By Darshanie Ratnawalli –
“Salagama? Certainly not”, Sumangala Thera of the Sugatha-Dakshinaramaya temple in Skelton Road refutes my speculation about Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s caste as authoritatively as only a Buddhist monk hailing from Kanumuldeniya, just two kilometres from Rajapakshe’s original village of Horewala in Walasmulla, and went to school with him can. As political issues hotted up and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe became flavour of the month, the first public reference to Rajapakshe’s caste was made on 13 August by Badulla District MP Dilan Perera, couched as an admonition not to rely on the caste ridden as well as chauvinistic Joint Opposition which, whichever Rajapaksa it welcomes, will not accept a Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.
My speculation that Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe may be Salagama was based on his authorship of ‘C.P De Silva, The Minneriya Deviyo, So close and yet so far’, a treatise which casts C. P. De Silva as an unsung hero who was deprived of his rightful destiny to be Prime Minister. On Chapter nine, Rajapakshe writes about the forces which wrested the premiership from C.P. De Silva and conferred it upon Dudley Senanayake in March 1960,
“Although the Governor –General Oliver Goonathileke invited Dudley Senanayake to form a government, the members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and other leftist parties preferred to form a government under the premiership of C.P. De Silva as leftist parties in the opposition had secured a larger number of seats altogether than the United National Party. There was no barrier constitutionally or otherwise for Oliver Goonathileke to call upon C.P. De Silva…When Oliver Goonathileke was shilly-shallying late into the day as to whom he should call upon to form the government, media personnel were compelled to ask him what caused the delay. Then the cat came out of the bag, he queried as to how he could call upon a Silva to form a government in this country…C.P De Silva’s second chance of becoming the Prime Minister of this country unfortunately slipped off for no fault of his, but for the caste-minded attitude of the then Head of the State Sir Oliver Goonathileke.”
“He is said to be of the Deva caste,” says Sumangala Thera who shares ‘old boyhood’ of Kanumuldeniya Maha Vidyalayala with Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Pallekande Ratanasara Thera.
Sumangala Thera was the first stop in the necessarily brief journey this writer undertook to discover Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. What are his motivations, what niche does he expect in the history books of the future?.
According to R. J. De Silva, nephew of C. P De Silva, the niche that W. Rajapakshe identifies most with is what C.P. De Silva had, that of the unsung hero, the real patriot, who is marginalized and deprived of his rightful place due to causes including but not limited to caste.
“He identifies strongly with C.P. Otherwise there is no reason for him to write a book on C.P. C.P. was from Balapitiya, while this man is from Walasmulla. Halfway through the book, he had asked Ranil Wickremesinghe to connect him with a family member. Then only was he referred to us. It’s unusual for people to talk about caste in writing, but Rajapakshe talks about how C.P. was deprived of premiership due to caste. Whatever anyone says, people like to give respect to their caste, not necessarily to follow the caste system.”
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe the lawyer
There are mixed opinions about his competence as a legal professional. The late Totsy Vittachchi who was among those fought Harry Jayawardena over the ownership of the Stassen Group is said to have spoken glowingly of Rajapakshe’s competence. Another reliable source claims to have met people who have experienced Rajapakshe’s incompetence. C. P’s nephew R. J. De Silva who is also an attorney at law and the present Chairman of HDFC Bank of Sri Lanka admits that mixed reports of Wijeyadasa’s competence exist within the legal profession. A reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous claims that a former Chief Justice, who will also have to remain anonymous, recounts an anecdote which casts aspersions on Wijeyadasa’s professionalism. According this, Rajapakshe once undertook to perform some task in courts, which promise he failed to honour, instead sending his junior to say he had to attend parliament, which it turned out was not true. According to R. J, De Silva, this sort of thing is not unheard of in the profession, where integrity of the type displayed by the likes of S L Gunasekera is quite rare.
What is irrefutable is that at just 58, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe can claim authorship of at least 11 legal books including ‘Case Law on Civil Procedure Code’, ‘Practice and Law of Banking’ and four volumes on ‘The Law of Property’.
Rajapakshe, the patriot
According to R. J. De Silva, in the book on his uncle, Rajapakshe has “brought out the photographs of all the past patriots. I asked him, why have you designed a chapter in the book for people who have no connection to C.P? He said because they were the real patriots and they were marginalized and forgotten.”
R.J is referring to chapter 17 of ‘C.P. De Silva, So close and yet so far’, which is titled ‘Short-lived memories of people’ and contains subheadings such as ‘Fate of Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara- Father of Free Education’, ‘Sir Don Baron Jayatilake- Kicked upstairs’.
Is Wijedasa Rajapakshe a patriot or is he a populist who carefully calculates what issues to take up and when for maximum impact, instead of doing the right thing at the right time?
When Sri Lanka co-sponsored A/HRC/RES/30/1 at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council, on 13 October 2015, Wijeyadasa held the Justice portfolio. The co-sponsored resolution contained the words, “affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators;”.
According to Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, former Governor of the Northern Province, former Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative for UN, resolutions are non-treaty instruments that are not legally binding in international law. A co-sponsored resolution represents a promise, an undertaking made to the international community by a State, which then is placed under an obligation to honour the same, the failure of which would reflect negatively on that State’s credibility.
In an academic as opposed to a political evaluation of Rajapakshe’s patriotism, what stands out is that Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe did not object to the above words in the co-sponsored resolution. He did not say, co-sponsor by all means, but drop those words about Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators. What stands out clearly is that Rajapakshe along with his government did not see anything wrong in making such a promise to the international community.
On 6 January, 2017 Minister Rajapakshe came out with his media statement (as reported in Daily Mirror) that “even the UN could not force the government to include foreign judges, as it was against the UN charter to force or to pressure member states, be it large or small, powerful or weak. Having foreign judges in local tribunals is also a violation of the Constitution.” He was effectively saying that it was alright to make a promise and back out of it if such a promise was not legally enforceable. That he was merely reproducing his own government’s position stated by both its leaders, does not excuse him in the light of his loftier aspirations towards an earlier era of patriotism.
Rajapakshe, the champion of the Buddha Sasana
Malinda Seneviratne, a prominent spokesman for the Sinhala Buddhist position in the ideologisphere says that Rajapakshe used to be anti Buddhist and sought to prevent Buddhist monks from entering Parliament. Sumangala Thera however holds that this was not anti-Buddhist as being biased towards any stand or party goes against the essence of Buddhism. Rajapakshe has even authored a book in Sinhala on ‘Adverse effect of the participation of monks in politics’, which can be interpreted as an act of a devout Buddhist.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakhe, a marginalized hero
The careergraph of Rajapakshe in politics so far shows a shooting star. His removal from Justice and Buddha Sasana portfolios shows rather than marginalization, an inevitable consequence of suddenly displaying in public, a radically different position from his government, which he has failed to show in his cabinet persona. The jury is still out on Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, because his story is yet to develop fully. Whether he realizes his aspirations to be another C.P. De Silva by freeing Sri Lanka from international bullying, ridding society of such feudal remnants as caste prejudices, serving the rural community, strengthening the Buddha Sasana among other things would depend upon how ready he is to sacrifice heroics in favour of true integrity.