The ‘Hitler comparison’ can cut in many ways

N Sathiya Moorthy


Gotabhaya Rajapaksa does not require (more) enemies. His ‘friends’, if the Anunayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven Vedaruvey Upali Thero, is one, is enough. Even as he seems confused still over giving up his US citizenship to be able to contest the 2020 presidential polls, the Thero’s avoidable comparison of Gota R with Adolf Hitler has proved to be yet another political albatross that the war-time Defence Secretary could do without.

Coming as it does after outgoing US Ambaassador Atul Keshap’s alleged reference to Gota’s American citizenship, the more religious in Sri Lanka might even begin thinking if the gods were conspiring against him, or even confusing him ahead of his crucial decision. Gota’s decision is even more crucial for and by Opposition SLPP-JO, where his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa is the boss.

According to unconfirmed media reports claimed that Amb Keshap had told Mahinda R that Gota as Sri Lankan President was unacceptable to America. Independent of the US envoy skirting a direct ‘No’ to a social media query to him, now you have ruling UNP General Secretary and incumbent Minister, Akila Vilas Kariyawasam, challenging Gota to give up his American citizenship.

It is not about what the Thero actually said, and how it has been interpreted, especially by critics of the Rajapaksas. Among them are very many time-servers, who may not think twice to give a favourable interpretation to the Thero’s observations, if Gota and/or the Rajapaksas were to return to power, if that would serve their cause.

Instead, what matters today is the Thero mentioning Hitler’s name in the Gota context – or, in the reverse. Naturally, the political class, especially rivals of the Rajapaksas, are not the ones to lose an opportunity when it volunteered itself. Reacting possibly late, rival UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has gone on to say that mentioning Hitler in context was an ‘insult to Buddhism’. As he recalled, Hitler had shut down Buddhist organisations in Germany.

Wickremesinghe has also said that if such references to Hitler had been made in his presence, he would have objected to it strongly. Whether said out of concern for Buddhism, or as criticism of Hitler or Gota, Wickremesighe’s prescription for the latter was not ‘mischievous’ (?), so to say.

If nothing else, if only Gota had said what Wickremesinghe says he would have, the ‘Hitler controversy’ would have died down then and there – and he too would have distanced himself comfortably from all such references. But given his war-time image, which came to haunt him post-war too, these were situations that Gota Rshould have learnt to snuggle out before he makes any political pitch, especially of the presidential poll kind.

Early-bird advantage?

Yet, the fact remains that through such controversial reports and statements, Gota’s name has continued to remain on the presidential poll-table, with all the limelight now rendered exclusively on him. Whether he ends up contesting the presidential poll or not, the Rajapaksas may now have an early-bird advantage when others are confused about contesting elections – be it as political parties or as individual candidates representing those parties. That includes UNP PM Wickremesinghe and his SLFP President Maithiripala Sirisena.

But the ‘early-bird advantage’ of the kind can also become a burden, on two specific grounds. Given the frustrating political flux of the past three-plus years in particular, the nation could end up becoming tired of the presidential polls itself, whenever it is held, or whoever the candidate. In such a context, overdoing the pre-poll run-up can be more disadvantageous to the ‘early-bird’ than anyone else in the fray.

Yes, the second reason flows from the first – that is about Gota’s candidacy itself. For the second time in months, he has reportedly reiterated that he was ready to give up his American citizenship if named presidential candidate.  More now in the context of the ‘Hitler reference’ than his own earlier mention of his surrendering American citizenship, this could become a burden for Gota and his campaign managers. Critics could then question his loyalty to Sri Lanka, just as PM Wickeremesinghe has made an oblique reference to Gota’s ‘Buddhist’ credentials, without saying as much.

Trade-off, sell-out

There is then the rumoured/reported Amb Keshap reference about the US not clearing any Gota petition for surrendering his American citizenship. True or not the report, valid or not the argument therein, even from within the Rajapaksa party, valid reservations could well be aired about the SLPP-JO putting the cart before the horse.

More importantly, sections within the SLPP-JO have usurped for them the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist’ image and also conferred it near-exclusively on Brothers Rajapaksa, in the context of the ‘LTTE war’ and victory. They will be embarrassed when their ranks question them on Gota’s reluctance to give up American citizenship to serve his own nation. It could well be seen as a ‘trade-off’ or a ‘sell-out’. It is the kind of image that critics of the Rajapaksa clan would want to drive home.

It is not without reason or justification, if at all it came to that. If the JO were to announce that Gota was their presidential candidate and he is not able to surrender his American citizenship as 19-A ordains back home? What if he goes by his camp’s argument and the US law did not require Government clearance for surrendering citizenship but someone in Sri Lanka challenges the contention before the Election Commission or the Supreme Court or both?

In the normal course, the EC does not come into the picture until it is called upon to validate the candidacy after the nominations had closed. If someone were to contest Gota’s citizenship, citing the unconfirmed media reports linked to Amb Keshap, the legal procedures and the clarifications that may be sought from the US Embassy/Administration, could all tie down Gota to the same. The candidacy may just not happen.

Likewise, once elections are notified, courts do not enter the fray until after the results are declared lest such intervention/interference could delay the poll process, eternally. Under such possibilities, SLPP-JO too may now have to seek guarantees that their candidate would not face any silly rejection of the kind. It has to go beyond Gota’s words and those of his legal defence.

The question is how could Gota ensure that such is not the case, and that no one in the country would have a ‘cause of action’ to contest his candidacy before the EC or the SC? Even granting that the US did not object to his surrendering his citizenship, unlike may have been earlier, he may even have to be ready with a certificate to the effect from the US Administration, to convince Sri Lankan authorities and critics alike.

If his defence now argues that for giving up American citizenship, Gota would not require US Government’s permission or confirmation, what kind of ‘certificate’ he can expect from the Government? Even if the Sri Lankan EC/SC seeks the same directly from the US authorities, if there are no formal rules and procedures now in practice, the very process could become time-consuming – an the presidential polls could not wait eternally.

It is unclear if the US has such a certification procedure for Gota to pre-empt all possibilities against his candidature if it came to that, or if they would grant it to him specifically, given the circumstances of the war-time probe that the US had initiated at the UNHRC. For the US, any such move positive to Gota could well be interpreted by friends in Sri Lanka and human rights campaigners back home as a ‘great conspiracy’, what with the American exit from UNHRC, setting a new thinking in motion, all-round.

All wrong reasons

Just now, the Rajapaksas could have done without all these unpredictability of the kind, ahead of the presidential polls and even otherwise. By setting up special High Courts of an unprecedented nature, to try corruption cases from the past, the Government seems determined to see as many Rajapaksas behind the bars before the polls, if they could help it – and also keep them in the news for all ‘wrong reasons’.

What if either of the two High Courts sentence one or more of the Rajapaksa clan to prison terms, denying them the opportunity to contest any election? There is the possibility that appellate courts could well stay such sentences, if it came to that, but the legal question may arise if pending the disposal of the appeals against conviction, a Rajapaksa could contest an upcoming election?

There is then the theoretical construct pertaining to the timing of the HC verdict, especially if negative to the Rajapaksas, and the timing of the presidential polls. Though normally it is construed that the presidential polls are due in January 2020, the reality is that it could be conducted a couple of months earlier, especially if the EC did not want to take chances by pushing the date too far and closer to the last date, which is 8 January 2020.

That way, even the Government may be walking a knife’s edge on the ‘HC route’ to contain the Rajapaksas politically, they having proved ineffective through the electoral route as the LG polls have shown. The mood of the voter is unpredictable, as the Rajapaksas found out in Elections-2015, after advancing it by months, thinking that the time was favourable to them, politically and even astrologically.

As has happened elsewhere in Third World democracies, including northern neighbour India, no political pundit has been able to predict when the ‘balance’ tilts and the electorate’s hatred for the a  politician owing to perceptions of ‘misrule’ turns favourably as ‘sympathy votes’, blaming it all on the ruling political adversary of the one thus ‘targeted’. It can be more so in the case of the Rajapaksas, who are still celebrated for ending the ‘LTTE menace’ for good, and also providing a ‘stable government’, even if of the ‘graveyard variety’ in the eyes of many.

The fact is that statements attributed to Amb Keshap and references of the Hitler kind are not going to change the electoral behaviour of the ‘core Rajapaksa constituency’, which still hovers around the 45 percentage points. Instead, such references could end up raising even in the anti-Rajapaksa sections of the eternally testy urban middle class, questions of sovereignty viz the US, and even positive images of the Rajapaksas, especially of Gota, who is beginning to be seen also as the only from the contemporary pantheon capable of providing a tough leadership, even if of the Hitler variety (?).

To many in urban Colombo and semi-urban district-towns, who are otherwise against the Rajapaksas’ return that might still be a ‘need of the hour’. It may be more so in Gota’s case, as he also has a positive image as a tough and go-getter administrator, which his brother Mahinda as President was not always perceived to be. The latter was seen instead as someone who trusts and stands by friends and aides. It was good war-time leadership, and peace-time leadership, some would argue.

Having reined in the Rajapaksas in Elections-2015 after giving them a free run for full 10 years, the voter’s confidence in the self, to discipline and/or discard a ruler that had outlived his utility may have only grown. If he could reject the Rajapaksas once, they know they could do so any number of times, even if they had to recall them to put the house in order, in the interim. It means they would not think twice to vote out ‘lesser mortals’, either!.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

10 Comments for “The ‘Hitler comparison’ can cut in many ways”

  1. Gabriella

    The fact that Gota is now seen as a very serious presidential candidate is evidenced by all the charges that seem to have sprung-up overnight against him. We seem to be adopting the Malaysian political experience, where, it seems to be mandatory that every future prime minister has to serve a prison sentence.

    After the Western engineered change of government under the guise of war crimes, and the failure to acquiesce to UNHRC demands for a war-crimes inquiry; all urgency to launch such a trial has dissipated. These self-serving demands will no doubt reach a crescendo if this pliant ohaypalayangla government is ‘booted-out’ at the next election.

    The author of this article seems to be of the opinion that Gota needs to modify his image before the next election, if a successful presidential campaign is to be launched. This is the last thing the people want or the nation needs ! The overwhelming need of the nation is for Gota to morph into Lee Kuan Yew.

    Gota needs to convince/reassure the electorate that he will not be a puppet of his brother. And all the other Rajapaksa leeches waiting for another opportunity to rape and pillage the country will be given short-shrift. Let’s hope the Rajapaksa name will not be the anchor shackled to his ankle that drags him to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again. What a tragedy that would be for the nation.

    What every reasonable citizen of Mother Lanka needs to ask themselves is: can the current system of rape and pillage under the guise of democracy be allowed to continue unchecked as it has since independence . Or, do we as a nation say enough is enough and look for a suitable alternative.

    Of all the scum in parliament, only one man was prepared to lay down his life for the country. The other (GOTA) proven in public administration is not in parliament. Food for thought !

    Can Gota become a Statesman and govern solely for the benefit of every citizen ? This remains the biggest gamble for the nation. Let’s hope for the nations sake this becomes his vision.

    • Robert Croos

      The short answer to the question is old habits and behaviour in a person will not vanish even after decades. One’s personality is deep seated and will come out even if he/she tried to hide.

      It is a call of judgement for people who want to live in a country with justice. Are ordinary people happy with way Cambodians, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thailand live, accepting corruption is part of their daily life (All are Buddhist majority countries); then definitely Mr G is a serious candidate.

      What else to say; Live your life the way you want and your children will follow.

  2. Param

    His friends say he is a vegetarian like Hitler ( probably they were mutual friends who shared the meals ) except that he was a man eater ( or hater ) for that matter.
    Probably Hitler might be turning in his grave ,,, An escape artist who ran away to USA at the height of the insurgency and when he was need most in the armed forces he was serving and country , but preferred and sought alliance with that country. What patriotism after being accused of various financial misappropriation of state funds and scandals.
    If this man is to be considered for a President there is surely a vacuum in the heads of the Sri Lankan Public. Is there a serious lack of honest educated leaders to take this country forward ?.

  3. thero has no right talk politics, they do Buddhism work, not national politics ,buhhism it a philosophy. Very fine philosophy all over world must study very, humble and normal live of humanity. it was wonderful hon thero want support mr GOTA a wanted criminal USA has criminal report of mr Rajapaska family. fool one time not more time. srilanka sold to china by mr Rajapaska family not by parliament members are control by president, mr Rajapaska did not won the election second time ,he wanted change the computer figures in favor to mr Rajapaska commssier of election was taken to president house and force to do it, other wise his live in danger will never ever allowed to contest election by USA and western country ,mr Ranil supported former president sold to china

  4. Adwani

    What about UNGOOLY MALA????

  5. Adwani

    How about UNGOOLY MALA????? this is better than HItler

  6. Sangaralingham

    Monk buddhas teacher to public thinking of Hitler. Is he talking about politicians their attitude to civil society is he talking controlling minorities who seem to him burden to dociety. Or thugs hooligans of the society eho seem to increasing in numbers including some greedy politicians or unruly monks who cannot mind their budiness ignoring teaching of Buddha. Well said or badly come out of his mouth . Let dociety judge. Hitler famous for killing million of Jews nc.uding children

  7. Sangaralingham

    What we need is fresh badge of intellectuals with courage commonsense justice wisdom. Many excists all on er the country. Unless picked by wise decisions in lanka politics must be refined restored with no religious interference of sny king. Let citizens be command the nation

  8. N.Wijeratne

    Ofcpurse sri lankan have had enough with one Rajapakse who took this counyry finally to a position of no return when it cpmes to debt?Beyond all that look.varefully at the reputation of this gamily when it comes to excesses abuses- misuses and negarious activities.?
    Just make a full list of all the alleged criminal
    Activities that have connections with Rajapakses?
    Voters want this counyry ruled by another Hrto grom.thst family??
    Oh my God that will be HELL ON EARTH?

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