What is Mahinda Rajapaksa doing now, is a question that many people ask. Now he speaks to thousands of people who visit him daily at his Carlton residence in Tangalle. Bus loads of people visit him daily. He is the leader who reconnected the North and South of Sri Lanka. He is definitely the leader who could claim the credit for winning the war. But, people brought Mahinda to the level of an ordinary citizen within nine hours, after his defeat at the 2015 presidential poll. He had to retire prematurely as the fifth President of Sri Lanka. This is the nature of politics. Defeat, as usual, teaches us more important lessons.He was the celebrity of Sri Lanka for the past nine years. He lived in Temple Trees and travelled around the country surrounded by people, officials, servants and security. After a month since his defeat, we visited him in Tangalle, to see how he is spending his retirement.
One must visit him in Tangalle during the weekend to witness the respect he gets from the people as a genuine village baiya as he called himself during the budget debate. Earlier, people travelled to the South from the North to worship God Kataragama, but now they stop at the Carlton bungalow in Tangalle, to get a glimpse of the former leader of Sri Lanka. On the first day he returned from Colombo to Carlton, people flocked to his house crying and he had to speak to them standing on a window sill. Even today, about 50-bus loads of people arrive in Tangalle to see him during the weekends.
The small house is now open to visitors from the four corners of the country. Meals are served to them all.
"You saved our lives. Otherwise, we would not have survived," the elderly people who visit Carlton say while another says, "We warned you against the enemies, but you did not understand them."
Mahinda may be heartbroken, but he is seen reclining on an armchair at the Carlton bungalow welcoming people, touching heads of the elderly women who worship him from time to time and kissing kids.
"Now I have time to talk to you. I didn't have time for that earlier. I like this life. It is wonderful to be free. Come and chat with me any time," he tells the people.
This is how his neighbours describe his retirement: "President Mahinda was always surrounded by people and it is still the same. He doesn't like to be alone. He visits homes of his friends in his jeep. He takes baths in the sea and walks in Tangalle town, without any security, as he did in the past."
He appeases the voters by stating that he will not quit politics and that he will be there for the people any time to solve their problems. "The allegation regarding a military coup is a fabrication. I did not want to do so. Chandrika did not hand over the presidency to me on a gold platter. I won the people through campaigns like Pada Yathra. She had to grant me the candidature. Several parties appeared for me. If they are subjected to injustice I will appear on stage and also fight for them."
Mahinda responded to the endless questions of the people light-heartedly. "In the past, only the wealthy businessmen whom I helped came to see me. Now the ordinary people come to see me. They are really loyal to me. I am happy. I cannot be politically assassinated. I will respond if the allegations are levelled against me, to their faces."
He expressed his woes genuinely before the people. "Chandrika says I scolded her when she called me to wish me. She is lying. She did not speak to me. I phoned to her three times, but she could not be contacted."
As he was mingling and chatting freely with the people, we silently left his Carlton bungalow in Tangalle.