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Sri Lanka crisis: Rise and fall of Rajapaksa’s ‘Political’ dynasty

It was impossible till a while ago, to imagine the humiliating confrontation that Gottabaya faced on Tuesday with airport immigration staff when he was stopped to fly by the very staff which was serving the regime.

Sharbani Banerjee | New Delhi | Updated :

During the mass protest on fateful Saturday morning when almost everyone in the island nation, Sri Lanka was on the roads against the regime blaming it for putting the country in massive economic turmoil, one thing that connected the country was the angst against a single name that ended with ‘Rajapaksa’. When the mighty team of this small cricketing nation was taking on Australia at ‘Gall’ city, known most for its beautiful, grand and historic cricket stadium the crowd outside cheered not for its team which won the game but for the way they pushed out the mightiest of all ‘Rajapaksas’, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president of Sri lanka into hiding.

When the world was watching on the television how ‘Go Gotta Go’ narrative was gaining grounds ‘Rajapaksas’ were looking for the place to hide and flee.

It was impossible till a while ago, to imagine the humiliating confrontation that Gottabaya faced on Tuesday with airport immigration staff when he was stopped to fly by the very staff which was serving the regime. While the matchless decibels of crowd outside the airport cheering over the news may not be the beginning of any good news for Sri lanka to come out of recent crisis, can this be counted as the beginning of fall of the mighty ‘Rajapakas’, the first political family of this nation of over 2 crore people.

Rise of Rajapaksas:-

If we look back, one can find, the Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lanka’s politics for over two decades, and in recent years, it has increasingly run the government as a family business.

The family patriarch, Don Alwin Rajapaksa, co founder of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was a lawmaker in the 1950s and ’60s. Senior Rajapakasa’s sons Chaminda, Mahinda, and Gotabaya followed in their father’s footsteps.

But it was Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son, who helped cement the family’s ascent to prominence, rising to become prime minister and then a two-term presidency from 2005 to 2015.

The rise to power of Mahinda Rajapaksa began in 2004, when he was appointed Prime Minister during the presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike.

After winning presidential election in 2005, he made the decision to launch an all-out war in the north and east against the LTTE. His brother Gotabaya, who had earlier served in the Sri Lankan Army, played the key role of Defence Secretary.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his tenure as a President ended the country’s three-decade civil war by quashing the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency through brutal military force.

He accomplished this in a campaign that led to accusations of widespread human rights abuses. His brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as his powerful defense secretary.

In the Sinhalese south, the majority population of Sinhala-Buddhist community looked towards Rajapaksas as god-like figures for freeing them from the terror that the LTTE had unleashed on them.

Mahinda won a second term as President, and had the Constitution amended to remove the two-term bar. He was confident that he would be president for life.

Gotabaya continued as Mahinda’s Defence Secretary, became a parallel power centre, wielding influence by spreading fear.

He had given his office a royal touch where his throne-like chair placed at a level above those of his visitors. Dozens of people who were known critics of the government were abducted.

In around 2009-10, Rajapaksas gave free reign to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist extremist group that triggered several incidents of anti-Muslim violence.

Their youngest brother Basil was minister in charge of economic development, and controlled all investments in Sri Lanka when Chamal, the eldest, was Speaker.

At that particular time, according to the analysts, as many as 40 Rajapaksas held one or another office, and between them, controlled most of the government’s finances and under their grip, freedoms suffered.

Downfall of Rajapaksas:-

Mahinda remained in office until 2015 when he lost to the opposition after his Cabinet colleague Maithripala Sirisena joined hands with rival Wickremesinghe.

However, they bided their time and launched the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) in 2016 as the party of the people, mainly appealing to the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community.

But as the economic burden increased, public anger began focusing on the Rajapaksa family as there was no explanation for the financial collapse.

Reeling under skyrocketing costs of living, protests began islandwide, demanding essentials. The world’s attention was drawn to a novel protest at the iconic seafront esplanade known as Galle Face. There, young men and women declared a protest site and dubbed it ‘GotaGoHome’ village. Peaceful protests were held there continuously for a month.

The increasing protest and its scale showed that the Rajapaksas were no longer the popular political family that they once were. The calls for collective resignations were demanded for forensic audits, recovery of stolen assets and legal action against Rajapaksas made people feel that Rajapaksas are responsible for the island’s state of bankruptcy.

With long queues of people making beeline daily for average daily essentials, such as fuel, gas, medical and food supplies, infuriated over the same, the country gradually turned into a protest ground.

Since April 3, four Rajapaksas have resigned from their posts under tremendous public pressure. It was evident that the family was on the backfoot.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, once among the most loved Sri Lankan politicians, no longer remained the same. Later in his last attempt, Mahinda convened a meeting with his acolyte Johnston Fernando at his official residence Temple Trees on May 9. They spoke passionately about meeting with force and claimed they would not run away in fear. Soon, goons emerged from the prime minister’s compound, some bearing poles.

They attacked the protestors at Galle Face, flattening the temporary huts and beating people up which became the turning point and in just couple of hours, Rajapaksa loyalists’ homes were burnt to cinders.

Those who loved him and looked towards Mahinda have turned against him. Not just the protesters, even his own supporters had turned protesters.