18 September, 2019

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The Author On Gota’s War

By Maryam Azwer – Sunday Leader –

Gota’s War, a book on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and the end of the LTTE, has been the centre of attention since its release on Monday. With some praising the author’s efforts at compiling and narrating these events, and others questioning why the book focuses exclusively on the role played by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
In an interview with The Sunday Leader, author and Divaina columnist C. A. Chandraprema discussed the reasons behind writing this book, his choice of the title, and some of the responses to Gota’s War.

Mahinda, Gota and the author

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What motivated you to write this book? 
A: Motivation comes in different ways. When I wrote about the JVP insurrection in 1990, that too didn’t occur to me on its own. It was just my editor who said to me, write two or three articles about this. So I started, and it became fifty two articles, and it became a book. So that’s how things happen. I suppose every writer has his own story about how he started writing something. Here, I have to say that it was
Kumar Rupesinghe. He kept prodding, over a period of time. He first made the suggestion, and it took me more than a year to get started on it.

Q: So this was not a long-term plan of yours?
A: No, it was not planned at all. In fact, the reason why I was hesitant was that these military things never really interested me… certainly the war was important, no doubt, but I never really considered myself a defence correspondent. I just left that to the defence correspondents, and I’m a political correspondent, I do my thing.

Q: In writing this book, were you at any point, approached by Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, or the President?
A: Absolutely not.

Q: You have however interviewed a lot of people, including Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, especially for this book – who else have you spoken to, in writing the book?
A: Well, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa and Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa, from the family side. Then, Mangala Samaraweera, Anuruddha Ratwatte of course, a lot of the Tamil politicians, including Kumaran Pathmanathan, Douglas [Devananda], Siddharthan and Varadaraja Perumal. Varadaraja Perumal is a virtual walking library. He is the most senior of the surviving Tamil militant leaders, so he has been in it from the very early seventies.

Q: And what was their response, when you approached them, about this book?
A: Well, they are my friends, I have known them over a period of time.

Q: Why “Gota’s War?” You said previously that it was a book that encompassed the entire conflict…
A: It’s a very simple thing. You take the second JVP insurrection, without Ranjan Wijeratne, nothing would have happened. Same here. Without Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, nothing would have happened. That is because, you know, the political authority can make a decision, but it has to be translated into action on the ground, and that whole process has to be co-ordinated. For example, it was Ranjan Wijeratne who acted as the interface between the military and the political authority. Here also, it is Gotabhaya   Rajapaksa who acted as the “interface between the military and the political authority. Of course, he had the  advantage of being the president’s brother, so that puts him in proximity to the political authority and that certainly helped and facilitated the whole thing as well.

Q: So even before you wrote the book, had you already decided that you were going to write about the war, with Mr. Rajapaksa’s role in mind?

A: Well, it’s like this, I had the title in my mind, even before I started it… because it was so obvious to me, that he played a central role in translating the decision into action. Now that is very important – remember that he doesn’t make the decision. The decision is made by the president finally, and of course the cabinet.

Q: The book actually seems semi-biographical, when, for instance at the beginning, you have on one hand described historical events, and on the other you describe how Gotabhaya Rajapaksa first entered the army…
A: Yeah, that was for a very specific purpose – to show what the army, or the military, was like those days. You have to start at that, because it was definitely not a combat-trained army, and Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was one person who had a ringside view, and ringside participation of course, because he was the deputy to Vijaya Wimalaratne.
You can say he is General Wimalaratne’s principal golaya, because [Gota] took over the Gajaba regiment, when Vijaya Wimalaratne was promoted as Brigadier.
So he had a ringside view, and he was a participant in all those things that General Wimalaratne did to modernize and retrain the army and make it a fighting force…the ups and downs, how they changed strategies, why certain things failed, the entire history of that is also… I think that by bringing out the details of Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s early years in the army, that part of it has been adequately covered… and don’t forget that I have used the Rajapaksa family also as an anchor, because they were in politics from the beginning of this thing.

Q: At the beginning of the book, you have also mentioned that a lot of literature about the war has been based on ‘half-truths and misunderstandings’…
A: Yes. I think the problem is, people have been plugging political lines in, when talking about the war. Even in delving back into the past, there has not been an honest discussion about what really happened.
Why did some people make certain decisions? Were those decisions justified when you take the whole picture into account? Those are the important questions that have to be asked, which is why, in the first ten or fifteen chapters, it’s true that I have talked about the early days of the army… but also I have dealt with the political aspect of it.
Going right back, because in the army there was no point in going further back, I just started with the early seventies. Even if you go further back, it’s still more of the same.
Whereas in politics it was different. That is why I started right from ’56. I feel that we have been less than honest, and I would be very happy if the points that I have raised in this book [are taken up], because this is based on research, I have looked at the news reports of that era. I have read the resolutions of the ITAK, which tend to be ignored – not ignored, I think it’s suppressed – and as I have said in the introduction, these are the missing links in this whole story. So my appeal is this: let’s look at the whole picture for once, instead of just looking at parts of it, and get this politicization out of it.

Q: And do you think your book has done that?
A: I think so. Especially when it comes to what went wrong, where it started… let’s get the politicization out. I hope that when the Parliamentary Select Committee meets, that they will take the whole picture into account, without reiterating old prejudices, and ancient conventional wisdom which is not based on fact.
Of course, I recognize the fact that you need leaders who are capable of taking these things into consideration, not agitators. Whether we have a crop of leaders like that, on the Tamil side and the Sinhala side, is yet to be seen… All that people like us can do is to present this to the public and if they feel that it is not reasonable, I’m willing to listen… I’m willing to talk to them.

Q: But even in your account, at the beginning, there is a certain amount of opinion, in terms of what you’ve said about the ITAK, the satyagrahas etc, so do you still feel that this is opening up room for honest discussion?
A: Opinion? Well I have expressed my opinions of course, but also it’s all facts.
It’s not just myself who has expressed such opinions, I have quoted other people, like Senator Nadesan, who has said much the same thing. Obviously, he saw where things were heading, in 1957 itself. So I suppose, you compare my opinions, with that of Mr. Nadesan’s, to what extent will it differ?

Q: After the launch of your book, there have been some news reports, claiming that you’ve criticized India’s role in this. What do you have to say about that?

A: I haven’t criticized anybody’s role. All that I’ve put down here, is what happened… this is the problem, I a  lmost 100% sure that most of these people who have been writing, they have not read the book. This book is 520 pages long, and if somebody tells me that they have read it in two days, I am not going to believe them. Most of the comments that have been coming, the ones that you have referred to, are obviously without having read the book.

Q: There was also an issue with the book’s sub-title – “The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka”. Mr. Sumanthiran [of the TNA] brought this up in parliament, and criticized the language used here…
A: That is just a typical way of trying to politicize this whole thing, because ‘Tamil Tigers’ is the standard term used to describe the LTTE by almost all foreign media organizations. You go to the BBC, the CNN, if I remember correctly, even the Channel 4 video clips – they are always referred to as the Tamil Tigers.

Q: Now that the book has been launched, personally what kind of response have you received?
A: Well the people who have spoken to me, it has been overwhelmingly positive, on all sides. I think some people seem to have been surprised… I don’t know what they were expecting, because I have been writing about the war and some people probably expected that General [Sarath] Fonseka would be obliterated from the whole scene, as if he never existed…

Q: But you have made references to him…
A: Yes, at the very beginning, at the very end. In fact there were only three army photographs – he appears in two of them. But of course, I don’t buy these exaggerated claims, by politicians, for their convenience when they say, oh, it is Sarath Fonseka who did the war and nobody else had anything to do with it.

Q: Did you speak to Sarath Fonseka, when writing this book? 
A: No, he is in jail, I have no access to him, but I have spoken to people who knew him well, and officers who worked under him. And whatever I heard, has been included in this book.

Q: With regard to the end of the war, there have been rumours and speculation about what really happened, so how have you managed to wrap it up?
A: That was not too difficult. I spoke to the people who were on the spot. It’s through them that I got the details. I would have used the newspapers to verify the dates. Some officers have maintained diaries, but many of them haven’t, so it was mainly from memory. I had to corroborate that with news reports, to ensure that the dates they had mentioned were correct.

Q: Do you feel that this book is an unbiased account, overall?
A: This is my presentation to the world. I suppose I leave it to the reader. I don’t want to say whether it is unbiased or whatever, but let the reader judge, and above all, may the reader cross check what I have said, particularly on politics… I would very much like to discuss it further, if somebody feels that what I have said is not accurate.

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Latest comments

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    “Tamil Tigers” convey a different meaning from “Tamil Tiger Terrorists”
    That was Sumanthiran’s point. When you bring in the Tamil element into the equation, you are, by design, bringing in the racial factor. If CAC wanted to avoid painting all Tamils with the same brush, he could have used the term Tigers or even Tiger terrorists although one must recgonise the SL armed forces were practising terrorism too in a larger way because they were far larger in number.

    The brutal truth is if you want to “market” anything to the poisoned Sinhala mass pysche the word “Tamil” should be there. The post-1956 generation is now in its own 2nd tier – brought up in a heavy diet of
    anti-Tamil venom. The challenge of the future – even if one assumes there are in the South many who want genuine reconcilitation – is to overcome this toxic prejudice. That will take time – a long time.

    Senguttuvan

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      All Tamils fight for freedom. So all Tamils fight. LTTE are not Chinese not Burghers or Turks. They are Tamils for Thamil Eelaam. I am proud. Why not you? We have the best suicide bombers even better than Afghanis.

      Harohara!

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    This so-called journalist who has forgotten that the first principle of the profession is to “speak truth to Power” is a disgrace to the profession!
    Sucking up to Gotabaya, who does not have any tertiary education or a basic degree, like his brother, Basil, tweedle dum, but these two – Tweedle dee and tweedle dum, presidential sybllings who worked as petrol pump attendants in the US and would be unemployed right now if MR had not won some elections in Lanka are looting and militarizing Lanka. Gota the white van goon, is the biggest obstacle to peace in Sri Lanka and should be sent to the Hague for a war crimes trial while this idiotic “journalist:” should be fired from his job for violation of professional ethics and licking the boots of a goons!

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      Your people clean toilettes in USA. petrol pumps are better my friend. Job is a job even if you mother is a prostitute you are now a strong handsome man because of her body.

      • 0
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        Gon katha kiyan nathuwa hitapan buruwo!! I think just one word can explain the real situation and thats “BAYAGOTHA”.

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      When you go overseas even to do a PhD, people will do any work for pocket money whilst you complete your mission. I do not know what part time work Gota did but in other countries, a petrol pump attendandt is a skilled job involving the management of the petrol station, including, stocks and cash etc. Also in foreign countries most university students too do this type of work and end up as leaders of big businesses, professional firms, political parties etc. Please do not degrade the value of labour, which is held in high esteem in developed nations. It is sad to see people like Neloofer displaying his/her ignorance and negative thinking whilst enjoying the peace brought to the nation by brave patriots like Gota, mahinda rajapakse and the three armed forces of the country,

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    Oh god!! who is this Sunday Leader journalist who interviewed CA? CA says ” I was hesitant was that these military things never really interested me” This journalist should have asked him about PRRA!! If he wasnt really interested military matters, how he worked with Gen Janka Perera and kill JVPers.?

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    mr editor. this is bulshit. chandrapema wrote a mook green community he is unp hencman he never wrote a artical about wanni op,, his real name is thadi priyanths this man op a group called praa. he killed so many jvp sahodarayas.. within 2year he change his colour this book i s a copy of so many other writers now he want a top job pl investigate who funded that waterage launching its kumar rupasingha

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    Isn’t this former JRJ’s Defence Secretary Dharmapala’s son? Why didn’t he write a book about his father’s part in Puma Helicopter deal from Argentina. He could interview some retired AirForce men about it.They are still around.If he send his FAx no. details could be faxed to him.

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    You Chandraprema.you will lick Gota’s butt if you get money.

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    Mr. Anonymous, that would be the Pucara Ground Attack AirCraft deal….

    By the way, I see nothing wrong in writing about a man who did wonders for the entire military and for the moron who said that Gota didnt have a degree and would be a petrol pump attendant…….Wisdon and Knowledge are two different things. It is rather apparent that you have neither !

    BTW, Gota does have a military degree. Get your facts straight before writing rubbish!

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    This interview has opened up a very good debate about Chandraprema. Whoever who has studied his involvement in local politics since 1980’s knows what he has done and written. In early 80′ when Chandraprema started his carrier as a political columnist his main rival was Dayan Jayathileka. When you do a comparison between Dayan and Chandraprema, we know what kind of political identities these two have achieved over the time . Dayan has never compromised his credibility for money or positions. He stood by his key principals and beliefs and he aggressively campaigned for those ignoring whatever the repercussions. However Chandraprema once acted as a theoretician to Ranil and today he has become a lap-dog of Rajapaksa’s. So the final analysis is Chandraprema will do the same thing to other future leaders if he is paid the correct price and he may not have much of a concern of his dignity.

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    This is a Joke.Better to read SIRIBIRIS story than this.I wonder how many plases he mentioned real hero SF’s name.THis is written to kiss gota ‘s ass.I do not whothis jorker is but this is real asskissing joke.

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    Dear Mr. Senguttuvan, You seem to have mistaken the psyche of Sinhala masses and prejudiced. Sinhala masses never consider all Tamils as terrorists, but obviously the Tamil tigers. You may recall the 83 riots & when some of the Sinhala goons were attacking innocent Tamils many Sinhala people protected them by hiding them in their houses, feeding & doing everything possible for their safety despite the risk they faced. Whilst there is a small segment of racists in any society it is wrong to consider the whole race as racists. While all Tamils are not racists there is always a small segment who will always live by racist values. It is better to be intelligent than being emotional my friend!
    I belong to the Sinhala populace by birth, but I am more a Sri Lankan like my fellow Tamil citicens in SL. Just like you I too enjoy Thosai & Wadei very much! Better to come out of the racist cocoon!

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    Has he mentioned anything about the last week of the war, the white Flag incident, where now the Gen SF is free Has he written about fabrications of cases after the war . As a matter of fact Gota’s war has still not ended, there can be a continuation of this. So you are Dhanapala’s son??

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    I still haven’t read this book,but all I can say is most of us have forgotten within three years what Defence Secretary did during the entire period from Mavilaru to Nanthikandal.Sri Lankans are extremely fortunate to have had Gotabhaya Rajapakse as the defence ssecretary at a crucial period & more importantly how he handled matters to the effect that entire military had high praise for Gota the way handled important issues, this infact was revealed by Brigadier General Shavendra Silva at a function couple of years ago.I earnestly feel that C.A.Chandrapeuma’s book is a fitting tribute to Defnce Secretary.

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    ….agreed … it was Gota who commandeered the Generals (SF Included) right and along with the quick consulting and decisions coming to him from his brother on the Chair ….. enabled us to win the war with the most ruthless terror outfit that we ever had on the planet …..
    Excellent Idea …. It was certainly the stylish Defense Secretary who had the balls to end it …. You can see how he performs currently through the UDA … he is modernizing the Country until the opponents fail to recognize our Capital & its environs …… even the Tamil owned properties at Wella look more elegant now with neat surroundings and have gone up in the real estate market…. recently Gota asked Karunanidhi to create an Eelam in South India …… Certainly, that’s the kind of Defense Secretary we need …. one with real balls …..
    Critiques of him are a waste of time …..

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    Dr. Peter Leitner has stated that Sri Lanka is the world’s greatest learning lab for Countering Terrorism (he the President Higgins Counter Terrorism Research Center, and former Professor with the National Center for Bio Defense of the George Mason University US. He is also a Senior Fellow and Professor with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies responsible for Terrorism, Intelligence, and Cyber War issues)

    Crushing and liquidating the world ruthless Terrorist organization LTTE should be studied, the political and the military strategies etc., adopted for the first time in the world by the SL all three forces.

    Mr.Gotabhaya deserved to have a book. Both Mr.Gotabaya and Gen.Fonseka should be credited of ending 30 years bloody war. The name used in the book is extremely interesting. Every Sri Lankan should read this book.

    Leel Pathirana

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    I have been living in LA for the last 28 years. To my knowledge Gota worked as a lecturer at a university.
    By the way there is Dignity of Labor in this country. No body is looked down just because of the job they do.

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