Old photo shows Sri Lanka’s first PM holding grandson, not current president as a child

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

An old photo of a boy being carried by independent Sri Lanka’s first prime minister D.S. Senanayake has been shared in multiple social media posts that claim the child is a young Ranil Wickremesinghe – who was sworn in as the crisis-hit country’s new president in July 2022. However, the claim is false. The photo shows Senanayake holding one of his grandsons.

"Ranil in the arms of D.S.", reads the Sinhala-language caption of a picture shared on Facebook here on July 15, 2022.

"D.S." refers to the late D.S. Senanayake, independent Sri Lanka's first prime minister. He is considered the "Father of the Nation", owing to his role as one of the leaders of the non-violent independence movement against British colonial rule in Sri Lanka.

"Ranil" is Sri Lanka's President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in on July 14 after the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa fled to Singapore when protesters seized his official residence and office -- the culmination of months of protests over what critics said was his mismanagement of the island nation's economy, leading to severe hardship for its 22 million people.

Protesters have also demanded the departure of Wickremesinghe, who they see as a proxy for the former leader.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on July 21, 2022

The picture resurfaced in WhatsApp groups alongside a similar claim in 2022 after Wickremesinghe was sworn in, but has circulated on Facebook as early as 2015 here; and in 2020 here and here.

The claim, however, is false.

A reverse image search of the picture on Google led to this article published in the Sinhala-language newspaper Silumina on October 21, 2018.

Titled "Meeting 'D.S' after 68 years at the Bothale mansion", the article featured a photo of the late prime minister that corresponds to the picture circulating alongside the false claim on social media.

The Bothale mansion is the Senanayake family's ancestral home.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the picture in the misleading post (left) and the photo as it appears in the Silumina article (right):

Screenshot comparison of the picture in the misleading post (left) and the photo as it appears in the Silumina article (right)

The photo's caption reads: "D.S. with kids - he is carrying Rukman, seated on the tractor is Devinda. Surrounding them are children from the village."

Rukman Senanayake is a grandson of the late leader and was a politician representing the United National Party.

A spokesperson for the Senanayake Foundation, which maintains archives, preserves historical documents and information relating to the Senanayake family, told AFP the picture shows Rukman Senanayake -- not Ranil Wickremesinghe.

"There was a confusion over this image a few years back as well and we clarified that this is in fact Mr Rukman Senanayake," the spokesperson told AFP.