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Thursday, 14 February 2013






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Government Gazette


“Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other” said Samuel Johnson in ‘Thanks, Frank Lynch’.

To me if anyone had the unparalleled virtue of courage it is President Mahinda Rajapaksa. When the greatest boxer ever Muhammad Ali visited Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North East of England in 1976 he was asked by a young Pakistani Muslim girl, Shameem Mirza, how he was able to move freely without any bodyguards as anyone of importance like Ali in the United States from where Ali hailed from always took the precaution of security by having an armed bodyguard. Ali’s reply was, “I do not need any human security when I have the belief in the greatest ‘bodyguard’ in the creator of the universe – Allah”. Ali in turn asked the question ‘didn’t Oswald shoot President Kennedy despite the massive number of security personnel around the President? – If you have belief in the greatest source of security – your creator God – you do not need anyone else to protect you’ said Ali.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoists the National Flag at 65th Independence Day celebrations held in Trincomalee. Picture by Sudath Silva

I was reminded of the above incident that happened in my presence when I was living in Newcastle Upon Tyne, when I saw President Rajapaksa break ranks out of the security cordon to literally shake hands with the massive number of people who came to Trincomalee to see the Independence Day celebrations there. This for me was unmatched courage, because late President Ranasinghe Premadasa was blown into smithereens by an assailant during a May Day parade, pretending to be a supporter.

Evil forces

Anyone in the crowd pretending to shake the President’s hand could have attacked him. Did they not do the same thing with the last President Chandrika Kumaranatunga? I am sure that the action of the President in ignoring the security cordon to meet the public, surprised all the security personnel as much as it surprised Ministers, other parliamentarians and the high command of the Security Forces who were in the podium. A parliamentarian Al Haj A.H.M. Azwer who is very close to the President and who took me there was all praise for the President’s courage as Azwer himself had the experience of being in the same May Day rally when Ranasinghe Premadasa, another close friend of his, was assassinated.

As contained in my quotation from Samuel Johnson in the opening statement to this article, the President by his courage has convinced the people of Sri Lanka that he has the fortitude to provide security for his people – the people of Sri Lanka from any evil forces that might come between them. His speeches delivered on that occasion and on two other occasions in Eravur and Amparai at the inauguration of University buildings there – incidentally I also had the opportunity to attend these functions - are convincing proof that the President was not prepared to play or tolerate politics associated with divisions in the country on religious or linguistic discrimination of the majority upon the minority.

I am sure that chiefs of the Security Forces might have advised the President against having the Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2013, not so much in Tricomalee, but in the location in which the parade and ceremonies were held. There was no guarantee that any encroachment could have taken place from the sea. After all this was an area that is totally unprotected being a natural harbour, but as Ambrose Redmoon said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear”. Therefore, it was apparent from the presence of such a large number of security personnel in Trincomalee, that there was an element of fear. But for the President, perhaps the judgement that instilling confidence of security upon the people of Sri Lanka was more important than any fear that he or the Security Forces might have had.

Immediately after the Independence day celebrations, the President undertook another historic journey amidst threats from Tamil protagonists in India. Waikal, Seemaan, Karunanidhi were vociferous protestants of the Sri Lankan President’s visit to the Holy Buddha Gaya, the place of Gautama Buddha’s birth. Even Sri Lanka’s opposition politicians joined in the ‘fun’. The Indians threatened the President with severe consequences on his life if he came to that country and even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu – Jayalalitha joined in asking the Indian government not to allow the visit. Let us not forget that despite the heavy security provided the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Ghandi himself was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber masquerading as a supporter. Therefore, what guarantee can the Indian government give President Rajapksa of his safety? These threats did not deter President courageous Mahinda Rajapksa from undertaking the journey and he returned by the help of the triple gem back to this country, hale and hearty and courageous as ever.

Practice compassion

Winston Churchill said “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”. President Rajapaksa has convincingly displayed both these qualities.

I have seen this myself when I had the occasion to meet the President on some occasions. He was not only prepared to stand and speak his mind to whatever audience he was addressing, he was also prepared to listen to the needs of the public.

He spoke to the Buddha Sangha in the same manner as he was prepared to listed to the Muslim Ulema. In the same context of sitting down and listening, the compassion that the President showed to the little girl accused of stealing eight coconuts because she was asked to bring Rs 800 for white washing the school walls was soon spotted by the President from newspaper reports to which he immediately responded that no child in Sri Lanka should suffer such indignities.

Dalai Lama says “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”. I have not known of any head of State who had read a newspaper story and reacted in such manner as that of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He showed that he was not only courageous by he is as compassionate as he is brave.



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