Namal Rajapaksa, 31, is former Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s eldest son. An MP and a rugby player, Namal was arrested in July 2016 on charges of money-laundering in a crackdown on members of the previous administration. Namal spoke to The Indian Express from Colombo, before catching a flight to Russia as an independent observer in the presidential polls. Excerpts:
You are seen as the next-generation politician from the family. How do you foresee your political future?
It depends on my destiny. Because modern-day politics doesn’t work on a dynastic background… Dynasties are part of Asian culture, but at the end of the day, what matters most is who is going to get into leadership.
Existence in politics is all about how you behave, how you work, how you spend time with people in your constituency… I will definitely continue in politics and see where it takes me.
There has been conflict between minority communities and the majority Sinhalese Buddhist communities. How do you view this communal face of Sri Lanka?
Extremism is everywhere, not only with Islamic or Buddhist groups. It is about how the government tackles them. For example, if the government believes that Islamic radical groups are getting stronger and take the side of Buddhist groups, or they antagonise Buddhist groups by siding with Islamic groups, it will not be able to play the role of a government. A government should be ideally impartial, it shouldn’t follow radical or extreme elements. That is the only way to sort out communal problems.
How deep is your Sinhalese identity?
Everyone believes in what they believe in. Protecting your own belief and culture is not extremism. I believe that it is always good to have a culture and belief in something. It is very important to take that forward to our next generation.
Have you ever thought about looking at the reconciliation process of Tamils after the war, if they are being treated equally?
Reconciliation will take more time; wounds will not be healed overnight. It was never a war between the Sinhalese army and Tamils but between the Sri Lanka government and a terrorist organisation. In the process of reconciliation and bringing harmony, what we needed is powerful Tamil politicians. Unfortunately, we don’t have a second generation of Tamil politicians… Efficient and educated Tamil leaders were assassinated by LTTE… For a long-term political solution and representation, I feel political parties should give an opportunity to young Tamil leaders to come up, an opportunity to be in the limelight, get them media exposure and a role in decision-making for the country. By doing that, reconciliation will happen. If you keep on believing in regional political interests, your interests will be regional, so the solution too. So we need to have national leaders from Tamils.
How do you look at relationships with India, China and Pakistan?
Sri Lanka always considers its priorities first. My father’s priority was ending the war, we worked with India, Pakistan, China, US and Israel for our goals. Our primary interest is development. So we invited Indian private sector companies to come here. When you see the huge Shangri-La hotel on the Colombo seafront, two huge structures being built next to Shangri-La are Indian investments. Whatever be the political interpretations surrounding the Indian Ocean region, I feel Sri Lanka should maintain a neutral position. While India was always like family in spite of misunderstanding or miscommunication, our China relations were based on religion, culture and commercial transactions dating back to the Silk Route.
How close are you with your counterparts in other dynasties in neighbouring countries?
I am in touch with most regional parties and dynastic families. Even if we have to keep our country’s interests first, I have friendships with almost all of them. For instance, I speak to Rahul Gandhi. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari [Pakistan] and Sajeed Wazed [Bangladesh] are all my friends. Our families too interact often. When Rahul got elected president of the Congress, I called him personally to congratulate. Bilawal too is very close to me, whenever I go there, I stay at his house. Wazed was based in Washington DC earlier and now he is back in Bangladesh. I am not in touch with the Saudi prince [Mohammed bin Salman] but I am closely watching that young leader. I am sure he will look at his own culture and traditions to protect it while going into new avenues. Because 1.1 million Sri Lankans are in the Middle East, I am closely watching all developments in Middle Eastern countries.
The Qatar emir [Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani] is also young while Dubai has a young family coming up. It is very interesting to see this new generation of western-educated, Middle East leaders and how they are governing in traditional Arabic culture.
Your view India, its politics and foreign relationships?
Domestic politics is up to them. But in the last four or five years, India has had a global presence under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Now, Rahul is also making the same presence with his trips to the Middle East, Malaysia and Singapore. But there is criticism as well against the Modi government in Sri Lanka. Many feel that the current Sri Lankan President is adopting many policies of PM Modi. There is widespread criticism that the Sri Lankan President’s approach in issues such as corruption and the way he deals with Opposition leaders is similar to that of Modiji. But in a larger way, I strongly believe that Sri Lanka can play a major role, we can be a communicating point between India and Pakistan, whenever they want a dialogue.
Can you describe how you, as a teenager, perceived the war?
Mostly it is men who start the war, and women and children die. People who start the war often forget the purpose at one point. So the war that was led by my father against LTTE was all about calculated damage, collateral damage. No war in the world has been won without damage. If you didn’t fight the war, what would have been the damage? The world would have called Mahinda a good man but because he finished the war, our women are able to lead a dignified life without being abducted by LTTE to fight for them; our children are now going to the school instead of taking up arms.
The war did have effects on my personal life as my mobility was restricted as the son of the President. But that was the time I played rugby in college. At one point, I had to change from Cardiff University in London to another following an attack and major security threats. But I don’t believe that there was a Tamil diaspora but only an isolated LTTE diaspora who created trouble abroad. Even protesters before the London High Commission had been speaking Indian Tamil, not Jaffna Tamil. If these Tamil diaspora are so worried about Sri Lankan Tamils, they should come and help Tamils here.