29 May, 2022


Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Shoots From The Hip As Well As The Lip

By Col. R. Hariharan –

Col. R. Hariharan

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother, is perhaps the most controversial personality in Sri Lanka. He is interviewer’s delight because of his forthright, no-holds barred comments are sure to be a hit.  At the same time, he is media man’s nightmare because Gotabhaya does not allow critical comments go unchallenged and makes no bones about it (pun not intended).

None can deny Sri Lanka benefited from the veteran’s return from the U.S. in 2005. He took upon the most thankless job at that time – manning the defence ministry when war looked imminent. His hands on operational experience enabled him to provide seamless connectivity between national leadership and military that had eluded his predecessors in earlier episodes of Eelam war.

Undoubtedly his sibling relationship with the President helped him in his task. Gotabhaya had the ear of the President and probably also persuaded his brother to act upon his suggestions. And this enabled him during the war to cruise through the maze of bureaucracy and ward off political interference in dealing with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that had been the bane of Sri Lanka.

Thus he was able to help President Rajapaksa achieve his goal of ending Prabhakaran’s infamous two and a half decade-long reign of insurgency and terrorism. In this task, he had the indispensible support of General Sarath Fonseka as army commander. Fonseka’s masterly execution of operations turned the war victorious, although some of his methods were questionable. Despite Gotabhaya’s estrangement with the ambitious Fonseka after the war, it was Gotabhaya who recommended his fellow Gajaba Regiment-mate Fonseka to head the army. And it was he who recommended the extension of the General’s tenure by one more year. Apparently blood proved thicker than military camaraderie when Fonseka chose to contest for presidency; Gotabhaya joined in the government’s orchestrated campaign to malign the General contribution to the military victory.

While Gotabhaya’s role was clear and well defined during the war, it has become increasingly hazy after the war. He has his own opinions on almost all issues handled by the government and he does not mind airing them loud and clear. Quite frequently, his opinions seem to prevail though they are at times in variance with government’s views.

His abrasive comments often go against government’s carefully articulated explanations full of political and diplomatic cliché. We can attribute this to his military service; old soldiers tend to speak their mind loudly without bothering about Chatham Hall rules. So Gotabhaya’s acerbic comments leave a lot of red faces as government representatives have to assuage ruffled feelings.

What makes Gotabhaya tick? Is it his sibling relationship with the President? Is it his old army habit of shooting from the hip and getting away with it? Or is he simply relishing the exercise of power in controlling the entire decision making process of national defence machinery? Probably a combination of all these make Gotabhaya’s role in policy and decision making process in Sri Lanka an unchallenged and extraordinary one.

And his strong-willed personality helps him to have his way. This comes out clearly when he said: “I am totally committed, I know what needs to be achieved and I work towards those objectives” in an interview on the eve of the last Victory Day. Its significance lies in the absence of any reference to national goals or objectives in his statement makes, though he does refer to them elsewhere in the interview. And it does not reflect humility as his strong point.

When he assumed office as defence secretary Public Security, which covered all aspects of non-military security, including policing and paramilitary activities, was clubbed with Defence. As the Emergency and the Prevention of Terrorism Act were then in place, probably it suited to have both defence and public security departments function under the defence secretary for real time coordination.

At the same time, it enabled the defence secretary wield enormous power. And naturally Gotabhaya’s name was either directly or indirectly linked to a number of aberrations of law enforcement (and non enforcement) including ‘white van abductions’, random killings and police excess under the garb of PTA. This led to a lot of hue and cry from the media and opposition politicians against the defence secretary. Though Gotabhaya dissociated himself from such extra legal activities, he came out with hammer and tongs against his detractors in the media. He had no illusions about what is responsible press – it is the one that does not question his intent or action.
So it is not surprising the Wikipedia entry on Gotabhaya lists a whole series of controversies linked to him. The impressive but unsavoury list includes the arrest of Karuna, former LTTE commander, in Britain for entering with a false diplomatic passport in September 2007; threatening journalists on several occasions (including telling two journalists of the state-owned Lake House publications to stop criticising armed forces “what will happen to you is beyond my control”!); alleged call to the editor of Daily Mirror and threatening her; and threatening to ‘exterminate’ another Daily Mirror journalist for writing articles about the plight of civilian war casualties. Of course, Gotabhaya has denied these allegations. Yet they seem to keep on piling up in the post war period despite routine denials.

When I read through his speeches and interviews, Gotabhaya comes out as an articulate, street-smart and politically savvy personality. Though he has repeatedly claimed his lack of intent to join politics, probably a change of mind would come into play in aid of his brother when a political contingency arises. That makes him an important personality of Sri Lanka in the future as well.

Disturbing dimensions

Having seen his ideas and operational style succeed during the war, Gotabhaya has apparently decided to play a role he thinks fit in the post war period as well. His strong influence (it is more than clout) was brought to bear upon making structural changes in the government. Usually, this is a privilege zealously guarded by political leaders. But Gotabhaya has shown even bureaucrats can poach into political pastures. And that is not going to set a precedent, because Gotabhaya is more than a bureaucrat and above a politician. And he enjoys this unique privilege with his brother’s blessings from the top.

Given this environment, Gotabhya’s unchecked freedom to operate has two disturbing dimensions. One is his attitude to Tamil minorities’ woes that does not give credence to President Rajapaksa’s repeated assurance that he would do justice to Tamils. The other is his penchant to involve troops increasingly in civilian tasks.

On Gotabhaya’s attitude to Tamils, suffice to quote “The Hindu” – a newspaper which is generally supportive of the Sri Lanka government – editorial comment on August 16, 2011:“Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comments, made in the course of an interview to Headlines Today television, reveal a troubling contempt for the Tamil minority. He has trashed ‘the political solution talk,’ asserting, among other things, that it was ‘simply irrelevant’ because ‘we have ended this terrorism in Sri Lanka,’ making the egregious assertion that when the 13th Amendment was being drafted, ‘the government of Sri Lanka was not involved,’ and proposing that with the LTTE ‘gone,’ there was no further need to amend the Constitution. President Rajapaksa would be well advised to distance himself swiftly from his brother’s stream-of-consciousness on sensitive issues that are not his business. This includes an outrageous comment that because a Tamil woman, an ‘LTTE cadre’ who was a British national, interviewed in the Channel 4 documentary was ‘so attractive’ but had been neither raped nor killed by Sri Lankan soldiers, the allegation of sexual assault by soldiers could not be true. For this statement alone, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be taken to task for ill conceived comments.” Of course nobody seems to have taken him to task; so it is not surprising that Sri Lanka government is dragging its feet over the ethnic reconciliation process.

Gotabhaya’s concept on employment of troops in peace time appears questionable. During the last three years after the Eelam War, armed forces excelled themselves in military tasks like mine clearance, handling of prisoners of war and handling, assistance in reconstruction activities to help war affected civilians, establishment of military cantonments etc. However, things changed after urban development became the passion of Gotabhaya. So Urban Development, an activity not connected with Defence – except perhaps in military governments – was added to the Defence Ministry.

There is no doubt this was done because Gotabhaya wanted to clean up the mess Colombo had become after the Colombo Municipal Corporation spent more time on backroom politics than civic affairs. And he did clean up – not hesitating to use troops to clear the garbage. But he did not stop there.

With a determination largely absent in the bureaucracy in the post war period, Gotabhaya now appears to be working to involve the military in as many civilian tasks as possible. Under his stewardship they are now into activities like selling vegetables, running a dairy farm which plans to import a few thousand cows to supply milk to the people, clearing of drains and operating air service to Jaffna.

They are also involved in some other questionable activities like the use of troops in breaking up protest demonstrations, military intelligence personnel snooping into civilian lives, and unsavoury association of senior officers with some of the political bigwigs. Military officers’ names have been dragged into a few other activities bordering on the illegal like kidnapping.

History is full of examples of political repercussions of prolonged use of troops outside the military domain in democracies. In South Asia itself two such examples are Pakistan and Bangladesh; in Bangladesh political consciousness asserted to push the military from the seat of power while in Pakistan democracy is still compelled to dance to the military tune.

The real danger of employing troops in civilian tasks in peace time is the miliarisation of mind both among the troops and the public. Militarisation of mind is a slow and insidious process when armed forces are increasingly involved, wittingly or otherwise, in civilian tasks. This is what happened in Pakistan when its large professional army believed it could perform better than what civilians did including running the government. Burma is yet another example where the army invited to bring in stability stayed on because it thought civilians were no good to govern themselves. In both the countries people are paying the price with the army controlling the vehicles of governance and democracy.

Perhaps Gotabhaya’s grooming as an infantry officer, and two decades of meritorious performance in frontline operations against the Tamil Tigers, has made him shoot from the hip as well as the lip. Whatever be the reason, he is playing a role larger than his modest one as Secretary for Defence in peacetime. President Rajapaksa who is the commander in chief of all forces, also has the defence portfolio under him. This makes Gotabhaya the most powerful man in Sri Lanka next only to the President. So it is not surprising that many in the opposition see him as a loose cannon firing at will, beyond the reach of parliament.

While there is no indication of armed forces usurping civilian power, there is an urgent need for a system of checks and balances in their employment in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a mature democracy, despite its ‘democratic’ aberration in resolving the longstanding ethnic dissonance. So we can expect the country not allow unchecked application of military power for prolonged periods. If timely action is not taken, then it will be a sad day for the people.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Colpnel Hriharan,

    We deny that,and
    Sri Lanka not benefited from the so called veteran’s return from the U.S.
    He ran away from sri lanka for green pastures to earn a living.

    We could have won the war earlier, and it was so close to win,
    if the Indians not interfere on our war affairs, not poking Indian’s nose in to our war operations.
    even dumping date expired Mysoor Dhal on Tamils, when the half of the Indian were staving.
    It is that simple to understand these Indians obstructionism of all the avenue to war and peace in the region.

    [and for that,they paid dearly with the life of then prime minister’ Rajive’s ]

    and still continuing to do so

    • 0

      India finished the war for SL in 2009,whether you like it or not it is a fact,it diverted all the diplomatic pressure on SL to its own shoulder, provided military hardware and intelligence but the previous Indian Govt rejected any help to SL,then came Congress and took the opposite policy and help finish the war.

      • 0

        Indian central govt is CHICKEN with respect to Sri Lankan issues and it is the Tamilnadu govt which takes all the decisions. Indian govt did not give any offensive weapons even after 2006 to defeat LTTE. But, Sri Lanka defeated LTTE, other wise, could have resulted Tamilnadu to breakaway from India.

    • 0

      Thats why some of you SL has no idea regarding India. First of all ask your Gotabhayas and Rajapakses who provided them satellite imagery, reconnaissance images etc? Go ask first before you open your big mouth. Ask about the hardware supplied. Does your Rajapakse open his mouth against India? He cant. My friend you guys are so foolish to create a monster in your backyard and its very difficult to escape. If Pirabhakaran was a monster, then the Rajapakse clan has more than 10 monsters in waiting to squeeze the last bit of blood from you Sri Lankans. Very soon he will sell you and your family to the chinese. No one can help you my friend, no one. So open your mouth when its necessary, not now.

      • 0

        Reply to J +B
        We Dont Want to have regards to bloody Indians.
        they made this soup. because they were afraid that our country becoming another Singapore.

        Indians want to find markets for their economy.

        Dont you See Now, how the Malaysians depend on Singapore
        What military hardware and intelligence.

        They installed dilapidated radar station removed from Kerala.
        They Gave So many Arms and ammunition to Ltte and Other Stooges.

        our boys did marvelous job in side the LTTE teretory.
        With out any body’s help.
        Let The Raw learn intelligence tactics from our boys.
        Once their intelligence and IPKF bogged down with LTTE at Jaffna university.

        They only know how to bribe politicos. Ilegle arm supply to Separatists and terrorist,to destroy surrounding countries
        Dont tell all those humbugs to us,

        Tell Those Lies To hair knotted Chinese.

        • 0

          Under mention is an extract from C T published today.
          Do you have any knowlaedge of that.
          Dont try to enlighten us on our affairs, we know what and that in our turf.

          you can read full letter on C T.

          The Mass Graves Of Kashmir
          July 10, 2012 | Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,From Foreign Media | Posted by: COLOMBO_TELEGRAPH

          By Cathy Scott-Clark –

          For 22 years this contested region has endured a regime of torture and disappeared civilians. Now a local laywer is discovering their unmarked graves and challenging India’s abuses

          Imroz and his team redoubled their efforts, spreading their net across 55 villages in three districts, Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara. An ad-hoc inquiry run by volunteers and funded by donations saw the number of unmarked and mass graves mapped rise to 2,700. Inside them were 2,943 bodies; 80% of them unidentified. “These were hellish images from a war that no one has ever reported,” said Imroz. “We suspected this to be prima-facie evidence of war crimes,” he added. “Who are the dead, how did they die, in whose hands and who interred them?”

  • 0

    Nothing new here and these these ex-military commentators like Hariharan who like to hear themselves talk, pump up theirs and their colleagues activities endlessly to show how important they and the military are!
    The fact is that Gota the white van goon is Sri Lanka’s BIGGEST SECURITY THREAT at this time. He does not understand the notion of human security or reconciliation and like his brothers is quite uneducated and does not have a basic university degree. Only and IT certificate!
    As for the “great war victory”: Lanka is a tiny island and it was not hard to defeat a terror group like LTTE on such a small piece of land. The Lanka effort let by Gen Fonseka was also helped by the global war on terror in Af-pak. It was just that gota the white van goon was a the right place at the right time to help defeat the LTTE which had over-stretched itself.
    The guy needs a war crimes trial nothing more or less and is a grave danger to Lanka – the people and democracy at this time.

    • 0

      well said. Well said.

  • 0

    Sri Lanka NEVER benefited from Gotabaya returning to Sri Lanka. It is just the opposite – Gotabaya and his brothers and the nephews have become a curse to Sri Lanka. Yes, a REAL CURSE.
    At the height of the war, he left the country. Then he came back and he became just another Secretary of a Ministry. Only difference is that he is a brother of the Devil, which makes him a devil as well. He is raw filth blasted a reporter. In that interview, he openly says he can do what he wants, he says he has no respect for the courts. This is the cursed family. I pray and hope they will vanish from our country and NEVER ever return.

    • 0

      jelous caused cancer

    • 0

      Agreed! These Rajapakse brothers have benefited from and looted and bankrupt Lanka. This Indian Col. should stop talking nonsense.. Gota and Basil were petrol pump attendants in Calilfonia and now they run around in military convoys and live in palaces. Mr ten percent has lots of Swiss bank accounts. They all fear the people.
      The Rajapkse brothers have not brought any benefit to Lanka – aside from defeat of LTTE – which was as big a curse as they are. Now that the first curse the LTTE has been gotten rid of, its time to get rid of the second curse the Rajapakse criminals from Hambantota who think that they now own Colombo 7! However, they also know that they will NEVER be accepted in the city and hence drive around with huge military convoys pushing residents of the streets while making a huge racket! They are paranoid and fear the people and hide from them in their convoys and are scared to go anywhere without security – 3 years after war. Time for an EXIT STRATEGY for Rajapakse.

  • 0

    Has the Parliament no powers to summon him to explain his statement
    “to hell with the Courts..” whilst being a Public Servant? Is theree
    no MP with a back-bone to nip the bud to Dictatorial Statments that
    effect GOSL reputation locally?

    • 0

      IT\ts contempt of courts, but then the courts under Shiranee and the Rajapakse dictatorship are contemptible!

  • 0

    …..A Sinhalese friend of mine told me that the vast majority of Sinhalese would not mind even if the R’pakse brothers steal 75% of the national wealth because they eliminated the LTTE…….hence Buddhadasa et al would have to learn to eat shit to be able to live with GOTA for many, many years to come….

  • 0

    Good Sir,
    None of our journalists comment on your sojourns in Kashmir or elsewhere in Bharath. So please let us fix our own problems.
    The Col. shot his mouth for a silly pup…….Now does our press talk about Sonia Gandhi robbing your antiques to be auctioned at Sotheby’s. Kamma and Dhamma has a way of punishing the guilty. It takes time….but it is sure. The article is well written and its comments well taken.

  • 0

    Except for Vipula Amerasekera’ blatant nonsense, this block of comments on Hariharan’s attempt at journalistic sleight of hand is among the most admirable that has seen the light of day in this web publication.

    What is coming is not a clash of the titans but a clash of the MEGALOMANIACS when the Rajapaksas start squabbling over the (diminishing) spoils!

  • 0


    We saw the indian military capabilities live on the day of the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. Believe me our civil defense personal (Gramarakshakaya)are better equipped to handle such situation than Indian Elite Commandos( they looked a bunch of Jokers on that day).

    • 0

      Mr Sena,

      that is what I told,him their humiliation defeat from Ltte on IPKF Commando attack at the jaffna.
      these Indians are trained to do only shoot at lame ducks.

      I have 11 years experience with those dual tongue under-cutters.

  • 0

    Gen Fonseka wasn’t in the Gajabas as Col Hariharan claims. He was Sinha Rifles. Gotabhaya also was in the Sinha Rifles early in his career before he moved to the Rajarata Rifles, and then the Gajabas.

  • 0

    These fellows like Hariharan are nothing but Indian RAW agents trying to pretend they are political commentators. Your RAW loin cloth is very visible, Mr Haiharan.

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