Daya Ratnayake was Gota’s main man. Gota’s wish was Daya’s command. Daya really was just what Gota needed. There wasn’t a thing Daya wouldn’t do for him. He let out battalions of soldiers to attend Gota’s personal tasks, he cleaned his crime scenes, blurred the numbers in his corruption. If Gota wanted to borrow a luxury vehicle (registered under the military) or even take one home, Daya was his first phone call. When Gota was furious about the people of Weliveriya ruining his day with their protests against polluted water, one call to Daya (on his first day of work as commander) and three protestors were shot down. When Chichi baby decided he no longer wanted to sit in the audience of Rugby matches, one tap on Daya’s shoulder and Rohitha Rajapaksa is recruited by the Army and made captain of the team overnight. When Daya’s son needed to go to university in the United States, Gota provided the financial assistance. Daya was Gota’s lap dog, partner-in-crime and good friend. And when the election campaigning time came, it’s Daya who Gota needed the most. A friend in need is a friend indeed, Daya knew this very well. He knew that all his hard work to keep the Rajapaksa’s in power will pay off and his time as army commander would be extended and all the perks (legal and illegal) of it that he enjoyed, would hang around for a few more years.
Although it is both illegal and unethical to engage in political campaigning in uniform, while still in office as a government/military servant, no body campaigned for Mahinda Rajapaksa as hard as Army Commander Daya Ratnayake did. Daya had a very hectic schedule in November and December speaking to soldiers at Army camps across the country burning up the jet fuel of the state funded military helicopters and luxury cars, costing millions of rupees at a time. He would have the camps gather thousands of soldiers at all army camps and bases in the Northern, North Central, North Eastern and Eastern Provinces and speak to them about the need to keep the Rajapaksa’s in power. The speeches at all camps had a consistent structure. The speeches in Novemeber were slightly more subtle, starting off with how it is thanks to the Rajapaksa’s that we are all living in peace. (Terrible idea: don’t tell the soldiers who fought the war and lost brothers and fellow soldiers to end the conflict that the credit goes to the Rajapaksas) Then he would move on to a reference to all the development happening across the country thanks to the Rajapaksas. (Another bad idea given that it was the soldiers who soak in the rain and burn in the sun doing the construction work for the Rajapaksa’s infrastructure projects.) And he would end the speeches brushing on the need to keep them in power to continue this peace and prosperity. The speeches got less and less subtle towards end of December when he would speak about reasons not to vote for the common candidate. He would insult President Maithreepala’s speaking skills and say certain words that the President has a habit of using in an attempt to make the crowds of soldiers laugh. Little did he know that the soldiers were laughing at Daya, not his joke, because come January 8th the soldiers and their families all voted for Maithree.
Daya wasn’t entirely naive. He knew that a backup plan was necessary. Which is why he lead the team pioneered by Gota for a post-election military coup. He handpicked the best guys for this job. “Who here had the most to lose if the Rajapaksa’s lost?’ he thought. The first to come to mind was General Sumedha Perera. Daya knew that Perera had recently illegally acquired several acres of land from the North for his personal use. Daya recommended Perera to Gota and coming highly recommended, Perera was soon one of the leading members of the team and they would spend countless nights making a game- plan. The story of how the coup plan fell apart is a story for another time.
Daya has done all he can to make things right with the current President, but signs of an extension for his stay as commander in the Army are not to be seen. He has visited multiple monks and even the Prime Minister (which is quite ironic, given that thousands of soldiers have heard him make homophobic insults at his expense just months ago.) But Daya still keeps his head up high, hoping for a better day. This article is in honour of Daya’s extreme perseverance to stay in power, it’s a story for the history books.
By Retired Army Officer