gothabaya Rajapaksa retorted: “There is no necessity for it. We are an independent country.

Both were now locked in close quarter combat. Mr Sackur struck first: “You shoot the Sunday Leader for Rs 1 billion (over the story that he ordered white flag carrying LTTE to be shot). Gen Fonseka has accused you of war crimes. Are you worried?” Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa, livid but not losing his cool, said, “These allegations are bogus. My life and reputation are at stake. Is fighting terrorism a crime? I’m not worried. You might be.”

The mention of Gen Fonseka was red rag to a bull. “He’s a liar” bristled Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa “and if he continues to say that, we will hang him because it is treason.” A shell-shocked Sackur asked, “You will have him executed?” “Yes, for betraying the country. He’s a liar and we will hang him.” (Gen Fonseka is regarded the war hero in Sri Lanka and is facing a court martial.) Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa has the last chuckle with his interlocutor simply lost for words. COURTESY:THE PIONEER


"The Most powerful man in Sri Lanka is brother Gotabhaya not President Mahinda By Ashok K Mehta ".

Namasthe Mehta mathaya !
athe ne kiway. Oya hariyatam hari. May triple Gem bless you.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2010 09:09 AM

The most powerful man in Sri Lanka is the "VOTER."

Posted by: Aravinda | July 8, 2010 12:20 AM

On the line that the whole
family of Rulers were duly
elected and that too Democratically, so was the
Speaker appointed.
The choice of Speaker, for
reasons the article says,
has then had the consent of
RW. How come?

Posted by: punchinilame | July 8, 2010 03:34 AM

Anonymous, are you quite sure the Triple Gem is still there? With unabashed kleptomaniacs having taken over and stealing state assets promoted to a Fine Art, shall'nt be surprised if this has already found its way abroad. The media reported such fine citizens as Kudu Lal went to their plane via VIP lounge and sans Customs checking. So anything is possible. Christies in London will sell anything if they get their 17.5% - like that painting that found its way - there courtesy of another Son in Law.

What this once honourable country has been turned into. It probably is told in Tamil best -"kurangin kayyil malar maalai' (Garland of flowers in the hands of the monkey) Does "wandurage athey mal bunchuwa" adequately convey the message?


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | July 8, 2010 12:10 PM

Whoever it will be, power belongs to the royal( new dutagemunu) family

Posted by: Ravi | July 8, 2010 02:24 PM

SO WHAT! Sri Lanka has a son with a backbone.

You Indians should mind your own business - keep out of Sri Lanka.

Indira Ghandhi created and nurtured the LTTE problem in the first place

Posted by: Suranimala | July 8, 2010 05:15 PM

Had the Rajapaksas taken bribes from the West,( Sudu Jarawa ) like in the past they would have been well and truly Steam Rolled in May last year.

TV journos from the English West have a problem with their attitude, specially when they interview leaders in third world countries.

I dare them to ask these sorts of unsubstantiated and deliberately provocative questions from the leaders of their own or other English speaking countries.

Not only they get a rebuff with the instant termination of the interview but also they are barred from future access.

Srilankan leaders are still too polite in comparison.

If I were in Gota's boots I would have ordered the security to escort him to the Hotel and instructed the Immigration to cancel the visa.

This is not prime time entertainment. These are serious issues pertaining to the security of the nation.

There is no one better than the Rajapaksas to be entrusted with the ministries which are the drivers of the new development phase costing trillions of Rupees.


Posted by: Godzilla | July 8, 2010 06:28 PM

tamils used to refer sinhalese as "modayas (fools)", which I didn't believe until I saw Gotta's interview with Mr Sackur on BBC. How can a man holding this powerful position in Srilankan Civil Services loose his temper and use such idiotic pharases "we will hang him" in a live interview, even though he is capable of executing such criminal acts.

MR & Bros! I think your days are counted.

Good Luck to you MR & Bros.

Posted by: peacelover | July 8, 2010 10:45 PM

the writer is quite correct, Gota the nanny goat is the most powerful human beast in sorry lanka.

He states that he is a pure vegetarian, does not even consume eggs but the anger and the hatred that comes out of his cesspit is and belongs to a guttersnipe.

the Sinhalese people have handed over the country on a platter to this family, now all they can and will do is to watch in awe, the nation becoming the poorest on this planet.

as to the BBC Hard-talk interview the winner without doubt was Stephen Sackur, this goat of a Gota showed to one an all what an impotent raging bull he was. a j.

Posted by: anthony jones | July 8, 2010 11:01 PM

I am not sure what Mr Stephen Jones's ethnicity is.

His constant abuse and insults do not abode well for what ever cause he is trying to promote and s seek support from the public specially the Sinhala people through these columns.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a revered hero as far as the great majority of Srilankans are concerned.

Personal attacks on him ,specially when he cannot counteract are despicable.

I suggest you get hold of a copy of the HIII Society magazine ( available in Canada as well as US ) and look at the photos at least to see how Tamils and Sinhalese are doing in Colombo in the post Terro era.

Posted by: Godzilla | July 9, 2010 01:11 AM

I inadvertently wrote Stephen Jones instead of Anthony Jones in my posting earlier.

My sincere apologies to Mr Stephen Jones for the mistake.

Posted by: Godzilla | July 9, 2010 01:22 AM

please do not exhibit your ingnorence Hard Talk has established itself over many years as an interesting segment of BBC

They interview western leaders and they are more intrusive than Gothabaya's interview the difference is the Western leaders show thier class by not blurting out that they will hang their opponants

Namo namo matha


Posted by: nathen | July 9, 2010 06:35 AM

He must be - if anyone had any doubts at all, and, that includes MR and the others in the family as well.
Well, did'nt you hear him tell that high Police Officcr in the presence of Super Minister WW in that dubious fiasco that is now in the news "You tell the IGP I can SACK him TODAY" Phew! That sure's power and authority. Even the Mafia operates with a greater degree of decency, sophistication and finesse. Rajiv Gandhi had to follow laid down procedure when he removed Foreign Secy AP Venketeeswaran somewhat unceremoniously. That he paid with his life for the aberration is, arguably, a different matter. But then, that is the non-consequential Rajiv G from a country of no significance. We noticed the same arrogance,
undiluted ignorance of governance procedure and feral stupidity - when he shocked a visiting Australian journalist who was on the road to the "prohibited" North SL with the remarks "I am the Defence Secy. I am cancelling your Visa right now, d'you hear?" He repeated his style with Stephen Sachur - more than once, as we all witnessed together half the world.

Is this some form of that old cliche "whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad"


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | July 9, 2010 07:17 AM

Mr Sengutuan is sadly mistaken here.

If anything God has created this man to save the country of original Buddhism from evil conspirators sent from overseas.

As the Defence Sec he must have the authority to sack the subordinates specially in a country like Srilanka.

In Srilanka, the former Military chief planned to overthrow the Government and kill the Defence Sec and the President.

Just imagine what another country would have done to traitors like this.

People who harbour animosity towards the current leadership for obvious reasons will come up with ridiculous allegations against good people ,like the Rajapaksas.

In a democracy like ours it is tolerated although our opposition leaders and their supporters are not sophisticated enough to practice good democratic standards.

A good example is the continual barrage of unsubstantiated,untrue and even defamatory allegations these people hurl at the current leaders.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2010 04:04 AM

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