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On the ‘Gota Principle’ of retirement

"Gotabhaya defended the country. He rid this island of the menace of terrorism. We can breathe, we can get about without fear and when we say ‘bye’ to a friend we do so knowing that he/she will not fall victim to a bomb explosion or suicide attack."

By Malinda Seneviratne

(October 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some years ago, Roshan Mahanama wrote a book, Retired, hurt. The reference was to the game he loved and excelled at, cricket. Sometimes one gets injured while batting and is forced to get back into the pavilion. That’s ‘retired hurt’. The word ‘hurt’ in this instance had other connotations. Mahanama clearly left the game early, i.e., while still in his prime. He was consistently putting his hand up and delivering for team and country when he was dropped, according to him for reasons outside his ability, his relative merits over contenders for his place in the team. He was hurt.

All sports personalities have to retire someday. Some retire early, out of boredom or because other things require the kind of attention that would take away from full commitment to the particular sport. Some, like Michael Jordan, retire, only to un-retire not long afterwards. Jordan won three NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls (1991-1993) and quit the game. He tried his hand at baseball for a couple of years with the Chicago White Sox and decided to return to basketball. He rejoined the Bulls at the tail end of the 1994/95 season and helped them win three more championships (1996-1998). Then he quit. That was an ‘on a high note’ quit.

It is not always like that. People grow into their jobs and their jobs grow on them. Retirement then becomes an unclothing of sorts and is naturally disorienting. Then of course, when certain jobs are highly remunerative, people are extra-reluctant to let go. They sometimes know that they ought to due to performance-drop and redundancy, but often fool themselves and everyone else into thinking that this is not the case. They get hoofed out eventually, either by higher authorities or by the inevitable and unforgiving foot of time. When this happens it is not pretty.

My reflections on retirement are inspired by a comment made by Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during an interview with The Island. He spoke on retirement, maintaining that he was dying to return to his roots, that he looked forward to getting into a sarong and breathing the air in his native village.

On the face of it, this sounds quite idyllic and quite the ‘right’ kind of statement to make. It’s something everyone dreams about but never really does or is able to do. The difference here is that Gotabhaya has made a public statement about where he wants to spend his retirement.

The important element is the fact of retirement and the clear indication that he is not interested in getting into politics. He dismissed speculation regarding contesting the next Parliamentary Election from the Kurunegala District, saying that he had been trained for a different role: ‘I was trained to defend the country in a different capacity and I believe I have done my part; the war is over the country is free’. Rarely do people recognize that competency in one field does not necessarily mean one is able to take on any task and deliver.

There were, arguably, many who contributed to the military defeat of the LTTE, but there were undoubtedly a handful of people who played pivotal roles. Apart from President Rajapaksa, who stood up to the world so his Security Forces could get the job done (admirable, considering that JRJ caved in when India dropped parippu, and others after him could be persuaded to abandon everything with a single telephone call), there were the Commanders of the Security Forces, the IGP and the Head of the Civil Defence Unit.

And there was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a man who stood by his fighting forces, unwavering in his determination, getting them the equipment they needed and ensuring they got the training, in addition to attending to the invariable odds and ends issues that could derail an entire operation if not handled swiftly and effectively.

Gotabhaya defended the country. He rid this island of the menace of terrorism. We can breathe, we can get about without fear and when we say ‘bye’ to a friend we do so knowing that he/she will not fall victim to a bomb explosion or suicide attack. There were many who were out to oust the Defence Secretary and one shudders to think what might have happened on the battlefield had this happened. He was the right man for the job and he took it at the right time. He exceeded all expectations.

In a society that rewards the incompetent and where ‘connections’ count more than skill, the President’s younger brother will not be begrudged any post, diplomatic or otherwise, that he might want. He could contest from any district and win handsomely, riding on the wave of popularity his brother enjoys and of course the gratitude of the public for being part of a team that did what many thought was impossible.

And yet, ‘Gota’ says ‘no’. Simply, he has done his job and done it well, and must move on. That’s his thinking, going by what he’s said in the interview. He is then going against the grain. Few, if any, would opt for retirement if in his shoes.

It is in this context that Gotabhaya’s statement confers upon him the rare title of ‘statesman’ and ‘national leader’, both acquired by dint of performance. If Gotabhaya Rajapaksa strengthened us through his actions as Defence Secretary, I believe he would nourish this society in other and important ways if and when he keeps his retirement pledge.

There are a very few men and women who leave a lasting and endearing mark on societies. This is one. His remark on retirement sends a signal to all the lesser men and women whose insatiable greed turns them into the parasites we really don’t need. His impending retirement hurts, yes, because he stands above the rest for many reasons. He certainly deserves the fresh air of Giruvapattuwa and we can only hope that his decision to indulge in sarong-clad breathing in his native village infuses much needed fresh air to that ugly country called ‘Business as usual’.

I wish him a fruitful retirement and I wish others learn something from this man of exceptional skill and (happily) unusual decision.
-Sri Lanka Guardian


Guy said...

He is a man with a word and I doubt that he may come back to politics like many others. I think we should have salute him rest of his lives for stopping the terrorism menses.

Ajee said...

Mr. Gootabaya Raamapaksa is true sone of Mother Lanka. His name will written in SL history as one of the skillful and determined gentlemen. He promised and he delievered.

Well done Mr. Rajapaksa.

Aloysius said...

We want the team to continue. MR as president, SF as prime minister, GR as defece secy.

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