The March of Folly Understanding why Mahinda Rajapaksa lost
By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
I looked last week at Nalaka Godahewa's account of why Mahinda Rajapaksa lost, which he attributed to the excessive influence of eight people who "were not listening to the voices of the grassroots anymore." Though an intelligent analysis of some aspects of the last years of the Rajapaksa Administration, the article failed to distinguish between positive influences and those who contributed heavily to the defeat.
I was happy though that Godahewa was complimentary about Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and I wished he had also noted how effectively P.B. Jayasundera and Ajith Nivard Cabraal had contributed to the economic wellbeing of the country, certainly in comparison with the current mess. And I felt too that there was more to be said for Lalith Weeratunga, though he failed to exercise his undoubted influence productively.
With regard to the four others Godahewa identifies, I feel he is generally right, though again the analysis could have been less perfunctory. And I was sorry he left out two characters who I felt did more than anyone else to destroy the President, though again neither has been accused of financial misdemeanours.
One was G.L. Peiris, whose influence Godahewa belittles in asserting that "Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was a huge influence in the External Affairs Ministry, though officially, Peiris was in charge."
Peiris' endemic insecurity
That does not reduce Peiris' culpability for disastrous foreign relations, and his failure for instance to go to America to meet Hillary Clinton when she invited him, to reply to Manmohan Singh's letter when the Indians were debating which way to vote at the Human Rights Council in March 2014, to move on matters which were agreed with the TNA when we were negotiating with them and the President told us to proceed.
But Godahewa does have a point in that perhaps Peiris' endemic insecurity was exacerbated by the way Sajin was, as it was put, in charge of him. And certainly perhaps the worst influence on the President was Sajin. What finally convinced me to come out against the President (as opposed to staying neutral, for we had told him we could not support him if there were no reforms) was Sajin's attack on Chris Nonis, and the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa took Sajin's side when that outrageous assault occurred.
Sajin's evil influence, in also sabotaging talks with the TNA, and in helping Kshenuka Seneviratne destroy our foreign relations, in particular with India, I can testify to, having indeed written about it.
I cannot, however, comment on another individual Godahewa mentions, Gamini Senarath who allegedly 'influenced all key appointments in the government.' But that may be true and perhaps indicates why Lalith failed. Though it is said he "had the power to make or break anyone's relationship with the former President," the influence attributed to Senarath suggests Lalith had been superseded (which is why he should indeed have resigned, when he could no longer influence policy either).
Responsiveness to people's needs
Senarath was not one of my dwarfs, but someone else Godahewa mentions, namely Namal Rajapaksa was amongst them.
Though I now realize that a story Arjuna Ranatunga told me about him, which I credited, may not have been true, it is certainly true that Mahinda Rajapaksa could not control him and some of his initiatives did not benefit the country or the people. That worried me, for right to the end I felt that, while Basil Rajapaksa was not responsive in many respects to people's needs, Mahinda had his measure and could rein him in when necessary.
Basil indeed is the most complicated of those Godahewa identifies as having exercised seminal influence during the Rajapaksa Administration.
I myself felt that this influence was perverse, not least because he usurped the authority of many SLFP ministers, which is why none of them are mentioned in the article, but at the same time he achieved much in terms of development.
Though he failed to consult people in the areas in which he worked, and contributed to the alienation of the Tamils, his contribution should not be ignored, not least because it is far in advance of anything this government has done.
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