Symbolic spirit of the Sri Lankan nation | Sunday Observer
Mahinda Rajapaksa:

Symbolic spirit of the Sri Lankan nation

Mahinda Rajapaksa, one of the greatest political legends of Sri Lanka completed his 50th year in politics this week. He etched his mark in gold in Sri Lankan history by safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity by liberating the country by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most ruthless terrorist organisation that swayed over most parts of the North and East for almost three decades.

His vision for the country and his dedication in implementing the strategy to achieve this vision was highly appealing to the masses. His nationalism, courage and fortitude made him at charismatic leader of our times.

Rajapaksa was first elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka on May 27, 1970 and was the youngest MP at that time. He was not a novice to politics as his uncle D M Rajapaksa, who represented the people of Hambantota in the State Assembly was hailed as the Lion of Ruhuna. After the demise of DM, Mahinda’s father D A Rajapaksa became the MP for the constituency and Mahinda was the obvious choice to succeed DA who passed away in late 1967. Mahinda nursed the constituency and was elected in 1970.

Young parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa started following the example of his uncle, the Lion of Ruhuna and his father D.A. Rajapaksa who was a very close associate of the SLFP leader Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. This nuclear political family of Ruhuna still holds the record of the largest number of members elected to the State Council and Parliament.

Although Mahinda, lost in the 1977 general elections when there was a landslide against the incumbent government, he returned to Parliament in 1989 to become one of the most vociferous opposition members. He fought against the autocratic methods of the then regime. When there was a ruthless suppression of youth rebellions in 1989-90, he took up the cause of human rights of the subjugated youths. At that time Mahinda organised the Mothers’ Front to go to places of worship and ask for retribution for the killing of their offspring, mostly youth.

At a time when no other parliamentarian dared to protest against the killings and disappearances, Mahinda Rajapaksa organised a march from Colombo to the Kataragama shrine, Padha Yathra to mobilise people against the highhanded acts of the government.

In 1994 the People’s Alliance Government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected and Rajapaksa was appointed Labour Minister. He worked with trade unions and took many steps to safeguard workers’ rights. Although, he formulated a Labour Charter the powers that be frowned over it and he could not enact laws to implement his proposal to guarantee the rights of the working class. Subsequently, he was made Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and again he proved that he was capable of reaching out to the hardworking and often poor fisher folk. He started the Diyawara Gammana fishermen’s housing program and implemented several measures of improvement including the restoration of the fresh water fishing industry and proved his ability to serve the people in all walks of life.

He served as Prime Minister from April 6, 2004 until his victory in the 2005 presidential election. He was sworn in for his first term as President on November 19, 2005. He was re-elected for a second term on January 27, 2010.

Leadership

As President, he showed that he had the courage to take stern decisions when required in the interest of the country and the people. His political decisions and leadership was instrumental in defeating terrorism, despite many a hurdle laid by interested parties with the backing of powerful countries. His firm stand against undue western dictates became legendary when he dealt with two powerful envoys, British Foreign Minister David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kushner who rushed in to save Vellupillai Prabhakaran and his fellow terrorists in the last phase of the conflict in 2009.

Rajapaksa laid a solid foundation for peace, unity and prosperity during his first term as President and ventured in to consolidate economic strength by developing infrastructure facilities during the second term. He focused on developing Sri Lanka as the centre of a fivefold hub that encompasses Aviation, Shipping, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge.Mahinda’s approach to development articulated in his manifesto, Mahinda Chintana, emphasised on (a) restoring peace and security, a necessity for the country to move forward - the 30 year long conflict against terrorism was brought to an end with the liberation of the North and the East in May 2009 during President Rajapaksa’s first term thus providing the impetus for peace and massive economic development, (b) infrastructure development, which is a prerequisite for accelerated development (c) social and cultural development underscoring culture, art, religion and sports to create a value based and healthy society (d) agriculture and SMEs; the backbone of our economy that provides livelihood to a majority (e) promotion of value added industries, services and local entrepreneurship (f) widening the access to education and health services across the country (g) focus on the development of Information Technology (h) empowerment of the rural and plantation economy, (i) strengthening labour relations and productivity (j) private sector development by providing incentives for exports and competitive import substitution activities (k) promoting prudent financial policies for a stable economic environment with a market friendly policy framework and (l) an environment friendly development.He was appointed Prime Minister on November 18, 2019, by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the presidential election held two days prior to that.

In his 50-year long political career, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has established himself as a national and international statesman of considerable stature. He represents the spirit of an era, the pulse of the nation and the warp and woof of the social, cultural and political fabric of Sri Lanka today. 

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