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New Delhi denies rumours that Mahinda Rajapaksa is in India, though son may have left Sri Lanka

All in the family. Yoshitha Rajapaksa, former chief of staff to the former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda, with brother Namal Rajapaksa, former minister of Youth and Sports (Photo: Yoshitha Rajapaksa/Twitter)

With Yoshitha Rajapaksa—former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's son, and his wife allegedly leaving the country on Monday amidst a massive public upheaval, rumours began circulating in Sri Lanka that Mahinda and family too have fled the country.

Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror reported that Yoshitha and his wife had left for Singapore. Later, unconfirmed social media reports said that he has arrived in Melbourne, Australia.

In happier times. Yoshitha Rajapaksa, father Mahinda Rajapaksa and brother Namal Rajapaksa with family (Photo: Yoshitha/Twitter)

Yoshitha's apparent departure assumes significance as he held powerful positions. He was the chief of staff to the Sri Lankan Prime Minister—his father Mahinda Rajapaksa, and was a retired lieutenant commander of the Sri Lankan Navy.

Early last month, the wife and in-laws of Yoshita’s brother Namal—the former sports and youth affairs minister, were reported to have left the country on April 3. Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror reported: “The wife of Minister Namal Rajapaksa, Limini Rajapaksa and her parents have left the country today morning, amidst rising public protests against the government. Limini Rajapaksa and her parents left the island for an undisclosed location, sources confirmed".

In view of the buzz created by speculation that Mahinda Rajapaksa has fled to India, the Indian High Commission in Colombo set the record straight. 

Denying the rumour, the website of the high commission in English, Tamil and Sinhala posted a statement that said: "The High Commission has recently noticed rumours circulating in sections of media and social media that certain political persons and their families have fled to India. These are fake and blatantly false reports, devoid of any truth or substance. The High Commission strongly denies them".

In another statement, the Indian High Commission also refuted rumours that India is dispatching its soldiers to Sri Lanka. Such rumours about Indian military arriving in Sri Lanka had begun circulating in early April also.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) highlighted its humanitarian support to the island nation.

The MEA said that as a close neighbour of Sri Lanka, with historical ties, "India is fully supportive of its democracy, stability and economic recovery. In keeping with our Neighbourhood First policy, India has extended this year alone support worth over US$ 3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka for helping them overcome their current difficulties".

Stressing on the people-to-people links, the press statement said: "In addition, the people of India have provided assistance for mitigating the shortages of essential items such as food, medicine etc. India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka expressed through democratic processes".

Yoshitha seems to have left the country within days of a bitter political spat over serious allegations of corruption levelled by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) member of parliament Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The JVP leader had levelled allegations against Yoshitha over a land deal. Yoshitha, and also the Prime Minister’s Office, hit back saying that Yoshitha will file a legal case against the JVP leader over baseless allegations. However, other JVP leaders also challenged Yoshitha to move court over their allegations.

The JVP is one of the staunch communist parties that is leading the protests in Sri Lanka. 

Till reports last came in, Mahinda—who had resigned as the prime minister on Monday, was sheltering at the Trincomalee naval base with his family after being evacuated in the nick of time on Tuesday morning. Angry crowds continue to surround the naval base.

Meanwhile, despite the clamping of curfew, protestors have burned down over 100 homes and hotels across the nation. These include at least three homes belonging to the Rajapaksas, and other properties belonging to their loyalists. In the latest news, the government has given shoot-at-sight orders to the army in a bid to quell the violence.