Gotabhaya, or Gota as he is widely known, actually left the Army at the height of the war. Then he left for the USA while his compatriots including Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Wijaya Wimalaratna and Sarath Fonseka bravely fought the enemy on the battlefields in the North and the East. Gotabhaya became a US citizen, got down his extended family to the USA and returned to Sri Lanka only after his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President in 2005.
So far there is no evidence that Gotabhaya intends to revoke US citizenship. His campaign, which has seemingly come from nowhere with no Presidential or General election in sight till 2020, looks more like an attempt to drive the message of fear into the hearts of voters on the presumption that he might play a bigger political role. After all, fear is what the Rajapaksa regime specialized in.
Gotabhaya has been waging a different kind of war than the one portrayed in the book “Gota’s War”. This ‘war’ was not against the defeated LTTE – it was against political opponents of the Rajapaksa regime, journalists, civil society activists, trade unionists, university students, intellectuals, the judiciary and of course, ordinary people who dared to rise against the injustices perpetrated by the Rajapaksa regime. The regime had a weapon that terrorized everyone who dared to challenge the Rajapaksas – the White Van. Those who criticized the Rajapaksa family were abducted in white vans, beaten to a pulp or murdered in cold blood and some were made to disappear.
Today, many who praise the virtues of the Rajapaksas seem to suffer from collective amnesia, having forgotten the many atrocities committed during the Rajapaksa regime. Who in his right mind can forget the brutal killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, who fearlessly exposed the MiG procurement scandal? He was killed with military precision in broad daylight by men who rode black motorcycles. Several other journalists including Poddala Jayantha, Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon barely survived after being “white vanned”. There is still no trace of cartoonist Pradeep Ekneligoda. The offices of Siyatha TV and Sirasa were razed to the ground. Sri Lanka was then rated as the worst place to work if you were a journalist. In sharp contrast, this year Sri Lanka has exited Global Impunity Index for crimes against Journalists.
We thus have one question for those who advocate a return to the Rajapaksa era - where are the much feared White Vans today? The very fact that white vans have totally disappeared under the Yahapalana Government proves that they were very much an instrument of the Rajapaksas used to intimidate and silence political opponents.
Among the many other incidents reported under Gotabhaya’s watch as defence secretary were the killings of FTZ worker Roshen Chanaka; fisherman Jude Anthony; three Rathupaswala water protestors; national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen and 27 prisoners of the Welikada jail. Gotabhaya was also behind the infamous expulsion of Tamil lodgers in Colombo to Vavuniya which was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. The public can also remember how former Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake was hounded out of office virtually overnight.
These are among the many reasons why the public returned a decisive verdict on January 8, 2015, reaffirmed on August 17, 2015 to comprehensively defeat the Rajapaksa regime. The Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has once again upheld the rule of law, restored the independence of the judiciary and ensured the supremacy of democracy. To cite two examples that illustrate the difference between the two administrations, President Sirisena’s own brother was recently remanded over a traffic accident and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was called to give evidence before the Treasury Bond Commission. These would have been unthinkable under the Rajapaksa Government – leave alone the Premier, not even a Pradeshiya Sabha member had to go before a court of law then.
With a campaign on to bring Gotabhaya to the limelight, the time has come to ask some tough questions. He has sworn allegiance to defend the Constitution of a foreign country and shown no sign of annulling that citizenship. Sri Lanka needs leaders who uphold our Constitution, democratic traditions and moral values. Fear has no place in our psyche anymore. The people have tasted real democracy and freedom for nearly three years – there is no way that Gotabhaya or anyone else can take them away now or in the future.