Need of the hour Patience until an election
Posted on June 9th, 2019

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

It is a possibility that Athureliye Rathana Thera delivered a doosra when he launched a fast-unto-death to force the Government to remove Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M Hizbullah and Western Province Governor Azath Salley. Having had supported the Yahapalana Government that failed spectacularly, Rathana Thera was in a political limbo and needed a strategy to regain his former political status. The Opposition in the meantime had thrown the Government into a classic catch 22 by passing a No- Confidence-Motion against Cabinet Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.  


The Government worthies obviously do not want to see Bathiudeen as a possible extremist element, but more as a block vote. In the upcoming Presidential election that is just months away, the minority block votes may prove to be the decisive factor – especially for a Government that had antagonised basically every sector of the voter base.  


They had thus, been showing a remarkable reluctance to investigate the circumstantial and other evidence that is getting stacked against Bathiudeen, implicating him as the possible hand behind the recent violent incidents. Navin Dissanayake, whose own father was killed by a suicide bomber, earned the public’s opprobrium for his insensitive and immature stance on the matter.
The situation became even more difficult for the Government with its own MPs, mostly the Christian and Tamil MPs from the TNA also calling for Bathiudeen’s removal from the Government. Tamils in the Eastern Province had never got along well with its Governor, Hizbullah.  This thus, has become an important opportunity for them to get rid of their much detested Governor.


The No Confidence Motion brought in by the JVP against the Government had been ridiculed by many quarters as an attempt to unite Government Forces that were pulling in different directions over the matter of Bathiudeen. It was while the attention was thus on the two No- Confidence- Motions, one NCM by the Opposition against Bathiudeen and the NCM by the JVP against the Government, that Rathana Thera decided on a fast unto death protest until these three Muslim politicians were removed from the Government.


Government MP Rathana Thera’s protest was unique because as a UNP National List MP, he is a member of the incumbent Government. Therefore, in effect Rathana Thera was basically protesting was as a member of the Government against his own Government. Usually, the popular venue for these kinds of protests is Vihara Maha Devi Park. However, Rathana Thera chose Sri Dalada Maligawa, which is the most sacred of places to all Buddhists around the world.  


In fact one sarcastic social media post pointed out that the most appropriate venue for Rathana Thera’s protest is not in front of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, but in front of Sirikotha. Clearly, not all had been fooled by Rathana Thera’s performance. However, to the larger segment of the society Rathana Thera’s single handed protest was apt and timely.


This protest against these three Muslim politicians which started as a single action by an individual quickly gathered traction. While some including former TNA MP S. Viyalendran, launched their own fast unto death campaigns, others staged hartals. Even in Kandy town, which had always been an unwavering UNP bastion, the shop owners shut their businesses in show of support for Rathana Thera. This protest that quickly became a movement is an indictment against these three Muslim politicians.


Non-conformity


One of the main reasons for Rathana Thera’s protest to receive the level of support and applause that it did is also because of the ever widening gap of trust between the Muslims and non-Muslims. This animosity against the Muslims may have come out into the open in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacres. However, it did not begin with these massacres; nor did it form after the statues of the Buddha were vandalised.  Until very recently, Muslims were very much an integral part of Sri Lankan society. They may have opted to wear a particular type of sarong, or loosely cover their heads with the sari fold or favoured the shalwar kameez, these dress codes were not threatening. Unlike the large groups of Muslims that had recently migrated to Europe who are refusing to integrate with the rest of the society, Sri Lankan Muslims were always part of Sri Lankan society.


Yet, since of late, they on their own had opted to alienate themselves from the rest of the society. The black garb that the women, now, wear and the long unruly beards the men sport, now, are definitely intimidating. Even the less radical Muslim women, who never covered their heads, now do so with a scarf, albeit often a colourful one. One such lady explained to this writer that this change was brought on as a protest against the US’s position against the Muslims. If that is indeed the case, then it is deeply ironic that almost the entire Sri Lankan Muslim community supported the US sponsored regime change in 2014.


Two of a kind


Either way, the non-Muslims now feel a need to unite against the Muslims. That need compelled many to overlook Rathana Thera’s political past that is both unsavory and opportunistic. This is not the first time that Rathana Thera or his erstwhile political pal Champika Ranawaka had become politically destitute. After the repeated fiascos while in the Sihala Urumaya and then later the Jathika Hela Urumaya, not many took notice of them even when they supported Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 2005 Presidential campaign.


However, they were able to turn events around over the Mavil Aru issue. They touted their march to Marvil Aru for its worth and portrayed that it was they who pushed the Rajapaksa Administration into taking a military approach to the terrorist issue. With that small drama, they managed to ensure powerful portfolios for themselves.


Rathana Thera’s protest against the Muslim politician is not that different to the Mavil Aru drama. On the third day of the fasting, not only these three Muslim politicians but all Muslim politicians in Parliament issued a joint statement to the effect that they would be resigning from their portfolios to enable investigations to continue unhindered.


On that mere pledge to resign from their portfolios, Rathana Thera ended his fast – even though resigning from portfolios is not the same thing as resigning from the Government. Rathana Thera was hospitalised immediately after ending his fast and released about two days later. However, even at the time of his release, the Muslim Ministers had not followed their statement with letters of resignation, nor have they handed over their ministerial vehicles, nor have their Parliamentary privileges been revoked, nor have they taken the backbenches as promised.


In fact, security for some had been enhanced and Bathiudeen, Rauff Hakeem and Kabir Hashim had been assigned front bench seats on the argument that the first two are Party leaders and the third is the UNP Chairman. This is a privilege Deputy Leader of the UNP Ravi Karunanayaka did not receive when he lost his portfolio. The Joint Opposition had taken exception to this stance, for party leaders Udaya Gammanpila, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, V. Radhakrishnan and Palani Digambara have not been recognised in this manner.  Rathana Thera’s hunger strike appears to be a trick engineered by the Government, itself. Whether people will choose to get fooled or not remains to be seen. 

If this plot fails, the consequences can be quite dire – especially with complaints against the sterilisation doctor rising daily, which can be construed as a genocide attempt of the Sinhalese. We are in effect sitting very comfortably atop a rumbling volcano and the only hope Sri Lanka has is that the people will have the patience to wait for elections to transfer power peacefully from a Government that plays the number game to a patriotic and a visionary government.


Duty of Muslims


At that time Muslims too have a larger role to play in securing a safer nation for all. The destruction of National assets, such as Wilpattu, was a taboo topic just because the alleged hand behind it is a Muslim. It is futile to disown perpetrators after tragedies such as the Easter Sunday Massacres if before they were protected by a block vote.

ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com

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