Q/ How would you describe the situation in Sri Lanka? What has changed and what has not?
A/ President Ranil Wickremesinghe has managed to restore law and order, and has addressed certain basic issues, like 16-hour-long power cuts and long queues at fuel stations. There was a problem with supply chain. It has been resolved and the economy is stabilising. But I am not saying that the government has done everything to put the economy back on track. Yet, there has been a massive change in the past 12 months, considering where we were last year.
Q/ You say there was a conspiracy to dethrone the Rajapaksa family. Who was behind it?
A/ There were many forces behind it. This is not the first time that Sri Lanka has gone through something like this. I am sure countries like India, as it heads towards becoming an economic superpower, will always find people who do not want to see certain countries in Asia becoming bigger because we were colonies once. I will not blame anyone, because as a government, we must be prepared to face this. But we have to make sure that something like this will not happen again.
Q/ Has Sri Lanka lost confidence in the Rajapaksas, particularly in Mahinda?
A/ Mahinda Rajapaksa is still very popular among the masses. He is very active and has his own policies and vision. And the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Party) is his party. The SLPP has a bigger role to play now.
We were elected with 69 lakh votes in 2020. Unfortunately, we could not go ahead. It may be an external force or a conspiracy, but it made us take one step back. But again, we have got back together and got President Wickremesinghe elected. We have a responsibility towards our people to bring back normalcy and help the current government to stabilise the economy. I believe president Mahinda Rajapaksa has a bigger role to play in that, with his experience and knowledge. This is his 53rd year in parliament. I am sure when there is an election, the SLPP will win the majority.
There are reports that you are rebuilding the SLPP.
The SLPP is a party with a vast network. It is not based in the urban areas. The masses are our base. But, at the same time, I believe that we must restructure our party, especially our policies. The current government has managed to do a lot of things. But there are gaps everywhere, especially regarding the domestic economy and our manufacturing industry. We also need to ensure mass employment creation. The SLPP is working very closely with a lot of organisations to restructure ourselves and redefine Sri Lanka. We are working on a policy paper about making Sri Lanka a trillion dollar economy in the next 20 years.
Q/ What do you have to say about India’s role when the Aragalaya movement was at its peak?
A/ Everything happened because Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister on the request of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Gotabaya then resigned because he did not want any violence. He could have saved the government by employing the military. He had two options: either save the government or save the country. He took a step back and decided to keep the country safe, so that the next group of people who are going to be elected from the parliament can move forward. None of them consulted any foreign country because we believe that our decisions should be based on the interests of the people of Sri Lanka.
Q/ Did Gotabaya make a mistake by fleeing the country?
A/ I believe that it was not the right decision. At the same time, I understand that it was unavoidable, because of security reasons. You have to go through that emotional process to understand that and also to realise how dangerous it was.
We can make statements as politicians and as individuals. But once you go through that kind of trauma, only then you understand. I was stuck inside the Temple Trees (prime minister’s residence) then. The houses of the parliamentarians were burnt. My house was burnt. One of our MPs was killed. But there was no support from the police or the military. I understand why he fled, but I believe he should not have. But it was his choice.
Q/ What is the psychological impact the Aragalaya protests have had on the Rajapaksa family?
A/ We had a tough time. But we have gone through similar situations earlier. Back in 1989, our house in Tangalle was bombed just after my baby brother was born. I was only three. Now our houses were burnt by the same political party. My wife and my son, who was one and a half years at that time, experienced a bigger trauma as they don’t have any political background. Their vehicle was attacked. Something similar happened with my brothers and their families as well.
But as a family we believe that we have done our best. When my father took over the country, we were a $17-billion economy. In ten years, he made it a $85-billion economy. He also ended a 30-year-long war. Under him, the economy was growing at 6.7 per cent, and the unemployment and interest rates were in single digits. Entrepreneurs were booming and industries were well established. But this is politics. We are used to it.
Q/ What kind of support did you get from China? Do you think Sri Lanka is caught between India and China?
A/ I thought like that at one point of time. We thought that we were trapped between two big countries. But things are changing. Eventually, I believe it is all about trade. China was a very strong trade and infrastructure development partner for us during my father’s tenure. But neither China nor India has been doing politics in our country. Perhaps certain political parties want that. But I am sure that those countries are not interested.