President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Truest Friend


by Carlo Fonseka

I cannot think of my greatly mourned dear cousin, Judge of the Supreme Court Justice Raja Fernando, without remembering his (equally mourned) best friend "Bulla" aka C.R. De Silva or more comprehensively as the former Attorney General Chitta Ranjan De Silva, President’s Counsel. I first heard of Bulla as the rugby fanatic Royalist son of Supreme Court Judge Justice K.D. De Silva. I now like to think of him as the Father of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). For the record he also fathered three fine bright sons.

By Bulla’s untimely death (oh so prematurely!) Sri Lanka catastrophically lost a legal luminary who by genetic inheritance, home environment and formal education came to be imbued through and through with an acute sense of the Idea of Justice. (To this day, `What is justice?’ is a question which is easier asked than conclusively answered.) Tragically by Bulla’s death President Mahinda Rajapaksa became fatally bereft of the counsel of his truest friend at the time he most needed it. Bulla was Mahinda’s friend such as there were very few in his life. (Even against your wish, a true friend shows you the way you ought to go in your own best interests). The LLRC Report exemplifies this verity.

As best of friends should be, Bulla and Mahinda were as thick as thieves. In fact when Bulla married (my beloved forensic medicine teacher Dr. W.D.L. Fernando’s only precious daughter) Kamalini the lawyer, he chose Mahinda Rajapaksa as his best man. On almost all matters Bulla and Mahinda saw eye to eye and shared the same feelings. But by virtue of his natural advantages Bulla acquired a cosmic overview, a sense of history and a deeper insight into the problems of democratic governance of which his populist, pragmatic, professionally political friend was innocent.

As Chairman of the LLRC he brought an order of comprehension of the problem of ethnic reconciliation that was humane and civilized. Knowing Mahinda Rajapaksa as he did, Bulla realized that his bosom friend was often prone to do things which raise conventional eyebrows, some things which were ethically arguable and occasional things against his better judgment and even against his own best interests. Sadly practical politics sometimes obliges realistic politicians to act in accordance with the ancient Roman dictum: "Video, meliora proboque, deteriora sequor" – I see the better and I approve but the worse is what I pursue.

So when President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Bulla Chairman of the LLRC at a critical point in the history of our country, Bulla’s approach was very much in consonance with the advice that Polonious gave his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet: "This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst then be false to any man". And that is how – so I should contend – Bulla proved himself to be Mahinda’s truest friend.


By the LLRC report Bulla showed President Mahinda Rajapaksa the only feasible surefire road to the pinnacle of Sri Lanka’s modern history. By vanquishing the violent separatist movement decisively President Rajapaksa emerged as something of a Chandashoka. By the LLRC report Bulla showed his friend how he could now aspire to be a Dhammashoka. Ashoka, the Emperor of India in the third century BC, after he embraced Buddhism, practised exemplary tolerance. When one social or religious sect of people find themselves opposed to others, he insisted that the other sects should be duly honoured in every way on all occasions. He declared that "he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own sect in reality inflicts, by such conduct the severest injury on his own sect". His message is clear: intolerance of other peoples’ beliefs and religions does not help to generate confidence in the magnanimity of one’s own tradition.


By virtue of his long, close and special friendship with President Rajapaksa, Bulla was potentially a very powerful person, that is to say, a person with the capacity to produce whatever effects he intended. But never did he display even the faintest sign of power or grandeur. I know from personal experience that his sense of rectitude and ethical propriety was as sensitive as it was subtle. I once ventured to suggest to him that it was in his power and that it was his duty to use his ready access to the President to get him to intervene decisively to redress what I judged to be an academic wrong suffered by a former student of mine. Bulla declined to do so because the injured party was his relative. His sense of justice evidently told him that his intervention in the matter would tantamount to a violation of the principle of "audi alteram partem".


As it happened, my cousin Raja was by nature introverted, reserved, unemotional, intensely duty conscious and fastidious in his choice of friends. So when he told me that Bulla was his best friend, I couldn’t resist the conclusion that Bulla must be an extraordinary person. I now can’t remember the circumstances in which I first met Bulla but quite frankly we never became close friends. He was a Royalist and proud of it. I was a proud Josephian who resented the arrogance of most Royalists. He was a rugger buff who excelled in that aggressive sport for which I could never work up an enthusiasm. He was of vigorous physique and virile and tough. Besides I was his senior by some 15 years. My relationship with him therefore was essentially an avuncular one.

But I vividly remember one direct encounter with him. For no valid reason Musaeus College once invited me to be the Chief Guest on their prize day. (I suspect that for Raja’s sake Bulla might well have contrived to thrust that honour upon me). In the event it turned out to be a high point in my public life. Hundreds of stately, matronly lady teachers of the College lined up to welcome me to the hall. As a member of the Board of Governors, C.R. De Silva presided over the event. I sat next to him and we exchanged pleasantries. At one point in the proceedings a schoolgirl dressed up as a kind of "pothe gura" in a nadagama recited an elaborate, flowery eulogy of me which sounded like my obituary. My response to it had to be either to openly laugh or cry and I allowed my tears flow freely. I felt Bulla’s embarrassment and empathy for me. To relieve the tension I whispered to him that I wished my mother was there to listen to it because she is the only one who would have unquestioningly believed every word of it. Bulla laughed and after that we both felt better.

Justice Raja Fernando

In 2008 when Raja Fernando fell mortally ill with a rare cancer (amelanotic melanoma) Bulla became very concerned and actively intervened to procure for him the best treatment available in the world. He told President Rajapaksa about the matter who kindly phoned me and offered to help (This was not necessary because as a judge involved in international legal work Justice Raja Fernando had comprehensive medical insurance.) When it became clear that western medical science had no answer to Raja’s terminal illness, Bulla asked me whether he could arrange for alternative medicine with presidential blessing. I readily agreed but the intervention was to no avail. When Raja passed away Bulla did not disguise his deep sense of private and public loss occasioned by Raja’s death; even as President Mahinda Rajapaksa was deeply affected by the untimely exit of his friend Bulla.

Coming to think of it many of the really good men of our time are no more – Vijaya Kumaratunga, Raja Fernando, Tissa Abeysekara and Bulla himself- come readily to mind. Although modesty forbids, honesty compels me to add that I am myself well past my prime and not in the best of health.

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