Colombo, June 7 (Daily Express/newsin.asia): Using the post April 21 blasts scenario, Sri Lankan politicians, in whose ranks one should include sections of the Buddhist and Catholic clergy, are vigorously jockeying for positions with an eye on the forthcoming Presidential and parliamentary elections.
Investigations into the Jehadi network which made the April 21 suicide attacks possible have now taken the back seat. What is engaging the media, the politicians and the clergy now, is the political fallout of the blasts, and how to derive the maximum electoral benefit from the emerging scenario.
Rehabilitation of the families affected by the blasts and of the victims of the anti-Muslim riots in the North Western Province in May, is of little or no concern to the media, political leaders or even the government.
The principal pre-occupation now is how to marginalize the Muslims politically and economically; how to strip them of their cultural distinctiveness; how to drastically reduce their political influence; and how to intimidate the common Muslim into submission. Arrests and subtle boycotts are parts of the strategy.
The law and order machinery is used against both the leaders and the common Muslims. The community is demonized by insinuating that some of the Muslims want to reduce the Sinhalese population by using ingenious means like sterilizing their women or rendering their men impotent through food.
Three Muslim high profile politicos, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hisbullah and Western Province Governor Azath Salley, were targeted. Bathiudeen was accused of amassing wealth questionably and having links with Jehadi terrorists. Hisbullah is accused of having dubious Saudi links and trying to promote Wahhabism by setting up a so-called “Shariah University.” Azath Salley was also accused of having some links with Islamic extremists though he was the one who had exposed alleged Jehadists in the Tawheed movement.
Seeing the political opportunity in the developing situation, President Maithripala Sirisena who was intending to contest the Presidential election, pardoned the incarcerated firebrand Buddhist monk and Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven.Gnanasara Thero on the grounds that he was the first to warn of Jehadist tendencies among a section of the Muslims.
The President followed the release by inviting the monk for tea and publicized the meeting.
Gnanasara Thero, who initially said that he proposed to be a recluse, in no time changed and called for strong action against deviant Muslims. He sought action against Muslim politicos Rishad Bathiudeen, MLAM Hisbullah and Azath Salley for alleged Jehadi links.
Udaya Gammanpila, the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and a member of the Joint Opposition, moved a No Confidence Motion (NCM) against Bathiudeen in parliament. But the ruling United National Party (UNP) was not for it as it would mean letting down a cabinet minister on unproven charges.
But by way of abundant precaution, since some UNP MPs were for the NCM, the UNP persuaded Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to submit an NCM against the entire government so that the UNP/UNF would unite to safeguard the regime.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the April 21 blasts led to the arrest of Dr.Seigu Shihabdeen Shafi, a gynecologist at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, for possessing wealth vastly disproportionate to his income. But a report in a Sinhala daily said that Dr.Shafi had sterilized 8000 women while they underwent a Caesarian done by him. Instead of getting a scientific investigation done, the police and the hospital authorities asked women who had complaints against him to submit them. Over 300 petitions were submitted.
Muslim members of the Council of Ministers met President Sirisena and requested him to rein in the police who were detaining Muslims on the slightest pretext and booking them under inappropriate laws. Since Sinhalese lawyers would not appear for the alleged Muslim terror suspects, the Muslim Ministers formed a panel of lawyers to appear for them.
Taking advantage of the Kurunegala case, the Jathika Hela Urumaya MP, Ven. Rathana Thero, went to the Kurunegala Hospital and lent support to the agitated women. The next thing he did was to go to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and sit on a Fast Unto Death seeking the resignation of Bathiudeen, Hisbullah and Salley.
During the fast all interested politicos visited him. This included Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s lieutenants, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven.Gnanasara Thero and the Catholic leader Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
Concerned that the death of the fasting monk might trigger widespread anti-government and anti-Muslim riots, President Mathripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the trio to resign and face a police inquiry. The trio resigned. The police set up a unit to receive complaints as the previous complaints were not accompanied any evidence.
With the entire Muslim community being targeted through indiscriminate arrests and the existence of a threat of violence, all the nine Muslim members of the Council of Ministers announced their resignation, both in solidarity with Bathiudeen, Hisbullah and Salley and to defuse the communal situation.
But in order not to put create panic in the government, they announced that they would remain in the UNF, but as backbenchers.
With Ven.Rathana Thero succeeding in his mission to get the resignations, his monk rival and BBS leader Ven.Gnanasara Thero slammed him for making all the Muslim ministers resign and erroneously portray the struggle as a “Sinhala-Muslim conflict” and divide the country. Gnanasara Thero pointed out that most Muslims were against terrorism and were helping the investigations, but Rathana Thero’s fast had alienated all Muslims.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera slammed Cardinal Ranjith for visting the fasting Rathana Thero, saying that the Cardinal was “fanning the flames of communalism”. Samaraweera said in a subsequent statement that Rathana Thero’s fast and all the song and dance around it had further divided the country. He castigated opposition politicos, Rathana Thero, the Cardinal and the media for usurping the functions of the law enforcing agencies and the courts and coercing them to follow their dictates.
The Joint Opposition, which had been silent except for the vituperative statements by Wimal Weerawansa and the actions taken by Udaya Gammanpila, described the mass resignations as a divisive move done with an eye on getting the Muslim vote.
Keheliya Rambukwella said that all that the agitators wanted was the resignation of Bathiudeen, Hisbullah and Salley but the government had made all Muslim ministers resign and give the impression that the Joint Opposition is against all Muslim Ministers and Muslims as a whole for getting the Muslim vote.
Ven.Gnanasara Thero appears to be toeing President Sirisena’s line, while Ven.Rathana Thero appears to be toeing the line of the Joint Opposition.
As a fire-fighting measure, the four Mahanayakes of the Buddha Sasana have appealed to the Muslim Ministers to get back to their offices. But the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Rauff Hakeem has said that the Muslim Ministers have no intention of changing their mind and that they resigned en-masse to allow the government to conduct an inquiry without any possibility of interference by Muslim ministers.
President To Support Sajith Premadasa
Sirisena had said that he would not contest the Presidential election but would not support Mahinda Rajapaksa’s nominee either. He would support a UNP candidate if the UNP changed its policies.
Later, he told Cabinet Minister Mano Ganeshan that he would support the UNP if it fields Sajith Premadasa who, in his view, is pro-nationalist, pro-poor and pro-rural, unlike the present top order in the UNP.
The President also said that Sajith Premadasa had requested to be Minister-i-Waiting when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Colombo on June 9, and that he had given his assent.
(The featured image at the top shows Minister Rauff Hakeem speaking on behalf of other Muslim ministers)