With all the hosannas sung in his grace, all the invocations to the Devas made in his hallowed name, with all the blooming adulations garlanding his mortal frame, even before the Messiah’s arrival on this thrice blessed island’s soil, by a host of SLPP angels gathered in choir to sing his praise in unison, one [...]


Rajapaksa triumvirate in Chariot of the Demi-Gods


With all the hosannas sung in his grace, all the invocations to the Devas made in his hallowed name, with all the blooming adulations garlanding his mortal frame, even before the Messiah’s arrival on this thrice blessed island’s soil, by a host of SLPP angels gathered in choir to sing his praise in unison, one would have thought the attended mass worship heralded the long promised Second Coming to redeem all Lankans of the sins of their forefathers.

Alas, the incantations were not to hasten the prophesied manifestation of the Divine but rather to expedite the earthly second advent of Basil Rajapaksa to Parliament.   Ever since his sudden flight in early May to his adopted country, the United States of America, the clamour amongst his zealous flock of devotees for the return of the prodigal to these island shores to assume his rightful office of state, had not dimmed nor waivered.

Even when the Government of his two brothers raised the price of fuel on June 11which led to wide spread discontent, their blind faith in their absent saviour to perform miracles with magic wand did not falter nor fail them in that forlorn hour.

Instead, untrammeled faith bade them fathom the indispensability of their economic savant and spurred them to raise the singular cry that if missing Basil had only been found incarnate in the land of his birth rather than sojourning in the far flung land of his choice on the day oil prices were raised, he would have prevented his two siblings from adding fuel to an already enraged public fire.

THE PRESIDENTS OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND, POSSIBLY, THE FUTURE: The Rajapaksa troika comprising Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil presently presiding over the destiny of Sri Lanka

And, what’s more, the economy wouldn’t have been in shambles, the treasury coffers wouldn’t have been bare, the coronavirus would have been quelled and the populace vaccinated by now, protesters would not have been incarcerated at quarantine centres for there would not have been anything to protest about, the nation’s thousand woes that gave rise to a thousand wails would not have come to pass nor ever heard, had only Basil been here in the flesh.

As if in answer to the faithful flock’s fervent prayers, Basil duly returned to the island on June 24 to resume his position as backstage manager of Lanka Inc. But that was not enough to gratify their intense ardour. Their zeal demanded he be brought in from the cold, that the corporate veil be lifted and, with Treasury on its last dollar and the Government on its knees, that he be installed as the nation’s new Finance Minister with the fiscal reins entrusted to his capable hands.

Soon SLPP members of the Basil cult intensified their prayer and platitude campaign in earnest. Though it was off season, a determined group of Basil supporters dared the hazardous crossing over the choppy sea to reach the rocky islet consecrated to Devol Deviyo, one of the deities in the pantheon of Sinhala gods known as the ‘Dolos Deviyo.’ There they invoked the blessings of the deity, known as the god of vengeance, benevolence and prosperity, for their party leaders to be in favour of bringing Basil to Parliament.

Another group of SLPP members of the Basil faction in Parliament invoked the literary muse to oblige them with sufficient praise to liberally splatter, like confetti at a wedding, the best man in waiting. At a media meeting held at party headquarters, SLPP Youth Front member Buddhika Wickramadara expressed the view that ‘though Mahinda and Gotabaya are clever leaders, Basil is needed to get the Government machinery working’. While SLPP State Minister Arundika Fernando gushed in awe declaring ‘Basil’s entry to Parliament will be wondrously stimulating for Lanka’, SLPP State Minister Nimal Lansa proclaimed ‘Basil’s return will bring immense benefits and relief to the people’.

After a letter signed by all but one of the 116 SLPP MPs was handed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa urging them to bring their brother Basil Rajapaksa to Parliament, SLPP MP Amarakeerthie Athukorale enthused over Basil’s genius, exclaiming: ‘He is a leader who has seven brains.’

With the mystery solved of how one small head could hold all the genius he is credited with possessing, both prayers and platitudes seem to have answered in unison to ensure the effect it desired.

On July 8, exactly two weeks after his return from American climes, Basil Rohana Rajapaksa, already sworn in as the country’s new Finance Minister earlier, walked in to Parliament through the SLPP national list, his head, no doubt, heavy, burdened as it was by the bundle of a nation’s high hopes as the Rajapaksa brother who could revive the lost Mahinda magic and wreak the miracles his supporters expected him to deliver with consummate ease.

A gazette proclamation issued under the presidential hand on June 7, listed the most important departments and institutions under his direct command and control, mainly all departments coming under the Treasury.  Amongst others were the Central Bank, all state banks, the Development and National lotteries Boards, the Inland Revenue and Customs.

Some of the areas of responsibility given special priority included establishing high economic growth, reducing unemployment, maintaining price stability, expanding financial resources and stabilising interest rates.

While all these high responsibilities were thrust upon Basil, his brother Mahinda, the twice elected President and the Finance Minister under his own Government and that of his brother Gotabaya until July 7, must find that the bright light that emitted from his once twinkling star, to which many hitched their wagons, has begun to wane, to dwindle and dim hour by hour. Of course, it was only to be expected.

The 20th Amendment enacted last year in October had stripped the constitutionally guaranteed protection accorded to a sitting prime minister under the Yahapalana Government’s 19th Amendment which decreed that a Prime Minister, once appointed, could not be arbitrarily dismissed by the President.

Under the 20th Amendment, the post of Prime Minister had been reduced to a sinecure job, held at the favour of the President who was also the Head of Cabinet. But Mahinda Rajapaksa, perhaps, had accepted the abolishment of the 19th Amendment guarantee gracefully, knowing full well that his own position as Prime Minister was practically secure for the rest of his term.

He would, probably, have acceded to the abolishment, realising the step was taken with the long term in view, bearing in mind that if the day ever dawned that a person outside the Rajapaksa circle had to be made Prime Minister for whatever reason, he or she could be dismissed as easily as he or she was appointed, without any Constitutional bar to the dismissal.

But did he voluntarily clip his own wings when he renounced the Finance Ministry and opted instead to settle for Economic Planning and Implementation portfolio? Did he voluntarily surrender all the high flown departments that control the purse strings of the government: the financial and, thus, controlling hub of any administration before which altar all Ministers must genuflect to receive funds for their ministries’ existence and performance, including his own?

The presidential gazette dated July 7 lists out the departments and institutions under Mahinda’s direct control. Among them are the Departments of National Planning, of Census and Statistics, of Valuations, Public Utilities Commission, Welfare Benefits Board and Institute of Policy Studies.

And chief amongst the special priorities of the ministry? To formulate national policy and to formulate and implement ‘national development programmes and projects to achieve sustainable goals in accordance with the Policy Statement: Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour.’

After having surrendered his crown and throne, had he sacrificed the sceptre of financial authority, his last tenacious hold on diminishing power and influence over the ranks?

If doubts were expressed over the contents of this gazette notification, it was promptly rectified the following day. A fresh presidential gazette dated July 8 was issued, proclaiming that three institutions assigned to Basil Rajapaksa be immediately vested under the control of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Accordingly the Buddha Sasana Fund, the Buddhist Renaissance Fund and the Central Cultural Fund were rerouted to come under the Economic planning Ministry, perhaps as recompense for the loss of bigger game. But it left no doubt that the baton had been passed in the Rajapaksa relay. The ruling troika’s grip on power remained intact.

And what of the emerging July hero, the man of the moment whose ambitious plans cast long shadows across the sands of time? What makes him tick?

Basil Rajapaksa was born on April 27, 1952, the fourth son of D.A. Rajapaksa in a family of 5 boys and 4 girls. He attended Issipathana and Ananda College. In 1977 he contested the Mulkirigala seat under the SLFP ticket but lost to the UNP candidate T.D. Fransisku by 5000 votes, polling 17,000 amounting to 42 percent of the votes cast. Since that initial setback, he had been reluctant to contest the hustings again but remained active behind the scenes promoting his brother Mahinda’s political career.

In 1997, his wife Pushpa won the American Green Card lottery and the entire family migrated to the United States. He returned to assist Mahinda in his presidential bid in 2005 and played a significant role in his victory. Though by then a permanent fixture in the political landscape, he remained largely in the background whilst actively working for the new president and party and soon became a force to be reckoned with. In 2010, having already entered Parliament through the national list in 2007, the hitherto reluctant politician, Basil, contested the elections and made his first appearance in Parliament as an elected member, winning the Gampaha district with a record number of over 400,000 votes.

In 2015, after the surprise defeat of his brother Mahinda, he left for his adopted country immediately after the results were announced. However, he returned a few months later to face the music orchestrated by his political opponents and even spent time in the remand cells at Welikada for alleged corruption.

With the SLFP now under the leadership of Maithripala Sirisena, the new President in the coalition government, the decision was taken by the Mahinda camp to establish a new political party to be the vessel the Rajapaksas would use to return to power. Known for his unparalleled organisation skills, the Herculean task to create a new political party from scratch, named the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, naturally fell on him.

The fact that he had executed the given task with aplomb was evidenced when at the SLPP’s major maiden outing at the Presidential polls in 2019, it swept the hustings and brought the party’s nominated candidate, his bother Gotabaya to power by a landslide win. It also went on to give a repeat performance when at the 2020 general elections it won 145 seats, failing to obtain by only 5 seats a commanding two third majority in the House.

This Sunday morning as he ponders over the momentous week when, for the first time in the long drawn Rajapaksa saga, the three Rajapaksa brothers first presented themselves as the Rajapaksa troika, armed and guarded by elected authority and executive power, to govern the island and shape the destiny of its people, Basil Rajapaksa may have plenty to celebrate coming out of his closet to take centre stage with his siblings in the public theatre but he also has just cause  to dread what the future may portend in his new role as Finance Minister, the first dual American citizen to hold the post.

The Government has played its last trump card and staked all its wilting good will on the presumed genius of Basil Rajapaksa to raise the nation from the quagmire and see the bud of great expectations bloom in the sunlight. But is it too much to demand from one man? Consider what is asked of him.

While the economy is in shambles and lying comatose, he is being asked to give the kiss of life and raise it from the dead. While the Treasury is scraping the bottom of the financial barrel to come up with even a dime, he is expected to swish his wand and conjure dollars out of empty coffers.

While the blare of public protests drowned the din the firecrackers made when lit at the auspicious hour he was taking his oaths in the House, he is being asked to end the street ruckus by lowering inflation, and this, not even 10 days after the Central Bank, under the former Finance Minister, had printed a record Rs. 208 billion in paper money in a desperate bid to bridge the mounting deficit.

As Basil faces the daunting challenge to resurrect the economy, revive failed industries, strengthen the sliding rupee against the ruling dollar by increasing exports, and achieve high economic growth, and to do all this in the midst of a raging corona pandemic, he must wonder, in his heart of hearts, whether   he is being asked to bite more than he can possibly chew?

Have the others around him come to believe in the created hype that attended his parliamentary encore that made them pile the responsibilities while denying him the tools? Had Heaven’s malice granted his ambition’s prayers to make him Finance Minister and asked to build a legendary Atlantis out of rubble as a sign of his vaunted competence?

His supporters’ surfeit of praise, hailing him the long awaited saviour of Lanka in the days leading to his entry to Parliament, had placed him on a pedestal as the avatar of the nation’s hope. And, as Basil, attended with all our best wishes, embarks upon his entrusted mission   to turn a nation’s winter of discontent to a glorious summer, hope that springs eternal in every forlorn human breast may be the only good he has to offer the masses and hope the only bread that could sustain the people to see through this long and terrible night.

Except, of course, be warned. Sometimes the light at the far end of the tunnel may be the headlamp of the train, hurtling headlong towards you.


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