He is largely credited as the brains behind winning the war against the LTTE a decade ago. Now, former Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is eyeing the top post in the island nation. Declared the presidential candidate by the SLPP, Gotabaya is seen as a hardliner, who has, in the past, been accused of using strong-arm tactics against minorities. Elections are due by the year-end but as of now Gotabaya does not know who his opponent will be as other parties haven’t named their candidates yet. In a written interview with SNI’s Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale, he denies the allegations against him but says terrorism remains a threat for Sri Lanka.
Q. You have been nominated as the Presidential candidate by the SLPP. What is your vision for the country?
A. My vision is to see Sri Lanka reaching the status of a developed country sooner than later. I like to see a productive citizen, a happy family, a disciplined society and a prosperous nation treated with due respect by other countries.
Q. You are not a conventional politician and yet you have taken the plunge in electoral politics. What prompted you to do so?
A. I have been requested to contest for presidency by the SLPP and several other political parties, number of national organisations, independent groups and some highly respected individuals in the society. A request endorsed by the clergy.
Q. Your opponents dub you as anti-Tamil, anti-Muslim and a hardliner, Sinhala nationalist. How will you overcome this perception?
A. I have always protected the interests of minorities. There is no proof that I have ever been biased in my treatment of a particular community. This is a perception created by some politically interested parties. With time, people will realise that they have been misled.
Q. For years the devolution to North and East has been a major issue in Sri Lankan politics. What is your view on it and how do you propose to find a lasting solution?
A. Devolution is an issue, which can only be resolved through a proper dialogue with the interested parties. With real economic development in the North and East taking place, people will put pressure on politicians to be reasonable in their demands.
Q. How will you assure minorities in Sri Lanka that they need not fear majoritarian policies if you were voted to power?
A. They have no reason to fear. Every citizen of this country will have his or her rights protected. I will assure the safety of all our people irrespective of their race or religion. I have never broken a promise in the past. So I hope they will understand this reality.
Q. In the last elections, your brother had accused India of meddling in and influencing the elections to defeat him. Have the Rajapaksas mended their fences with India?
A. We never had a problem with India. Even during the height of war we maintained a cordial relationship with India and they supported our efforts to end the war. I believe that whatever the misunderstandings that were there during the elections times no longer exist.
Q. Is India still seen in Sri Lanka through the Tamil prism?
A. I don’t think so. Things have changed. I believe that the Centre acts more independently now handling Indian foreign relations.
Q. What are your expectations from India?
A. Treat us with mutual respect as they have done during most part of our post-independence history.
Q. China has also become a big factor in Sri Lanka. How do you view China’s role?
A. China is undoubtedly the evolving economic superpower in this part of the world. Historically, China was mostly interested in trading ties with other nations and rarely interfered with internal affairs of other counties. I believe they will continue the same behaviour.
Q. Following the Easter bombings in the country, there is a lot of apprehension among the people. Is terrorism once again threatening Sri Lanka?
A. Yes, the government definitely lost the grip of intelligence and the result was this. We can only predict the future but it is going to be a big challenge to revamp the intelligence and security set-up and regain lost ground. Sri Lanka is facing a real threat.
Q. You were known as a strong defense secretary who revamped the security apparatus in defeating the LTTE. What in your view went wrong that allowed the bombings to take place?
A. Total negligence of those in charge of national security.