Last week, there was this tantalizing proposition from an anonymous member of the Joint Opposition, who was speaking on behalf of a group of MPs wanting to unify the divided SLFP, suggested to appoint Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a Member of Parliament. Gotabaya, the nameless MP beckoned, would serve as the unifier of the SLFP, now split between the loyalists of the incumbent President and his predecessor.
Since April Fools’ Day is still a couple of days away, we are compelled to assume that this wasn’t a hoax. Someone who wants to bet on the good luck and charm of Gotabaya should be dead serious about that.Breast-beating Senior Rajapaksa seems to be less keen in a settlement of the internecine conflict though, he wants the government to hand the country back to him for he thinks the incumbent administration is clueless in those complex affairs such as fiscal management (for him read as piling up the exchequer with commercially borrowed loans to build his vanity projects).
Public service resembles that proverbial hyper inflated frog mom about to explode thanks to MR, who turned it into a job bank, expanding from the earlier 600,000 to current 1.4 million. He thinks it is a crowning achievement, no matter that many of the new staff ended up being mere passengers.
Why it is believed that Gota is predestined to be the unifier of the SLFP is not fully established. But the theory goes like this: SLFPers should like at least one of the Rajapaksa siblings, scions or someone in his inner circle. If they don’t like Basil, Shavindra, Namal, Yoshitha or any other old goons such as Sajin Vas, why should they not like, at least Gota? He defeated the LTTE and beautified the City of Colombo. So the people should like him!
Gotabaya’s metamorphosis since the defeat of the former regime itself is remarkable. When in power, he once retorted in court that he had no time to waste, answering a feisty Defence Counsel, in a case he himself filed against the then Sunday Leader on contempt of charges. Alas, now he makes regular visits to PRECIFIC. Gota is now a changed man. No longer does he intimidate the press, or ask “ Who’s Lasantha?”. All the concoctions about a missing Prageeth Ekneligoda enjoying good life in the greener pastures of Europe have now been exposed as a sinister lie. He no longer speaks about that also, though senior Rajapaksa visited in prison, the military officers implicated in the alleged abduction of Ekneligoda.
Gota’s balance sheet is a jumble. On the plus side are his pivotal role in the military victory against terrorism, and of course, beautifying Colombo. Those are obviously notable achievements. But, on the minus side, his record is exceedingly dark. There are extra judiciary killings, white van abductions and disappearance of journalists, civil society activists and dissidents -- all that took place under his watch as the Secretary of Defence. During the time of war, some excesses could happen. It had been our case, so has it been an inevitable consequence of when the governments forced to fight maximalist terrorists where ever in the world. We can investigate those excesses, if we wish so, but, keeping in mind the existential circumstances under which they took place. However, our real problem was that those excesses did not end with the end of the war. They took a life of their own under the watchful eyes of Gota in the peace time.
Scores of inmates of the Welikada prison were taken out from their cells based on a “Gota’s list” and were allegedly summarily executed after a prison riot, that was in 2012, long after the end of the war; dissident political activists Lalith Kumar and Kugan of the JVP’s splinter group FSP disappeared in Jaffna in December 2011; Prageeth Ekneligoda himself disappeared six months after the end of the war; underworld thugs who were taken into police custody developed a peculiar habit of jumping into rivers with their handcuffs on.
Some of the excesses might have been the necessary evil when fighting terrorism, though now in hindsight, one may find some of them were in fact counter-productive and demeaned the military exercise. Gota did not let those evils wither away at the end of war; instead, he institutionalized them. That is his biggest crime.
It was his contempt for the rule of law and fundamental rights of a Constitutional State that stood as one of the biggest stumbling blocks in post war Sri Lanka’s transition to a democracy. Now that he no longer wields power, he is harmless. Now that there are no white van abductions, prison massacres, disappearances and attacks on the press. We can savour his feat in beautified Colombo in peace time. But, there is no guarantee that all the evil of the old times would not return if the young Rajapaksa is vested with power again by some quirks of destiny.
How he can be a unifier of the SLFP is open to question, but the bigger question is how a President who pledged to redress the victims of the past and hold their abusers accountable for their evil could accommodate Gota without losing face. Also, such an accommodation is tantamount to appeasement. It would embolden his detractors within the Joint Opposition who would seek further concessions to advance their selfish ends. The impact of such a gesture on the on-going investigations into the abuses of power of the former regime would also be disastrous. Perhaps, the President would not be duped.
Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter