By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
While obviously the current mess in the country is exceptionally bad, the rot has been going on for a very long time. This was vividly reminded when I invited an African friend to my house for dinner who had served in Geneva in 2009 and had been a strong supporter when we were attacked by several Western countries. He said it had seemed the high point of Sri Lankan diplomacy as he saw us now lower than we had ever been.
What went wrong?
I have often observed that the rot started almost immediately when Mahinda Rajapaksa fired Dayan and replaced him with someone who totally ignored the coalition he had built to defend us. But I did not explore the reasons for this dismissal closely as it was obvious that Mahinda was being pressured by many of those he relied on more foolishly than he had on Dayan given the internationalization that had taken place, the exact responsibility of those involved seemed beyond precise comprehension.
Dayan himself was convinced that Gota was the driving force behind the dismissal. He felt then that Gota was a disaster, a feeling from which he has not deviated since, while I was not convinced. It struck me as sad that when in 2007 we both thought Gota was by far the more capable of the brothers and we had in fact discussed the possibility of Basil positioning himself as successor instead, two years later, Dayan considered them both equally incapable. of statesmanship.
Ironically, die-hard nationalists accused Dayan of pushing Mahinda into leniency towards the Indians, when in fact it was Gota and Basil who, along with Lalith Weeratunge, signed an agreement with India before the final victory. of the war. It was totally shameful that none of them later clarified that Dayan was not responsible for this; nor was he responsible for the communiqué issued by Mahinda with Ban ki Moon just before the extraordinary session in Geneva.
Indeed, only Dayan and I saw that commitment to address concerns about the war that Mahinda had waged could lead to problems while Prasad Kariyawasam, who subsequently managed to win the favor of all regimes, assured that this was not the case. Dayan was tasked with using this release which contributed to Sri Lanka’s huge victory in Geneva. Unfortunately, neither Dayan nor I ever thought that Mahinda would be happy with this agreement, only creating a Commission after a desperate Ban ki Moon created his own and then failed to follow through on its recommendations. And this, although CR de Silva presented them in a way that would have allowed us to shed the sword of Damocles that has hung over us for a decade.
What was wrong with Mahinda? Why did he embitter not only Ban ki Moon, but also the Indians who had supported us so strongly during the war? Why did the accomplished politician give in to those who did not understand international realities, nor the economic problems that would arise if we alienated all of our major trading partners?
Dayan had told me long before this happened about what he described as the Brotherhood, extremists loyal to Gota who thought they could learn from Israel – who were very bitter about Dayan and almost had him fired three months earlier, a disaster that was fortunately averted, otherwise the West would have stopped us in our tracks by resolutions in Geneva before the end of the war. But then Israel was assured that Dayan would be fired after the war was over, and that is what happened.
At this point, I must add that one of the main factors that has contributed to our relentless decline since then is the fact that hardly anyone in leadership positions dares to criticize the decisions made at the top. I was the only one who had worked with Dayan who spoke to him after what was considered his disgrace. The other exception was Mahinda himself, who made a big fuss of him when he finally returned to Sri Lanka, and said that when Dayan mentioned how he was ignored, it would of course have been done by those who had treated him so badly.
When I urged Mahinda to use Dayan more, he appointed him to Paris, but he failed to defend him against persecution by those who were then in charge of foreign policy, and caused us to fail. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood ensured that nothing was done for reconciliation, for the fulfillment of the vital recommendations of the LLRC and, even worse, for the maintenance of Indian support.
I think Mahinda didn’t know what was going on because he sometimes said things that suggested he had no idea the establishment was bent on avoiding reconciliation initiatives. And, after the first debacle in Geneva, he made sure there was an action plan on the recommendations of the LLRC. But then he relapsed into lethargy and failed to follow up so that despite the best efforts of Dhara Wijayathilaka and Anura Dissanayake, vital areas were left untouched.
It is of course possible that Mahinda told me what he thought I wanted to hear and had no qualms about not reconciling. He is after all an accomplished actor. But Dayan, like me, thinks he was not responsible for the extent of the negligence, although of course he was guilty because it was after all his commitments that he was flouting, and thus endangering the country of which he was president.
Dayan has no doubt that Gota was the villain of peace, although I wasn’t so sure, because Gota told me that he asked for an early election of the Provincial Council in the north, and that is Basil who had given a contrary opinion to Mahinda. Mahinda himself told me that Gota told him not to run in an early presidential election, a Pavlovian response that presidents of the days of JR’s disastrous Third Amendment indulged in whenever they felt that their parliamentary majorities were in danger.
The bankruptcy whose seeds were sown during Mahinda’s second term as president will have to be covered in another article. But suffice it to say here, where I have focused on the political disasters that closely followed our war victory, that resorting to elections when he felt insecure of course meant that Mahinda engaged in a populism that was expensive. It was not just in terms of the money spent and the permanent unproductive jobs created, but also in terms of the huge expense that elections entail in this country, expense that is recouped through greater corruption.