By Dilanka Gunathilake and Shavani Shesadi
"Today I feel glad to see such a massive number of people at this rally, in an effort to show our vehement opposition to this government," former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said addressing the Hyde Park meeting organized by the Joint Opposition last Thursday.
He said, "When I got up early this morning, I learned that a rumour had been spread, saying that I will not be attending this rally.
"Also three motorcyclists had come near my house, and had inquired from neighbours where Mahinda Rajapaksa's house was situated.
"Still there are idiots like them. Anyway, when I took over this country in 2005, everyone was aware of the state the country was in.
"When I took over the government, we had to face five major issues. The first issue was the economic crisis.
At a time when all banks were falling globally, we managed to hold our own on behalf of the people.
"We saved the Seylan Bank which was on the brink of collapse by taking it over.
"Then came the tsunami that devastated the country. Around 38,000 to 40,000 people perished in that disaster.
When the entire country went into mourning, we provided strength to those who survived that natural disaster.
Then the fuel crisis began. Today a barrel of oil is US$ 27. Then it was US$ 127. Even in such a situation we were able to provide fertilizer at Rs 350 although it cost Rs 9,000.
"The people of this country will vouch for the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa did not cut even a cent from concessions provided for the people.
"Now fertilizer cannot be bought for Rs 350. We also did not take away Rs 250 from the allowance paid to elders.
"All the benefits were provided to the public, although the government was facing a plethora of problems. We gave schoolchildren uniforms and books without interruption.
"Then a food crisis began. We went to India. However, New Delhi said as they too had to feed their own people, they were not able to help us.
Self-sufficient in rice
"Then we went to Myanmar and Vietnam. All of them gave the same reply. Afterwards we decided enough was enough and took the decision to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice.
"We made this country self-sufficient in corn, but now they are importing so many items from overseas.
"Furthermore we had to face the rigours of the war initiated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Although some of the previous leaders of the country had played with the LTTE for over three decades, we were able to completely rout one of the world's most ruthless terrorist outfits from the face of the earth within a span of two years and nine months.
"It was not only the Sinhalese who are the majority in this country who suffered at the hands of the Tigers.
"We also managed to safeguard the rights of the Tamil people. However, it was the Muslims who suffered the most from the war.
Muslims kicked out
At the height of the war, Muslims were kicked out of North. People like Rishard Badurdeen were seen hiding in Puttalam. We provided freedom to all of them.
"At the time, even unemployment rate was very high. The economy was in peril. I took over a country like that in 2005.
"However, within nine years we improved our economy bringing Sri Lanka second only to China.
"Now they allege that I took loans. However, what they tend to forget is that after taking those loans, I was able to work for this country.
"I took only US$ 190 million to build the Mattala International Airport and didn't I build the airport?
"To build the Hambantota Port I took US$ 426 million and didn't I build it?
"To build the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant, I took US$ 1340 million and didn't I build it?
"To build the Matara Highway I took US$ 630 million and to build the Colombo-Katunayake Highway I took US$ 248 million and I built that as well.
"And now just take a look at the number of loans taken by the present government. In 2015 March the government took US$ 400 million from India. In May last year US$ 450 million was raised through bonds. In June the same year US$ 110 million was raised from India. In October 2015 US$ 1,500 million was raised through bonds.
"In 2015 alone the government has taken US$ 2,711on million through bonds. In one year alone they have taken US$ 6,371 million as loans. How is the record?
He challenged the government to show the people whether it has built at least a culvert with the loans it has raised.
This only goes to prove that neither Ranil Wickremesinghe nor Maithripala Sirisena can steer the country out of its morass.
"Now they say all the loans taken by me have been hidden. Just go to an ordinary tea boutique and ask the boutique keeper whether he will lend any money or goods without having a written record of it.
"They are also charging that the loans taken by me are without agreements. If the loans taken by me have been hidden and if they are without agreements and if they have been stolen, then they need not repay them. So why are they shouting from the rooftops? There is no need to shout. Now the government is facing many other serious problems.
"There are many allegations against the ministers of my government. I have no grouse with them for levelling charges against me personally.
"The Yahapalana Government even imprisoned one my children after leveling charges against me. Yoshitha Rajapaksa was imprisoned for over 40 days. However, I told him that I stayed much longer than him in prison. In fact I was in prison for three months and so there is no need for any big hue and cry over it.
The only difference is that Yoshitha is not a politician. Now they are going after Namal Rajapaksa. I told him if you are taken into custody, stay in prison not just three months but six months at least. When I was imprisoned I was much older than both Namal and Yoshitha. Those two are still young.
"However, if these people think that when they threaten my children, I will quit politics, it is only a daydream. Even if they were to incarcerate my whole family, I will continue to engage in politics to serve the country. From 1936 onwards, the people of this country have never shunned the Rajapaksas. They will never do so during our lifetime or even after we depart.
"I am not saddened by sending us to prison. What I cannot stomach is the continued imprisonment of our war heroes to whom we owe more than our lives for having saved the country for us to live peacefully.
"If the war heroes are allowed to enjoy their freedom for having saved the country for us to live in peace, then even if all of my children and brothers are imprisoned, I will not raise a finger against the government.
"During the height of the war the soldiers could not go to visit their families. They were separated from their families because they risked their own lives to save the nation from LTTE terrorists.
Imprisoning war heroes
But what is happening today is very sad. War heroes are incarcerated at Welikada. We seek justice from the judiciary. Just because the government passes various laws, do not imprison war heroes unjustly and allow their families to suffer.
"I clearly tell both the government and the judiciary not to penalize innocent children of the war heroes by sending them to prison. What we seek from them is impartial and unbiased decisions especially from the judiciary. Leaders must pay attention to these matters.
"When I came to this rally I saw some elderly people around 70 holding placards. They are asking for jobs and they are youngsters like me. When they work do not take revenge from them. If I had taken revenge from my political rivals, I wouldn't have been able to serve the people.
If I too had continued to open the cupboards then many skeletons would have fallen out of them. That is what the government is doing now. But I wouldn't have stooped to such acts.
"If you cannot run this country properly, then give it back to me and I will show you how to govern. We will give fertilizer at Rs 350. We won't destroy or sell State enterprises.
"I won't plunge the country in darkness even for 10 minutes. The Chinese sponsored Port City Project has been put on hold by the government. I ask the government to restart the Port City Project. Do not lose our friends. They gave degree holders 100,000 jobs for having thrown their weight with the government. The government is unable to give jobs for the youths because they cannot generate 15 lakhs of jobs every year.
"If we return to power, we will restore the pension rights of government employees. I will always be with the people and I'll continue to support them.