Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who celebrated his 78th birthday yesterday, will always be remembered for doing what many thought was impossible – defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and ending the scourge of terrorism in Sri Lanka.
He perhaps faltered in not getting the peace dividend from this victory and properly achieving reconciliation among the different communities, but one cannot still underestimate the significance of what he did in 2009.
This is why, even after many trials and tribulations, most people still hold him in high regard in spite of recent political developments.
Inspired by the call of his legendary father, the late Don Alwin Rajapaksa, popularly known in politics as the ‘Brave Son of Ruhuna’, and also the co-founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), young Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa walked the ‘Well’ of the historic old Parliament in Colombo (now Presidential Secretariat) to be sworn-in as the youngest Member of Parliament after being elected at the General Election held on May 27, 1970.
Now, he is just one of two Parliamentarians to have remained as an MP for over 50 years.
The fair, lanky lad from Beliatta, hair combed sideways, sporting a thin moustache was the cynosure of all eyes that day in a Parliament that had heavyweights such as, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R.de Silva, Dr. S. A. Wickremesinghe, Pieter Kueneman, Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Lakshman Jayakody in the ruling party, with Dudley Senanayake, J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa occupying the front benches in the then Opposition.
In that long walk from 1970, the charismatic Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political history is indeed remarkable. It had its twists and turns, its backward and forward movements which often took many by surprise.
He made many long-lasting decisions along the way – some correct, some wrong. The late D.A. Rajapaksa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa join the elite band of fathers and sons in politics who earned the respect and love of the Governments, the Opposition and the people of the post Independence era.
His brother Gotabaya also became President, though various circumstances and an acute economic crisis led to his early resignation last year.
Mahinda pursued the political philosophy he believed with courage and determination. In him was a man who preferred his father’s footsteps, which trod among the people in poor villages.
His unswerving loyalty to his political party, love for his Motherland and respect for true leaders cleared all and the many obstacles that were placed in his pathway by opponents within and outside.
The first political leader who foresaw a bright future for young Mahinda Rajapaksa was none other than the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, Junius Richard Jayewardene who was then an Opposition MP when the late Dudley Senanayake was Opposition Leader.
Admiring the presence of the youngest MP Mahinda Rajapaksa in the House, J.R. Jayewardene while walking on the corridors in Parliament to lunch, stopped to inquire from Felix Dias Bandaranaike whether Mahinda was the eldest son of D.A. Rajapaksa. Felix replied, “No Sir, the small chap is the second of DA”.
Snapped JRJ: “I can observe that the young chap looks to be heading towards a long and successful journey in politics”.
True to JR’s prediction, Mahinda Rajapaksa has travelled a long way to occupy the highest office in the land created by J.R. Jayewardene in 1978. He won back to back Presidential Elections in 2005 and 2010 and was defeated in 2015.
The success story of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political journey brings to mind a noteworthy quotation from A. Huxley who said – ‘All authority belongs to the people’. A lawyer by profession, former President Rajapaksa from the time he was a young politician fought against any injustice caused to mankind. Even as a schoolboy Mahinda was ever popular for his bravery and forthright conduct.
But, he possessed a character of patience and understanding. In a period where terror reigned both the North and the South, Mahinda Rajapaksa rose from the Opposition benches to quote Henry Clay to remind that ‘a Government was only a Trust and the Officers of the Government were only Trustees and that both the Trust and the Trustees have been created for the benefit of the people’.
The well read late A.C.S. Hameed, the then Foreign Minister responded in the following manner – “Yes I fully endorse and agree with your fine quotation from Henry Clay but the Rulers have failed to realise the value of those great sayings made 160 years ago”.
Mahinda Rajapaksa always led his political life in the belief that all authority belonged to the people as in the words of Huxley. Though he hailed from a moderate Walauwwa in the Deep South, he moved and mixed with the common man.
Though he hailed from an affluent family in the South, Mahinda Rajapaksa never boasted about his progeny and clan which had a band of reputed politicians. It was these vibrant qualities that helped him to free this nation from the blight of terrorist violence after three decades that brought dark clouds over the nation.
Battle against terror
The experience he gained in a long political journey made him a strong leader and a President loved and admired by all citizens for his battle against terror. He did not fear the impossible.
He has inherited a mellifluous smile that could even turn the enemy into a friend. He does not fear to tread on paths where even angels fear to tread.
The victory over LTTE terrorism is ample testimony to that effect. Unholy elements could never stand in his way. He went ahead with the campaign against terror even as many foreign countries warned him not to.
Only he could give leadership to a nascent political movement – the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna – and make it victorious in just 18 months. He was somewhat upset that Gotabaya did not listen to his advice on certain occasions, for example on the organic fertiliser issue, which became the foundation for the latter’s ouster last year. In the political turmoil that ensued, Mahinda too resigned as Prime Minister.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the astute politician, leader and former President has inherited noble and gentle qualities from his late father D.A. Rajapaksa and is well aware of vagaries in all types of political ideologies to meet any challenge.
He has already proved his leadership qualities to the nation and the people. Today, he stands as the only leader in the world who had eliminated the menace of terrorism from the land that he once ruled.
Despite some failings and wrong turns, history will record Mahinda Rajapaksa as a great humanist and a political titan in the annals of post-independence politics of Sri Lanka.