However ‘unfortunate’ the comments attributed by The Hindu to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, they are an important additional insight into the mind and motives of the man who designed and implemented Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE. As if any further insight was needed I suppose, from the man who has so notoriously dismissed the killing of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, who has nominated extra-judicial killing as the Sri Lankan answer to special forces ops (read my book), and who has now provided his own special rationale as to why women do and don’t get raped in the course of war. This is not a matter for tut-tutting, gentle diplomatic throat-clearing, or the offering of cups of tea to cloak embarrassment. Gotabaya characterizes, at least in a very critical part, the ruling oligarchy of Sri Lanka.
Hence, Gota’s remarks should not be dismissed as the foot-in-the-mouth babblings of a recalcitrant teenager, no matter how puerile, brutal, insensitive, and unhinged they might appear. Folks, the reason that Gotabaya keeps putting his sizable boot in his mouth with such apparent relish is that he can . He is not just ‘a high-ranking official’ as the Hindu says, nor some gormless, sulky youth refusing to clean his bedroom, whose minders don’t dare spank his bottom for fear that he’ll spit his dummy – he is da brudder of da Prez. He is the elder brother, a seasoned military professional brought back from the USA and given unbridled power to remake the armed forces from top to bottom in his uber competent military muscular image.
Along with his other brothers, he directly controls three-quarters of the government’s finances, the difference being that he continues to control one of the world’s largest per capita security structures – 300-450,000 army, police, intelligence, border, and paramilitary men and women. Does anybody doubt the sheer capability of Gotabaya, or the monumental weight of his gravitas? After all, he did achieve a stunning victory over a brutal organization whose very mythology led international military experts to repeatedly state that the LTTE were militarily unbeatable. Together with brothers Mahinda and Basil, he formed a remarkable triumvirate of men who almost succeeded in the relatively tidy destruction of an insurgent/terrorist force whose sheer inventiveness might have won an award in another kind of world.
The ‘almost succeeded’ bit is the reason I wrote my book, ‘The Cage.’ Allegations of crimes committed during the final months of the war – which, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean that all of Sri Lanka’s long history of criminal wrongdoing by a variety of groups and political parties has been ignored – are serious. “The Cage”, the report of the UN advisory panel, and the Channel 4 doco “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” provide an unprecedented range of evidence to suggest that an international judicial investigation is warranted. The Hindu points with dismay to Gota’s dismissing of political settlement as unnecessary now that they got the terrorists. Why be surprised? Many have conspired to conflate the awful tactics of the LTTE and the personal wickedness of its leader with the original just cause that led the Tamils to revolt against a state that failed to provide them with basic, predictable security and justice (also the story of large swathes of the Sinhalese untermenschen by the way). The logical extension, if you are of a special persuasion, is to pose the very question that Gota poses – why should we?
The story of Sri Lanka is one of leaderships that have successively failed to master the seething divisions that characterize this beautiful and squandered land (I write this advisedly, as I watch Australia’s political class diddle with my own country’s future as if it were an amusing Rubrik Cube). The Rajapaksas are only the latest manifestation of this habit of leadership, and history is yet to be written as to just how deep their roots will sink, or how long their hold will last on the popular imagination of this country which remains – no matter how deeply troubled – a democracy. What is important here is what Gota said. What makes his remarks appear so funny to outsiders is that he behaves with a kind of impolitic and revealing bluntness that seems to defy common sense. I mean, why would you confess?
But Gota is nothing if not confessional, as the first paragraph of this entry describes. During the final phase of the war, he was very candid about the bombing of hospitals, the treacherous nature of journalists who habitually published stories that contradicted the official version of truth, and the good sense inherent in the rounding-up of Tamil citizens in the capital. Read in the context of war, much of what Gota did was arguably defensible from a security point of view, at a time of national crisis. So why should we think that his latest remarks are irrational or intemperate, when they are just a reflection of what the family who controls Sri Lanka thinks? What must be understood is that these remarks personify an element of the strategic vision inherent in the destruction of the LTTE. Along with all his other stream-of-consciousness media encounters, they are an insight into alleged wartime criminal wrongdoing and issues of intent, and into post-war social arrangements.
Gota’s remarks are entirely rational. The Hindu got it wrong: Gota is not the out-of-control brother. He’s entirely in control.