Basil Rajapaksa, former Minister of Economic Development, the main political campaigner of his brother the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, sitting in his office, at the newly rented two-storey modern building that is the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Headquarters in Battaramulla, is once again preparing for the Local Government elections leading to the next Presidential Election. Speaking to Ceylon Today he said that Mahinda Rajapaksa is his spiritual leader and he wants him back in power. “I am working harder than before to fulfil all the left over issues, while also looking forward to embrace all those who left us.” He also said, that they will not take revenge.
Excerpts of the interview:
You faced several ordeals, after your Government‘s defeat, and now you are back in politics. Did your family agree?
A: Personally, it was a sad phase in my life as I was destined to live without my family by my side. But it was a challenge. I think my family gave me the blessings, this time, so that I will be able to clear my name from all those alleged corruption charges.
The Rajapaksas were not only defeated but are still facing the backlash and those are still vivid on social media as well. What makes you think your new Party can contest and come to power?
A: Rajapaksas have been in politics from 1936 and they have faced both victory and defeat. It’s not new. We are in the minds of the people and vice versa. When our father won the election, we saw how people treated us at school. In defeat also experienced how different the treatment was from the public.
But unlike the traditional politics we have seen in the past Rajapaksas are charged with not only corruption but also arms dealing, money laundering, murders and abductions of civilians. What is your response?
A: National leadership always had such challenges and backlashes. Even Sirima Bandaranaike faced challenges and was stripped of her civic rights for seven years. Politicians like N. M. Perera and Dudley Senanayake also had their share of allegations. When Anagarika Dharmapala left this country, he told his confidantes, when he is being buried to not even place his head towards Sri Lanka. So it’s not unusual. In my political career, when I came to take oaths in Parliament and to give my first speech there was a lot of disruption. Usually MPs welcome a new MP. That never happened in my case.
Many say you caused Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s defeat in 2015. Is that true?
A: I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s see at future elections.
How many legal cases are there against you?
A: There are around six cases.
Can that hinder your political aspirations in the future?
A: No. I am confident about my legal team and in the independency of the judiciary.
How did the Tamils in the North react to your recent visit and why did you go there?
A: After 8 January, 2015 there is a clear disparity in the way people voted. In 1977 when J. R. Jayewardene contested, the people in the North cast their votes to someone else. On his first Presidential Election he lost the Northern votes. Similarly, the last time when Mahinda Rajapaksa contested, out of the nine provinces he won in seven provinces in the overall result. Now we must not have this trend to continue. After establishing our new Party – the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), we toured all the provinces and thought it was ideal to visit Jaffna too. What I heard was that their expectations are completely destroyed. They told me there was no outcome from their Good Governance. People of the South did not anticipate much from the new Government but the Northerners, the Muslims and the Estate Tamils had great expectations. It’s their hopes that are being shattered now. We received a good response. We have begun taking our message to the people and visited Jaffna too.
While in Jaffna, you said that even State land should be given to the people, if that is the need. It is totally contradictory to the stance when you were in Government, which also utilized private lands of the people. Why this change of mind?
A: We did not take any land but it was during the time the Indian Peace Keeping Force was here that the previous Governments that took the private lands, during the height of the war. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who released 80 per cent of the land. Rest of the land we were involved in demining before releasing them to the civilians. Three years have gone by and still all private lands have not been released by the current Government. There are also people who don’t have lands at all. In the South due to landslides there is no State land to be given. There is enough land in the North which can be easily given. The citizens have the right to a piece of land. Some politicians are asking for land powers that is why these people are not given land in the North. If land is distributed they will not want power over land.
But President Sirisena and the Security Force Headquarters released 54 acres of land in Myliddy and the Myliddy fishing harbour to civilians. Many opined that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa never thought doing that. What have you to say about it?
A: Yet, I think people are not allowed to fish there still. Also the famous vineyard in Jaffna owned by the Catholic monastery is still not released by the Armed Forces. The Bishop told me there are still 11 churches within that land that are not released to the people.
You could have released it before 2015, right?
A: There were landmines and people could not go there. Those can be released now. We cleared 80 per cent of the land within eight months. We did not have three years to do that. This Government could have done that.
Jaffna students had reminded you about not having freedom of movement during your regime; not even the freedom to commemorate the dead. There is a fear you will again control the people. What is your response?
A: They told us and gave an example of the issue in remembering LTTE member Thileepan by university students. They fear that if we come back the freedom they enjoy now will be curtailed. I said No, that is the truth. We don’t want to stop the freedom of expression as a long as there is no disruption to peace.
What is your vision for the the minority communities who are against your return to power?
A: Remaining work of the post-war issues should be completed. Missing persons, land issue, resettlement of the Muslims and Tamils, issues related to disabled soldiers are all lined up.
The Jaffna Municipal Council has not held an election and is not functioning. It’s the same in Vavuniya where the UC has not held elections. Three years have passed. In the Eastern Province the Governor is having the power and PC elections have not been held in the East.
But the Local Government election is drawing near and these would be sorted out, won‘t they?
A: This Government has plans only to postpone. Just to have two more Pradeshiya Sabhas in Nuwara Eliya and Ambagamuwa, Minister Mano Ganesan and Digambaram are holding the 335 Pradeshiya Sabha elections postponed. This matter can be addressed in 24 hours by gazetting.
During an interview with Mahinda Rajapaksa I asked him what lessons he learnt from the defeat and he said ‘not to trust anyone again‘. What is the lesson you have learnt from the setbacks you faced?
A: I thought I must work harder to get the people who went far away from us. If they left me for one reason, we must make them come back for a reason.
Are you referring to someone we all know?
A: It’s for all who left us.
You will not take revenge from them?
A: Definitely not.
What is your position in the new Party?
A: I have no position but as a member of the Party I am contributing my share of work.
When will you be given a position?
A: I don’t think I need a position.
Are you hoping to be a candidate in the LG poll or at the next Presidential Election?
A: Not at all.
Are you paving the way for someone else?
A: Our spiritual leader is Mahinda Rajapaksa and his policies are widely accepted, and so, we believe he should lead the country again even for a short period. I am contributing a lot this time compared to last time.
Q: How are the minority communities reacting towards the SLPP?
A: We are trying to gain their confidence. There are positive reactions, but I would not say we have done our duty fully in that area. We have to work very hard to gain their confidence. There are little doubts in their minds. We need to clear those doubts.
The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan or Pillaiyan has given his support to the SLPP.
But Pillaiyan is behind bars accused of a murder. The UNHCR also in its report mentions about Pillaiyan and Karuna Amman‘s para military operations during the war. How and why are they with you? Are they innocent?
A: I don’t want to talk about the judicial matters related to Pillaiyan. But he and Karuna rendered a great service to the country.
Time to time, both of them supported Sri Lanka on many fields.
Can you tell me what those services were?
A: They played a part in bringing peace to the country. They helped defeat the LTTE. They regained the peace that was lost in the Eastern Province. Pillaiyan, as Chief Minister, was very impartial and very efficient. Eastern Province is the most difficult province in the country. It’s a big province where three communities live and was totally neglected when he took over as the CM. He brought immense changes to the Province. He did not discriminate the Sinhalese. Everyone liked him and they were happy to have him.
But he is accused of killing a Tamil Parliamentarian. How can that be erased?
A: Let the Courts decide on that. I have never seen a person remanded for so long. I still believe justice will prevail.
Is Karuna Amman again with you?
A: He always stood by the Rajapaksas although he has not yet joined us. He has not decided it seems. He has two things on his mind; that is Mahinda Rajapaksa must come to power and he wants to work to defeat the current Government.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa told Ceylon Today during an interview that Tamils have no problem in this country. What is your stance?
A: There may be no problem as such, but in their minds they have a problem. I don’t say there is a Tamil problem but there is a national problem mainly in the minds of some people which we have to solve. We need to read that mind to find out what it is.