President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s birthday on Saturday, June 20


14 June, 2020

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, born on June 20, is affectionately known as ‘Gota’ or often referred by his first name Gotabaya or initials GR. In the eyes of millions of his fellow citizens, he earned a lasting niche as a passionate patriot in 2009, following his vigorous leadership as the Defence Secretary to eradicate the cruelest terrorist organisation in the world, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, from our resplendent isle in an unprecedented humanitarian operation. After a decade, his name is universally cherished and recognised as the 7th Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.  

In a sense, the whole of his lifespan had been a preparation to lead the country as the President and Commander-in-Chief. A patriot; a technocrat; a professional; a romantic believer in his motherland’s greatness; a devotee of action who thrived on challenge and crisis; a veteran of war; a master of the arts of administration; a man of iron constitution, inexhaustible energy and total concentration, he seemed to have been nursing all his faculties so that when the moment came he could lavish them to transform Sri Lanka to a glorious nation. 

When the President’s birthday rolls around, it’s not unusual for him to receive hundreds of thousands of good wishes. Some will come from Heads of States and Foreign Leaders around the globe.

Yet, countless blessings will be from his beloved citizens. This zealous effort to recognise his first birthday as the President of Sri Lanka, endeavours to share his life’s journey. The leadership characteristics such as confidence, creativity, delegation, inspiration, knowledge, trust and positivity are very much visible in his new role of leading the country.

Tribute to War Heroes  

On May 19, 2020, at the Ranaviru Commemoration ceremony the President said, “May 19, is an important milestone in the history of Sri Lanka. Eleven years ago on a day like this, we completely defeated separatist terrorism which had been a curse to the country for nearly 30 years. The atmosphere where people can travel freely without any restrictions to any place of the country was restored. Our war heroes and their families made immense sacrifice to usher in peace to the country which was engulfed in terror.

War is not a bed or roses. Especially, war heroes had to face numerous bitter experience and difficulties when battling one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world. Because of the exceptional sacrifices made by our war heroes, today we have the opportunity to live in peace and harmony in a unitary state... I am very well aware of the sacrifices made by our war heroes.”

On February 4, 2020, at the National Independence Day celebration, the President identified that, “poverty, archaic regulations, procedures and systems and arbitrary fee and permit structures hamper the standard of living of all Sri Lankans, as the real issues that hinder their political and economic freedom and not ethnicity, religion or culture as many would perceive. He stressed that Sri Lanka is a unitary state and that he is the President of all Sri Lankans.” He said, “I am duty bound to fulfil the necessities of all Sri Lankans and that is my responsibility and obligation. I do not expect any barriers from the legislature or the judiciary to carry out my duties.” Aspirations of Sri Lankans  

On November 29, 2019, the President undertook his maiden foreign visit to India. During his meeting with the Indian Premier in New Delhi, Narendra Modi shared, “the mandate given to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reflects the aspirations of the people for a united, strong and prosperous Sri Lanka”.

Sri Lankans had similar expectations on eradicating terrorism from the country when they elected Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President and he in turn entrusted the herculean task to his sibling, Gotabaya Rajapaksa on November 25, 2005 appointing him as the Secretary Defence and together they lived to the expectations of the Sri Lankans.

President of all citizens  

On November 18, 2019, the cynosure of all citizens of the country was on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he started his presidency from the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Delivering his maiden address to the nation, “I assure that I would be the President of all Sri Lankans and pledge to uphold sovereignty and national security.” Addressing the nation from Salapathala Maluwa at Ruwanwelisaya he said, “To exercise the historic mandate given, I will form a new government which can act on my policies. I love my country and I’m proud of it. I have a vision. I request all patriots to join me to create a prosperous country”.

As the minutes ticked away and the hours went by, it was becoming blatantly clear, as night follows day that the military officer turned professional turned public servant, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was romping home as victor at the Presidential Election held on November 16, 2019.

Under his presidency, the country has started experiencing the much dreamed political transformation, bold leadership and discipline in governance, yearned for years. He has already won the admiration of the entire world for the bold action initiated in handling the rampant coronavirus pandemic.  

The citizens of Sri Lanka, recovering from the Easter Sunday 2019 tragedy took a bold step to place confidence in the candidate who is capable of ensuring national security among 35 candidates in the fray. This saw the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Executive President with a mammoth 6,924,239 votes which is 52.25% of the total votes polled.

His was a household name in the country for a decade or so since the meticulous execution of the humanitarian operation to free the country from the clutches of terrorism after almost three decades of destruction.

Expansion of Defence University  

As the Secretary Defence, he played a significant role to develop the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University to higher echelons. Delivering his keynote address on June 13, 2013, to the First PhD Intake on the topic, “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns,” he shared, “guarding against various threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and our prosperity.

As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as Defence, Foreign Policy, Economic Affairs and, Law and Order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them”.  

He elaborated, “Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges”.

“The government must make every effort to be aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured”. He said, “Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and strong in the future is for all of us to put aside the differences of the past; unite as Sri Lankans, and work towards a better future for ourselves and for each other”.

As the Defence Secretary, he inspired and boosted the Security Forces, the Police and the Civil Defence Force. He immensely contributed to uplift the living and professional standards of the men and women in uniform. His tenure 2005 through 2015 was indeed remarkable.

The awareness program Api Wenuwen Api brought the desired results with hundreds who left after serving 12 years as well as deserters coming back to strengthen the war effort. The establishment of the Defence Service School, a national school for the children of military and police personnel was a long-felt need.  

Introducing the world’s first scintillating military reality TV talent show, ‘Ranaviru Real Star’, afforded opportunities to the War Heroes to display their non-military prowess and aesthetic talents.

The Defence Services Games lifted the sportsmen and sportswomen of the Security Forces to the international arena. Securing medals at the World Military Games brought honour and glory for the country. A War Hero ‘Wounded in Battle’ reaching the podium and raising the National Flag at the Para Olympic Games London 2012 securing a bronze medal is truly a success story. The timely promotions, extensions and salary increments benefitted the rank and file.  

The introduction of the ‘Day Scholar’ program in 2012 at the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University opened the doors for thousands of children to dream of academic degrees in a disciplined environment. The strengthening of hospital facilities and healing homes for War Heroes such as Mihindu Seth Medura benefited the wounded in battle.

The New Houses with modern facilities for War Heroes such as Ranajayapura, distribution of land among the needy, scholarships for children, innovation in every sphere and enormous infrastructure development across the country was very much visible. It was indeed the golden era in the annals of the military history of Sri Lanka.

Birth and education  

Besides, his contributions as the Secretary Urban Development is too numerous to record. He systematically and speedily implemented a range of initiatives that transformed Sri Lanka’s cities and improved the lives of the people by fostering a more sustainable and attractive urban environment. The entire country got a facelift and he won the admiration of all Sri Lankans.

All at once Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s restless energy began to be felt throughout the country, as his colleagues as well as his own Ministry received the first of those pungent minutes that kept the remotest corners of Sri Lanka aware that their shortcomings were liable to detection and penalty.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was born in Palatuwa in the Matara District on June 20, 1949 and grew up in Medamulana, Weeraketiya in the Hambantota District in the Southern Province. He grew up in a powerful and well-known political family in the country.

His mother was Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake. His father, Don Alwin Rajapaksa, was a prominent politician, independence agitator, Member of Parliament, Deputy Speaker and a Cabinet Minister. He had his entire education at the renowned Buddhist educational institution in the country, Ananda College, Colombo.

Professional military career  

As a stripling youth with zest, he entered the Sri Lanka Army as a Cadet Officer on April 26, 1971, when Sri Lanka was still a dominion of the British Commonwealth and was in the midst of the JVP insurrection in 1971.

It was within a year of his elder sibling, Mahinda Rajapaksa being elected at the Parliamentary elections of May 27, 1970, as the youngest member of the supreme legislature at 24. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on May 26, 1972 and earned his first command as an officer in the Ceylon Signals Corps. It was at the Army Training School in Diyatalawa that he first met Captain Vijaya Wimalaratne, his mentor and role model throughout his military career.

Thereafter, he served in the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment and the Rajarata Rifles before being transferred to the Gajaba Regiment upon its formation in 1983.  

He attended the Signal Young Officers’ Course and Infantry Company Commanders’ Course in Pakistan, Jungle Warfare and Counter Insurgency Course and the Command and Staff Course in India and the Advanced Infantry Officers’ Course in the USA.

During his military service, he earned a Master’s Degree in Defence Studies at the University of Madras. His commands included the 1st Gajaba Regiment and the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University. For 20 long years, he worked his way up the ranks and rose to the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel. 

His distinguished military service earned him a number of medals for gallantry and conspicuous bravery from three Presidents, J. R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa and D. B. Wijetunga.

He was bestowed with the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and the Rana Sura Padakkama for his invaluable contributions with the elite Gajaba Regiment in the offensives such as the “Vadamarachchi Operation,” “Operation Strike Hard” and “Operation Thrivida Balaya”. He also received commendations from the President of Sri Lanka and the Commander of the Army for his courage and dedication.

 Marriage and close-knit family  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is married to Madam Ioma Rajapaksa. It was a marriage of unbroken affection that provided a secure and happy background for his pursuit of academic excellence.

The First Lady won admiration for her humbleness and simplicity throughout her tenure as the President of the Seva Vanitha Unit in the Ministry of Defence. She was totally committed to enrich the living standards of military families. They are blessed with a son, Manoj who is married to Sevwandie.  

Beneath the challenging exterior, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa concealed a burning passion for self-improvement that led him to expand his horizons on Information Technology at the University of Colombo, where he attained a Postgraduate Diploma in Information Technology. He later migrated to the USA with his family where he worked as an IT professional at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California.  

The University of Colombo, befittingly conferred the honorary doctoral degree, Doctor of Letters to him on September 6, 2009 at the Postgraduate Convocation Ceremony in recognition of his services to the country in safeguarding its territorial integrity and sovereignty by defeating the LTTE and restoring peace and harmony among all communities in Sri Lanka, and uplifting the image of the country in the international community.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the fifth in a family of nine children and the brother of Chamal Rajapaksa (b. 1942), the former Speaker of Parliament and current Cabinet Minister, Jayanthi (b. 1942), Mahinda Rajapaksa (b. 1945), former Prime Minister (2004 – 2005) and President of Sri Lanka (2005 – 2015) and current Prime Minister, Chandra (b. 1947), Basil (b. 1951), Dudly (b. 1957), Preethi (b. 1959) and Gandani (b. 1961).

On December 1, 2006, the LTTE made an attempt to assassinate the Secretary Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa by ramming a three-wheeler packed with explosives into his motorcade at Pitthala Junction in Colombo 7. The entire motorcade was wrecked and the Defence Secretary miraculously escaped unscathed from the attempt on his life. The LTTE, inflicted nothing but misery when they unleashed terrorism in the guise of liberation from July 23, 1983 to May 18, 2009, taking the lives of nearly 100,000 Sri Lankans.

Dedication and   Commitment  

President Rajapaksa has been a frontline soldier, tried and tested in the battlefield and an icon of dedication and commitment. He is also a son of the soil who made tremendous personal sacrifices to serve his beloved motherland.

He is a profile in courage, a true example of what it means to be courageous. The masterpiece by C. A. Chandraprema titled, “Gota’s War – The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka,” launched on May 14, 2012 narrates the pivotal role played by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Defence Secretary, to annihilate the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation, the LTTE along with the leader. The author concluded his introduction with the words, “Without Mahinda there would have been no decision to wage war. Without Gotabaya, no victory.”  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Secretary Defence, uplifted the country’s stability and National Security to greater heights. Throughout his election campaign, he won the admiration of Sri Lankans for his discipline and ethics. He is well aware of his responsibilities towards the country and the future generations. He is a trusted leader who delivered in numerous aspects to build an identity for our resplendent isle - Sri Lanka.  

May I invite all loyal citizens of Sri Lanka to join me in proposing a toast for the good health of His Excellency the President on his Birthday! Long live the President of Sri Lanka! 

(The author earned a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; recipient of Presidential and National Accolades for Academic pursuits; served the Sri Lanka Navy 1979 - 2018; enthralled in serving the war heroes at SLESA and SLNA; byline appears regularly in Sunday Observer since 1988)