14 April, 2024

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Books & Elections: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Claim Of Foreign Conspiracy

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeygoonasekera

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has well explained his own tragedy where the protagonist comprehends his insignificance. To comprehend a self-diagnosis with an insignificance is neither an act of cowardice but the opposite; this value of Gotabaya’s self-diagnosis must be appreciated.

Bombs directly impact election results in South Asia, as discussed in my book ‘Conundrum of an Island. The last major bomb attack in Sri Lanka, the Easter Sunday Terror attack, certainly altered the voter path towards restoring National Security upon the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019.

Just like bombs, Do books have a profound effect on elections? In South Asia, the newly released book ‘Why Bharat Matters” written by the Indian Foreign Minister Dr.Subramaniam Jaishankar and ‘The Conspiracy” by Sri Lankan former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa appear to be an attempt in this direction targeting the elections. Both books are different in context but nudge the same ultra-nationalistic element. Jaishankar’s book propagates ‘Hindutva’ and Indian nationalism, finding roots in Indian foreign policy connecting with the Indian mythology of Ramayana; Gotabaya’s book appeals to the sentiment of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism to lodge his claim an external foreign conspiracy ousted him. According to Gotabaya, ‘my departure has left Sinhalese and particularly Sinhalese Buddhists are being taken for granted, ignored, sidelined, downtrodden and humiliated by various foreign and local parties.’ He articulates that his loss was the nation’s Buddhist society’s loss. The same narrative was captured during an interview by this author last month in Colombo from a Sinhalese Buddhist ultra-nationalist warning: “We will soon become an Indian colony”. For South Asia, ultra-nationalism has generally paved the way for electoral victories, and perhaps the ultra-nationalist toolkit impacting five factors (see table) is sufficient to elect the next leader in India and Sri Lanka, overshadowing economic woes.

Table: Five Factors highlighted in The Conspiracy and Why Bharath Matters targeting elections

Regime Change and the US Factor

Fourteen days before the Presidential election victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on 4th November 2019, I received a letter from Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office (PMO/1/R/Misc-2019) through the Ministry of Defence, dating 30th October 2019, with a note from the Sri Lankan Secretary of Defence on possible national security threat for a regime change in Sri Lanka involving an external country. The dispatch clearly stated that the secretary required immediate attention to the subject and its attached material, consisting of hundreds of pages. With its one-track agenda, the syndicate sent the same material to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, possibly on the same day. The material was one disk with multiple files, and it was well-documented on the ‘Neoliberal agenda on Regime change’ or the Color Revolution from institutes such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). A thorough research on the entire disk was conducted at the National Security think tank (INSS), where I was heading as the Director General. This was possibly my last national security analysis and briefing before the immediate takeover by the Admiral Professor. Jayanath Collombage, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s advisor and foreign secretary, became acting Director General of the institute. After evaluating the lengthy content, I reported to the Secretary of Defence that most of it was fiction and closer to a Hollywood movie, although effective due to the well-presented documentation in a research format. There was no need for regime change at the tail end of Gotabaya’s presidential race. However, one could even speculate that Prime Minister Wickremasinghe lodged the ‘Regime Change’ before his term ended.

Fast-forward to the present day, there are three books in this regard, one of which is a well-crafted political strategy to establish and solidify the theory of ‘regime change’ carried out by the US and India. Today, it’s used to save the standing and reputation of an ousted Sri Lankan president, and I am sure it’s considerably sufficient to achieve his objective of arousing the sentiments of the ultra-nationalists in the country.

Three books on neoliberal ‘Regime Change’

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s new book ‘Conspiracy, blaming his removal on a section of the international community, “internationally sponsored regime change”, matches the dispatch I received in 2019. It is usual practice by popular autocrats to blame the work of the academic Gene Sharp’s ‘Theory of nonviolent resistance, viewed as a CIA tactical operation for regime change. Before Gotabaya’s book, there were two other similar narratives on Sri Lanka’s uprising, depicted as a neoliberal conspiracy by the West, individually targeting US and Indian Intelligence services. The first book was by Asoka Bandarage’s ‘Crisis in Sri Lanka and the World’. This book is well-crafted and full of conjectures. Asoka makes multiple references to the subject and states, ‘It is also interesting to note that the US Under Secretary for State, Victoria Nuland, known as the mastermind of the regime change in Ukraine in 2014, was in Sri Lanka in March 2022 during the protests to bring down the Rajapaksa regime’, thus letting the imagination of the reader run riot.

Further, the book points out that US establishments such as NED and individuals such as the US Ambassador Julie Chung were part of the regime change conspiracy. With the initial academic conspiracy theory, this book influenced the second book “Nine; The Hidden Story” by a Parliamentarian in Sri Lanka, Wimal Weerawansa, now even translated into Russian. Some of Asoka’s work was borrowed by Wimal Weerawansa, who crafted a politically hyped-up fiction, integrating the concocted academic jargon from the first book. The third book by Gotabaya is in the same direction, seeing his dismissal as a targeted conspiracy by the West.

Patriot vs Traitor

In Sri Lanka’s political history, Gotabaya was the first Sri Lankan president to have prior dual citizenship. He has attempted to fast-track to renounce his US citizenship through his attorney, Ali Sabri, who became the Foreign Minister. At that time of the presidential race, the US gambled on Gotabaya’s commitment and support towards US policy. What materialised was something unexpected as his trusted advisors wanted “an equidistant policy” with all the big powers, thus a tilt in the foreign policy towards China, a setback and if not a betrayal to the US and India. Gotabaya’s China tilt was captured with considerable research evidence in my book ‘The Teardrop Diplomacy(2023)’; however, the considered view was that the protest resulting in the virtual deposition commenced with an organic citizen-led movement with no sign of an external regime change. There are no hard facts to prove the external regime change factor. The unpopular domestic policies and decision-making impacting the economy and people’s daily lives motivated the protests, and the majority of protesters were “Sinhala Buddhists” who voted him into office with much expectation. Therefore, his wooing that part of the society in his book is very ironic.

Gotabaya is pitching this book months before the next presidential race to lodge the idea to his perceived voter base, the Sinhalese Buddhists. The Rajapaksa family has a clear track record in winning the majoritarian ultra-nationalist voter base by creating the ‘external interference’ of a ‘national security’ threat narrative during prior elections. What stands against them is the newly found momentum of the youth and a section of the middle-aged rejecting the old guard. Meanwhile, another Rajapaksa brother, Basil Rajapaksa, a US citizen, has returned from the US to strategise the campaign with the present government. Basil detaches himself from the book; overall, the credibility of marketing a regime change conspiracy will have less political currency due to the magnitude of domestic political blunders. The danger is that the fictitious propaganda will further polarise society into choosing patriots who would protect the motherland and traitors who would stand against them based on the ethnicity and religion of the individual. Again, a narrative familiar to Rajapaksa rule.

*Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is the Executive Director of the South Asia Foresight Network (SAFN) in Washington DC. @AsangaAbey

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Latest comments

  • 56
    1

    Now that our politicians are smart it’s time, for writing books. I believe other than conspiracy stories, Ranil released a political cartoon book ( not his, but blessed ) and one more on Sirimao’s policies ,all in a short span. Basil says Namal bought and read , but not him. Did , ” mother of all Kapputa’s ” read ????”. Very funny, what’s there to read when all were together in bankrupting the country. Cabral already wrote on ” how I managed to bankrupt the SB nation “. Now Gotha ” how to escape after bankrupting”, what’s next ??? anyone.

    • 25
      1

      If interested see Basil’s interview with the DM. Some funny snippets, 1) the mere fact that we received an overwhelming SB majority turned out to be a curse. (It did help immensely in past to amend laws / constitution, corruption, withdraw all open cases . . . ) 2) When ever a govt gets absolute majority anywhere , it collapses sooner than expected. ( Basil’s new hypothesis , only applicable to SB Lanka ) 3) the more the members you have the greater the problem you get .( read as non family members. what happened to Hitler, who said whatever comes out my orifice is to be considered as orders ) 4) what happened at the end is concentration of too much power ( what ??? say again , never complained before ) Didn’t the family have total control over ministry and budget .

      • 11
        1

        Here are some more, 5) I did not bother to find a copy or read. No one offered me one. If I get hold, I can give Namal to read. King Sirisangabo gave away everything including his children. What can I give Namal, , when I have nothing. Namal has to earn. 6) I have informed about my retirement, still I’m not allowed to quit politics (every cunning politician’s dialogue ) 7) when I met Indian PM Modi once, we discussed about palm oil cultivation. Ukraine was the major supplier of palm oil to India. He told me Lanka is one of the three best countries to grow palm oil ( how much can we produce to feed Indians ) 8) This one is the best . In the run up to the 2020 election, even the ELECTION COMMISSIONER (didn’t I say so ) asked me whether my party was going to get 2/3 majority. I told him 130 to 135 is good , because too much power is not good ( voters please take note ).

        • 9
          1

          Enough fun for today.

      • 10
        1

        Chiv, sadly hilarious snippets but words of wisdom to a substantial following that these shameless crooks still have.

      • 9
        1

        Chiv,
        Basil now claims that the turnaround from bankruptcy was his work, not Ranil’s.
        Watch from 1:55
        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RGn_PPigDu0

        • 8
          0

          old codger

          I watch the clip intermittently.
          I do not know why it reminded me the quote:
          “When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ – Louis Heren
          It is interesting to watch how he was struggling to wriggle out of interesting question from 21:41.

          Please watch this clip:
          Saudi Arabia: The Course Ahead | Davos 2024 | World Economic Forum
          The Saudi Ambassador, H.E. Reema Bin Bandar Al-Saud
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLIzlulu3PI

          I suggest nimal fernando to review our two diplomats, whose ability, wisdom and performance during their tour of duty, one was in Germany and the other was in the UK . One wanted to electronically tag every Diaspora children in order to keep them under surveillance and the other kicked a big fuss when UK Guardian published an alternative name to Sri Lanka being Eelam.

          • 5
            0

            Native,
            But don’t you think the guy deserves credit for his thick skin? Or was he so dumb that he didn’t know what was coming?

            • 7
              0

              old codger

              “Or was he so dumb that he didn’t know what was coming?”

              On the contrary, he was very confident those voters have no choice but to vote for his clan’s party, in fact he was treating the people as if they were really dump.

        • 0
          0

          LOL.

          • 1
            0

            OC, now that need for Hitler is over, Basil may be hoping a call for “next Manmohan or Bernanke / Greenspan.

      • 11
        1

        chiv

        Thanks I regret to tell you I wasted time reading his entire interview although it was meant to declare he is back and in business.

        This time he is using different tactics to garner enough support for the party by saying they made mistake. Stupid voters like this sort of sentiment. Clever voters know what he really meant. It might work as we seem not to vote intelligently.

        So this time around he has devised another ploy, which might benefit him.
        Please also note he is completely distancing himself from Gota’s rule.

        Kelum Bandara purposely didn’t ask him hard/pertinent questions as the interview was meant to ease Basil down into serious politics after his long absence from politics and country.

        • 9
          1

          OC , Native and Sugandh, agree with you’ll. Take home message for me was, Lankan politicians are so sure in taking things for granted. Even after such disastrous mess, they just have to admit without being accountable. So much so, today Rohitha questioned, if he can be elected MP why not chairman. He further challenged ” if not parliament should specify qualifications to be the chairman of COPE” . What he meant was mark sheets and not charge sheets. Democrazy at its best in SHAM Lanka.

    • 5
      0

      I think Pissu Sira is getting ready to write the next book titled ” The Easter Conspiracy , CLASSIFIED”.

      • 5
        0

        Sorry MS. Pillayan is releasing his Tamil version today , on ” Easter Conspiracy” in Batti. Too bad. Still MS can counter by getting Maulana to write the preface for his book.

  • 0
    7

    That GR takes shelter behind existence of conspiracies, should not make us reject that the US indulges in all manner of regime change mischief.

    • 0
      0

      It seems that quite a few would rather turn a blind eye to the mischief.
      But will that alter reality?

  • 9
    1

    Appreciations to the author, Abeygoonasekera, for this thought provoking and timely article.

  • 2
    0

    The good research and putting two and two together to form a conclusion, hitherto not thought of (books and elections in the third world), made me do a background check of the author. Yes! He did a wonderful job at the security studies outfit of the Ministry of Defence in Sri Lanka giving warnings of impending security disasters, which in fact happened. What reward did he get? The schemers commenced his ouster during the tail end of the Yahapalana times and implemented it in runaway Gota’s time. Good wine needs no bush, they say, and today the author holds a prestigious post in Washington DC. Food for thought Kamal Gune (Another General or a Field Marshall?), who still remains, We now can see what contribution took place during the time of an Admiral Professor (What a motley combination of titles?) and that bogus expert who was imported from the “Lion City”, who did a lot of security research with assistants at home running into late nights. Tap your conscience, Kamal. They say, Gota laments on the appointments he made. Aye! if you don’t appoint the right man for the job, you have it and Gota really got it.

  • 2
    0

    The easiest and most convincing theory to exploit to get out of “Accountability” and “Responsibility” is to say and write books, essays, and make public announcements” IT WAS A FOREIGN CONSPIRACY.

    Recently, as yesterday, the Speaker of our Parliament in reply to the “No Confidence” motion stated that there was a “Foreign Conspiracy” to insist that he take over that Government during Aragalaya.

    So any FAILURE is adduced to a “Foreign Conspiracy”. That is a National trait.

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