Reflections on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Monday, 16 December 2019 00:49 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


It is the honeymoon period, where nice things are being said about the new President, but things will change. That’s the way it is always. The little mumbles of those who did not get what they wanted will become loud rumbles. The UNP will be looking to build their hymns for the General Election.

Before the ice cream melts, I thought I must peruse the anthologies to seek some timeless expressions said a long time ago that might add a little sparkle to our honeymoon period.

A very relevant poem by Longfellow 

“The heights of great men

reached and kept were not

attained by sudden flight

but they, while their companions slept, 

were toiling upward in the night” 

How very true. Before the brothers could throw their hats in the ring, and before the old SLFP soldiers (who would have loved to be President) could stir up some support for nomination, President Gotabaya had toiled whilst they slept and had stolen the ball and scored a try, and could not be defeated in the game to be presidential candidate

It was not only his political companions who were asleep. UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was also asleep, having a succession of dreams. He dreamt that creating free trade associations would bring truckloads of foreign investment.  

That, of course, did not happen. He also dreamt that if he said he will create a thousand jobs, he will be a hero, but everybody except Ranil knew the problem was not jobs but finding people. For example, the building industry, where many manufacturing industries, etc., were desperately short of people.

Our new President is not a dreamer. 

He had created Viyath Maga and other think tanks to develop an economic strategy for the country and a political strategy to win the Election. It reminds me of a verse in another poem by Longfellow.

“We have not wings,

we cannot soar; 

But we have feet to scale and climb

by slow degrees, by more and more;

The cloudy summits of our time”


Creating a new personality

Creating a new personality that will attract more political support is an old game in politics. President Gotabaya created a new personality for himself, and it reminded me of one of the best known examples of creating a new personality. Lord Tim Bell, the head of an advertising agency, created a new Margaret Thatcher. 

She came from a very middle class background.  


Many would have argued that this was a proven winning personality created by Mahinda Rajapaksa and was sacrosanct and should not be changed. Gotabaya had the courage to throw that in the bin and create his own personality


Her father was a shopkeeper. She then presented very much like one of that background. Her hairstyle, clothes, and accent were all stoutly middle class, but she was an ambitious conservative politician with a long-range eye on becoming Prime Minster. 

Tim Bell convinced her that it was necessary to create a new Margaret Thatcher that would appeal to the Conservative block. He changed her hairstyle and the style of her clothes, and got her to carry a posh handbag, and changed the way she spoke. 

She had a rather tinny rapid style of speaking. Lord Bell got her to drop her voice an octave and to speak slowly with gravitas in the new voice. 

She became a new person and was eventually a very successful prime minister.


The new Gotabaya Rajapaksa

He distanced himself from the D. A. Rajapaksa satakaya clan. They all wore the white national dress and had the cinnamon-coloured satakaya on the shoulder, and the MR version also had the hair and moustache dyed jet black, a symbol of eternal youth! 

Many would have argued that this was a proven winning personality created by Mahinda Rajapaksa and was sacrosanct and should not be changed. Gotabaya had the courage to throw that in the bin and create his own personality. He wore a smart short-sleeved short, and he did not give up the smart military dress code of well-pressed trousers and very well polished shoes.

He also abandoned his loku aiya’s style of jet black dyed hair and proudly displayed his own grey hair and moustache. What a brave man.

My guess is that this was a rather late in the day decision done with excellent professional advice from those good at creating new images. 

What supports this hypothesis is that a few months before, he attended a Viyath Maga function in an impeccable dark suit and red tie.


Sajith Premadasa

Many months ago, over a drink with a friend who knew Sajith, I said he should create an image for himself and he should focus on the way he spoke (which lacked gravitas) and the way he dressed. I wonder whether the crumpled white shirt he wore was meant to be a statement of a hard-working politician who had no time to even change his shirt.

I looked in an anthology for a message for Sajith Premadasa. 

Leo Amery, a very distinguished elder statesman, speaking in Parliament the day before England declared war (Second World War), quoted a very apt statement made by the famous Oliver Cromwell.

“Your troops are most of them old, decayed, serving men and tapsters, and such kind of fellows…you must get men of a spirit that are likely to go as far as they will go or you will be beaten still.” 

He went on to say, “It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered.”

On that occasion, he quoted Cromwell again. Maybe that is an appropriate message for one who is being encouraged to go.

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”


A message for the President

I hope he will not be like Stalin. This is what Khrushchev said about Stalin. “Stalin acted not through persuasion, explanation, and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Whoever opposed this concept or tried to prove his viewpoint and the correctness of his position was doomed to removal from the leading collective and to subsequent moral and physical annihilation.” 

I would also like to commend what Churchill had said, which was quoted by Kennedy when he got the Democratic nomination, “If we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future. Today our concern must be with that future, for the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.”