Saturday, April 23, 2022

Tale of a ’Rajapaksa family’

Anisur Rahman

The Rajapaksa family is a prominent family in Sri Lankan politics. It was one of Sri Lanka's most powerful families during Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency in the period of 2005-2015. Many members of the family occupied senior positions in the Sri Lankan state in this time. Two Rajapaksa brothers lead the country. One is president, the other one is prime minister: Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa. For nearly a month, the country is witnessing political unrest. People are on streets and outside president’s office in Colombo in protest against this regime.

                                     People protesting outiside president’s office in Colombo

During this on-going massprotest, I was on a four-day visit to this beautiful island state from 15 april to 19 april 2022. It was a big chance for me to have an insight into country’s political as well as eonomic crisis. Economic problem will be solved sooner or later if the politics could be brought back on the right track. It is obvious, in recent years, the country’s politics was on wrong track in terms of fighting against corruption, family autocracy and wrong policy. In this context, country’s people have diverse allegations against Rajapaksa family members who hold various positions in the cabinet and govermnet offices.  

It is to be noted that following the unexpected defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election, they have been accused of authoritarianism, corruption, nepotism and bad governance. In 2019 Presidential election Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa contested and won. Gotabaya, formerly a military officer, never held any elected position before he had been president.

                                         The author, in the middle, with Sri Lankan writers witness mass movement outside president’s office 

This Rajapaksa family does not carry that strong political legacy as of the Sheikh family in Bangladesh, Gandhi family in India, Sukarnaputri family in Indonesia or Bandarnayek family in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas are neither royal nor aristocratic, but as the ’rulers’ of Sri Lanka they turned to be the power players of the country.

The Rajapaksas are a rural land-owning family from the southern district of Hambantota. The family owned paddy fields and coconut plantations. During the British period, one of its members, Don David Rajapaksa, held the feudal post of Vidanarachchi in Ihala Valikada Korale. The family entered the political scene when Don David Rajapaksa's son Don Mathew Rajapaksa was elected in 1936 to represent  Hambantota district in the State Council. Don Mathew died in 1945 and at the resulting by-election his brother Don Alwin Rajapaksa was elected without a contest. President Rajapaksa, priminister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, minister Chamal Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa are sons to Don Alwin Rajapaksa.

The Rajapaksa family had four Rajapaksa brothers from one generation holding the reins in government as president, prime minister and cabinet ministers. Some nine members from this Rajapasa family are parliament member.

President Gotabaya was also the minister of defence. Prime minister Mahinda was in charge of economic policies and planimplementation, minister of Buddhasasana, religious and cultural affairs and minister of urban evelopment and housing. Basil Rajapaksa was finance minister. Eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa was minister of irrigation, and also the state minister of national security and disaster management. 

Mahinda’s son Namal Rajapaksa was the minister of youth affairs and sports. Chamal’s son Shasheendra Rajapaksa who was earlier the chief minister of Uva Province was a state minister with an ’extensive’ portfolio. In addition to Namal and Shasheendra, another cousin Nipuna Ranawaka, the son of the youngest Rajapaksa daughter Gandani Ranawaka, is an elected MP.

This family enjoys extreme monopol in political power and position.  The family had extreme control over government in Sri Lanka. It was reported that 72% of the total budgetary allocations to ministries were to those under the purview of the Rajapaksa family. 

                                           The Rajapakse brothers, photo source:

Enough is enough. Now the people are on streets and outside the president’s office. Their demand is ’all Rajapaksa’ must got home. The Rajapaksa dunasty is shattering.

How was the political career of the founding father of this dynasty, Don Alwin Rajapaksa? He was elected parliament members several times from early 1950s till mid 1960s. He was condidet poluical colleaue to S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike och Wijeyananda Dahanayake. He achieved a reputation to be an honest and committed politician. He initially declined to be a minister. Later he accepted. Lastly he hold the position of deputy speaker in Sri Lankan parliament.

Let me share a tale about his eldest son Chamal Rajapakse’s prior to be a police sub inspector. Chamal was asking permission from his parents to join in Sri Lankan Police.  It was not easy for his parents to give permission. To get an insight let me quote some lines from his father’s letter to Chamal in this regard:

’Son, when you sought my permission to join the police I gave my consent after considering the matter at great length. The general belief today is that the police is capable of corrupting any person with a good character. As the saying goes bees making their hive in a Margosa tree will not affect the sweetness of its honey (—-) a person who joins the police with an unblemished character will remain untarnished. Although consumption of liquor and acquiring notoriety have become the legacy of the police, I and your mother earnestly expect you to perform your services devoid of such evil.’

Same Rajapaksa family, by carrying the legacy of Don Alwin Rajapaksa, bears allegation of diverse scandals today. Among them are Rajapaksa family received numerous of state resource abuse complaint from organisations and election monitors including on their involvement in fraud, misuse of powers and murder – prior to their fraudulent cases are money laundering that said to have taken $5.31 billion out of country illegally through Central Bank using Mahinda Rajapaksa's close association Ajith Nivard Cabraal the former governor of Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

How does it sound? Anyway, this is one of the major reasons why Sri Lankan brothers and sisters want to get rid of this Rajapaksa family. # 

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