| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( July 3, 2013, Colombo,Sri Lanka Guardian) For quite some time now India has been trying to understand with at least a modicum of certainty, where exactly Mahinda Rajapaksa stands on the issue of the 13th Amendment. India needs to gain some insight into his thinking on this, so its leaders could evaluate his genuineness and reliability in respect of his various promises and pronouncement regarding the Amendment. However, his thinking on this vital matter is as elusive as ever. Even his close associates find it near impossible to read his mind.

Wikileakes revelations in recent days have laid bare a few pointers, which could perhaps help pin down his inner convictions on this matter. It discloses details of several discussions Rajapaksa has had with US Ambassador Jeffery Lunstead just prior to 2005 Presidential Election. A careful perusal of this throws some light on how to unravel the exact stance of Mahinda in regard to 13A. In one of the leaked cables datelined 30 September 2005, Ambassador Lunstead records a discussion he had with Nirupama Rajapaksa, a niece of the President, who has bluntly remarked about Mahinda's inscrutability, and reluctance to disclose his inner feelings.

"The Prime Minister's gratuitous decision to defy the President by signing electoral pacts with the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – especially when he did not need to do so to gain their support – had only exacerbated tensions, Rajapaksa observed. 'It was very foolish of him,' she commented. When asked why he chose to sign the pacts, Rajapaksa replied that he had calculated it was more important to snag JVP votes – and pre-empt any possibility of them running a candidate – then to woo minority voters. In the Prime Minister's view, the minorities would never vote for him anyway, she explained. On the other hand, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is organizationally weak at the grassroots level compared to the Opposition United National Party (UNP), has lost many supporters to the JVP in the South, and the Prime Minister believes he needs the JVP's organizational abilities to help him win against the UNP. When asked if the Prime Minister truly believes the anti-peace process positions he espoused in the JVP and JHU agreements, Rajapaksa responded, 'Who knows? He will never say what he believes,' the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington."

Discussion between US Ambassador and MR

In a subsequent Wikileakes cable datelined 12 September 2005, details of a discussion between US Ambassador and Mahinda Rajapaksa are quoted as follows, with special reference to an agreement the latter signed with JVP just before 2005 Presidential Election.

"Rajapaksa, more energetic and articulate than we've seen him, is supremely confident that he can control and manipulate the JVP to suit his electoral purposes. We hope he's right. The problem is that he seems oblivious to our point that 'words matter' and that interested international partners (and, presumably, the LTTE) cannot help but read his pact with the JVP as a renunciation of the peace process and economic reform, even when viewed through the prism of electoral opportunism. Our counsel that 'words matter' seemed to fall on deaf ears but we will continue to make it. At several points during the conversation Rajapaksa also made clear his resentment of the Bandaranaikes, the manner in which they have treated him, and theirpresumption, as he sees it, that the SLFP is family property," the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

"The Ambassador noted that the economic tenets of the JVP agreement seemed to endorse major steps backwards on economic reform and privatization. Rajapaksa dismissed such concerns, noting that the agreement 'endorses globalization' and only finds fault with privatization of key government entities. Asked about the agreement's endorsement of a 'non-aligned' foreign policy, Rajapaksa sputtered a bit about the need for Sri Lanka to 'not be aligned exclusively with any foreign country.' The Ambassador noted that the JVP's role models included Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong II, all representing countries that had done nothing to further Sri Lanka's development. The Prime Minister laughed off the Ambassador's comments, noting that the JVP, following a trip by several of its leaders to Japan, is "now more interested in Japan as a model."

"The Prime Minister told the Ambassador that there should be no cause for concern since the agreement was 'just words.' Moreover, there had been translation inaccuracies from the signed Sinhala original into English. Rajapaksa reviewed his long history of opposition to and district electoral victories over the JVP and told the Ambassador that he knew how to handle them and use them. In order to win the election, the Prime Minister said, JVP support was essential, and he knew from experience that the way to handle the JVP is to agree to whatever they want in order to get their support. You must understand this is an election campaign. I want to win, so I need everyone.' Moreover, Rajapaksa concluded, there is nothing in the agreement he signed with the JVP that could be construed as not supporting the peace process. 'I want peace,' the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington."

'Words matter'

The following cable, under the subheading 'Words Matter' by Ambassador Jeffery Lunstead, highlights Mahinda feelings about Norwegian mediation and the peace process.

"The Ambassador asked Rajapaksa, if, by signing the agreement, he wanted to see the Norwegian facilitators replaced. 'No,' replied Rajapaksa. 'Nobody else could do the job.' The Ambassador suggested, in that case, that the Prime Minister issue a statement saying he thought the Norwegians and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) are doing a good job. 'IF I say that, I will lose the elections," Rajapaksa replied, noting that '98%' of Southern voters believe the Norwegians are biased in favour of the LTTE. The Prime Minister told the Ambassador, 'I can one hundred per cent guarantee you the peace process will continue' and cited as an example his public declaration that he will meet LTTE supremo Prabhakaran face-to-face if he wins. The Ambassador said that was a significant gesture but it is important to continue 'step by step' progress on the ground and that the contents of the Prime Minister's pact with the JVP could easily complicate that task."

In another cable Mahinda's views about JHU and Anti-conversion Bill are recorded as follows:

"Under the subheading 'Anti-conversion Bill Dead' the Ambassador wrote 'As the meeting wrapped up, the Ambassador asked Rajapaksa about the status of the anti-conversion legislation. The Prime Minister waved his hand dismissively and said it is still in the Parliament but it is dead.' He said he had told the Buddhist JHU party to forget about it."

Mahinda acting with his inherent political shrewdness did nothing to ditch Norway from the peace process. He, in fact, revived the sputtering peace process. It was Prabhakaran who scuttled it and started launching attacks on the security forces and the civilians in border villages; the Kebitigollawa massacre being the most vicious and notorious. The LTTE even tried to assassinate Mahinda's brother, Gotabhaya, and Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, which effort though failed, left Mahinda Rajapaksa with no alternative than to implement war option. The closure of the Mavil Aru anicut was the last straw; Mahinda declared war against LTTE terrorism.

In the backdrop of the above developments it stands to reason that Mahinda did not deceive America; he admittedly manipulated JHU and JVP to his advantage. He helped create rifts within the JVP and JHU; at a later stage, those parties were divided into separate factions, weakening them further. Mahinda admitted to his handiwork in discussions with Ambassador Lunstead.

Quite in contrast, Mahinda did not try to honour his promises to India; to solve the ethnic problem in the country, giving effect to 13A. Blame for it cannot be imputed to the JHU and Weerawansa's Party due to the simple fact that even during the Presidential Election, Mahinda did not listen to them with any seriousness. What changed Mahinda after the war could have been, due to one reason and that one reason alone; Gotabhaya's rejection of the entire Provincial Council system itself. The US and India could have been important to Mahinda over and above the JHU and JVP as revealed in the Wikileakes cable. But no one can be more important to Mahinda than Gotabhaya, not just because he is his brother, but more so because he won the war for him to enable Mahinda to remain as President of a united Sri Lanka.