Confessions of Gota

Confessions of Gota

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa released a book titled THE CONSPIRACY to oust me from the Presidency. A source familiar with the development claimed that he plans to return to politics. The idea is to return to Parliament as an SLPP National List member after the next parliamentary elections. This, however, could not be confirmed independently.

As the title of the book claims, there was a conspiracy to oust him from the presidency which he has held for two years by then, there are little or no facts or even suggestions in the book about the conspiracy itself. It is a very tame narration of several events, more particularly around the aragalaya or protests. He does not explain the reasons for fleeing the country, first to the Maldives and thereafter to Singapore. Particularly about the Maldives, factual references appear to have been changed perhaps to avoid causing embarrassment to the government there. He arrived in the Maldivian capital of Male when then-President Ibrahim Solih was on a pilgrimage to Mecca. There are, however, several takeaways. They come in the form of confirming some key events and laying bare others. Here are some of them:

<  ON LOSS OF TAX REVENUE: Former Secretary to the Ministry of Finance S.R. Attygalle pointed out in his submissions to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the causes for Sri Lanka’s Financial Bankruptcy, one of the main reasons for the reduction in tax inflows during 2020 and 2021 was the banning of the import of personal vehicles. He pointed out that in 2019, USD 843 million worth of personal vehicles were imported into the country. At an average tax of 150% on each vehicle, the revenue earned would be around USD 1,264 million which at an exchange rate of Rs 200 would work out to something like Rs 252 billion a year in lost revenue after the ban on the import of personal vehicles.


<  CALLING UP0N FAMILY MEMBERS TO QUIT: During protests (aragalaya), Chamal Rajapaksa, his son Shashindra and Namal Rajapaksa came to see me at my Mirihana residence one day and during the discussion that ensued, Chamal Rajapaksa suggested that members of the Rajapaksa family other than Mahinda Rajapaksa and myself should resign from the positions they hold in the government in order to defuse at least some of the anti-government feeling building up in the country. Such a move would pacify some disgruntled sections of the ruling coalition as well. At this meeting, Chamal Rajapaksa, Namal and Shashindra declared they would resign from their positions forthwith and convince Basil Rajapaksa to do so.

<  ON THE ATTACKS ON HIS HOUSE AT MIRIHANA: All service commanders including Army Commander Shavendra Silva and Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne were at a wedding reception at the Shangri La Hotel in Colombo. I informed both Shavendra and Kamal of the unfolding situation. SIS Director Suresh Sallay who was also at the wedding reception, arrived at the scene and when he arrived, only around a hundred or so had been at the demonstration. But the Police, STF and Army deployed in the area have been inactive. Sallay had taken a video call to Shavendra and Kamal and shown them the crowd present, but instructions still did not come down the hierarchy to disperse the crowd. Ultimately, Sallay and some other army officers had taken it upon themselves to disperse the mob as some elements in the crowd had turned violent, with stones and other objects being hurled at security forces personnel and damage being caused to properties in the vicinity.


Protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, rally against Ranil Wickremesinghe after he was elected by lawmakers in Parliament as the new president on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Wickremesinghe, a canny political survivor with ties to the exiled former president, inherits a nation in deep crisis. (Atul Loke/The New York Times)

<  COMPOSITION OF THE PROTESTORS ARAGALAYA : There was the NGO foreign-funded liberal political activists, youtubers, and social media activists, then there was the usual opposition types associated with various political parties, the JVP, FSP (Peratugami Party), SJB and the UNP. According to one prominent UNP functionary the UNP alone had 17 tents at Galle Face.

<  APPOINTING A PRIME MINISTER IN THE MIDST OF VIOLENCE: There was a need to appoint a member of the opposition as Prime Minister in response to the calls for a change of government. Hence, I phoned the leader of the opposition Sajith Premadasa and offered him the position of Prime Minister. He declined the position on the grounds that he could not run the country without a majority in Parliament. Then I spoke to Sarath Fonseka and offered him the position of PM. He told me to make the announcement that I would be appointing him as PM and to take things forward from there. He did not really accept the position that was offered to him, and the country could not function without a Cabinet. Subsequently, a delegation of SJB Parliamentarians came to see me and said that Premadasa would accept the Premiership if I appointed him as PM and then resigned from the presidency – terms that I declined to accept. When I spoke to the leader of the United National Party Ranil Wickremesinghe and offered him the position of PM, he readily agreed, and I appointed him as the new Prime Minister.

<  ON ESCAPING IN A NAVAL CRAFT: On 8 July 2022, I instructed Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne to shift the Operations Room from the Defence Force Headquarters to President’s House. I took this precaution of getting all the defence chiefs to President’s House because of the bad experience we had at Temple Trees on the night of 9 May 2022 where there was an inordinate and unforgivable delay in the induction of troops to evacuate the Prime Minister. At 8 a.m. on the morning of 9 July 2022, the police curfew imposed in parts of the Western Province was lifted.

<  DEFENCE CHIEFS ADVISE GOTABAYA TO LEAVE: The Defence Secretary and the service chiefs told me that I should leave the premises immediately. It had not been even an hour since the mobs had started gathering in the vicinity of President’s House. Earlier, officers in my security detail told me to keep some things packed as a precaution and we had prepared two suitcases with some clothes and toiletries etc. We came downstairs with the baggage and just as we were getting into our vehicles, the crowds broke in through the front gate. Basil was also at the President’s House when this happened, and he too got into our vehicle. We took the rear exit to the Navy camp into the Navy camp next door where the Navy commander had made preparations for the evacuation. The TV screens in the Navy camp showed that the protestors were already inside the President’s House.

It is pertinent to note the dilemma of one of the most powerful men in Sri Lanka being thrust into such a helpless and desperate situation. For over three decades, he had remained a military strongman ruthlessly conducting a separatist war that saw the defeat of Tiger guerrillas. He had the power, only days earlier, to order the shift of the Operations Room from the Defence Ministry’s headquarters at Akuregoda to the President’s House. How then did he not have the power to order the defence and military top brass, almost all of them his own appointees, to take preventive action rather than heed recommendations to exist through the backdoor at President’s House? Even in the aftermath, he has not been frank enough to identify the failures of those responsible. Back to a few more highlights from the books.


<  GETAWAY BY NAVY SHIP: The Navy had kept two vessels on standby in the harbour and we got into one and the other vessel was sent in the opposite direction so that nobody would know in which vessel I was travelling…….After leaving the Colombo Harbour, we went to Trincomalee and after spending the night at the Naval base, the next day I returned to Colombo to the Katunayake Air Force Base by helicopter and spent the second night there. The following night, I flew to the Maldives in an Air Force plane and reached Male at around 3.00 a.m on 12 July 2022. The Maldivian government had arranged for me to stay at an island resort 200 km from Male and it was morning by the time we reached the hotel by boat. The plan was to fly to Singapore in a private plane, but the Indian authorities had not allowed this private plane to fly to Male. So gave instructions that tickets be obtained on a commercial flight to Singapore…. I was accompanied by my wife and two security officers. While in the Maldives, I appointed Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Acting President since I was out of the country.

<  FRICTIONS AT THE TOP: One structural issue was that there was much of a seniority gap between the Defence Secretary, Kamal Gunaratne and the Army Commander, Shavendra Silva. Both of them were divisional commanders during the war and had got used to seeing themselves more or less as equals. Whether the two got on well was doubtful. The Army Commander and Defence Secretary were working at cross purposes at times with the Army Commander disregarding the instructions of the Defence Secretary, Kamal Gunaratne, may not have had the same control over the armed services that I had as Defence Secretary because of these reasons.

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