When Gotabaya Rajapaksa Headed for Muslim Maldives, Saudi Arabia

When France witnessed a massive upheaval against the then President Charles de Gaulle in 1968, he was forced to leave his post and flee from Paris. Just guess the country where he took refuge. It was none else but (West) Germany – against which he, during the World War-II, had led a great fight between…

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Soroor Ahmed

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When France witnessed a massive upheaval against the then President Charles de Gaulle in 1968, he was forced to leave his post and flee from Paris. Just guess the country where he took refuge. It was none else but (West) Germany – against which he, during the World War-II, had led a great fight between May 1940 and August 1944. Lakhs of people had perished in this bloody four years long battle.

After the end of World War-II, de Gaulle emerged as a national hero. But France soon got plunged into 13 years long political turmoil and the Fourth Republic collapsed in 1958. The army had to intervene and de Gaulle was ultimately elected President of the country after the formation of the Fifth Republic.

However, a decade later France once again saw largescale protests and violence compelling de Gaulle to vacate the country and take shelter in Germany, which was then divided into two – the West was a capitalist nation while East a Communist. On November 9, 1989 both of them got united to become Germany. Communism too had collapsed and two years later the then Soviet Union got dismembered.

Something similar is happening in Sri Lanka. After Mahinda Rajapaksa became the President of the island country (2005-15), he trusted the responsibility of crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, a terrorist outfit, on his brother General Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He was made Defence Secretary of the country. He succeeded in getting rid of LTTE after 26 years long (1983-2009) messy showdown between Tamils and Sinhalas. Both the parties were involved in worst types of atrocities and terrorism.

The Rajapaksa brothers were soon hailed as the national heroes who had done something extraordinary which none of their predecessors could do it. The extremist elements in Buddhist Sinhalas termed this development of the summer of 2009 as a great victory over Tamils, who were mostly Hindus.

It is easy to win a war than peace, goes the saying. As the Rajpaksas failed to deliver on other fronts after the war, they as a part of strategy to distract the attention of the masses, discovered a new enemy – Muslims, who form only 9.7 per cent of the population of Sri Lanka. This time the enemy

was largely imaginary as apparently the Muslims were in no position to pose threat to the majority community of the country.

In fact, it was the LTTE, which started the massacre and expulsion of Muslims from north and east Sri Lanka on the charge that they are backing the majority Sinhala population. Muslims have substantial presence in this region.

While the 74 per cent Sinhala population have ever since independence on February 4, 1948, always been trying to impose a sort of majoritarianism, the 15 per cent Tamils, who had historical links with India, strongly resisted this discrimination. Sri Lanka finally got engulfed into the civil war in 1983. But there was apparently no such scope of Muslim-Buddhist clashes.

The post-2009 anti-Muslim passion was the outcome of the ultra-nationalism stoked by Sinhala Buddhist politicians and some religious leaders.

Rajpaksa’s party, the Sri Lanka Peoples Front (SLPP in Sinhalese language) adopted this anti-Muslim posture more forcefully after he was unseated in 2015. In 2018 Sinhala-Muslim riots broke out. However, on April 21, 2019, that is on the Easter Day, something unusual took place. In suicide attacks on churches and hotels 259 people were killed and over 500 injured. About 45 of them who perished were foreigners. The spate of bombings widened the Muslim-Sinhala relationship. It remained a mystery as to why the terrorists targeted Christians, a small minority of seven per cent – both Sinhalese and Tamil speaking.

Some experts were of the view that these attacks had little to do with the Sri Lankan politics but was a revenge to the Christchurch (New Zealand) shooting inside a mosque by a Christian. The incident, which took place on the eve of the visit of the Bangladeshi cricket team to the mosque on March 15, 2019 left 51 dead and 40 injured.

Later, in 2019, Mahinda regained power and became Prime Minister. He cashed in on the Easter incident for winning election. This time he got elected his brother Gotabaya as President. The grip of the family on the power tightened with about half a dozen Rajapaksas appointed to various posts.

When unrest sparked off in April this year, Mahinda, according to initial unconfirmed reports, fled from Sri Lanka. Rumours started doing the rounds that he might have taken shelter in India, or may possibly be in Tamil Nadu. No report suggested that he went to Pakistan or China, the two countries which helped the island nations fight the Tamil separatists. In contrast, India always sympathised with the Tamil cause. But later reports confirmed that Mahinda was still in Sri Lanka.

A couple of months later when the massive revolt started in Colombo, his brother President Gotabaya flew to the Maldives, a Muslim country. From there he moved to Singapore and now is heading for Saudi Arabia, another Muslim country.

It sounds somewhat strange as to why Gotabaya, a Buddhist, chose an Islamic country and not a Buddhist one when there are a handful of them in the vicinity. He did not hesitate in making a Muslim country his choice when his government in Sri Lanka left no stone unturned to suppress this community.

If he really decides to settle down in Saudi Arabia, Gotabaya would be the first non-Muslim leader to do so in that country. Earlier, former Ugandan ruler Idi Amin, ousted Tunisian Presidents, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, took shelter in Saudi Arabia.