There are always a few who stand up in times of communal madness and have the courage to say that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
- Geraldine Brooks
Any incident of political significance has a direct bearing to the time in which it takes place. The incidence, incitement as well as the response or repercussions of that particular event could be shaped by the dynamics of time or to be precise, the timing in the political and historical clock. For example the 1971 insurrection was badly timed as a new government that had just come to power by popular demand had not exhausted all its popularity by the time the insurrection took place. It was doomed to fail. Had the uprising taken place a few years later the chances of its success would definitely have been higher.
In the case of the Easter Sunday bombings, the repercussions definitely had been shaped by an atmosphere where the majority body polity was bracing itself for crucial elections in a few months. Even before the bombings there were signs that all three camps i.e. the UNP, SLFP and the SLPP were eager to mollycoddle the ultra-national Buddhist sections as was clear from the statements made by their leaders. For example, the President who came to power as a common candidate with the mandate to uphold rule of law and accountability, deviated to a position that those in uniforms should not be taken into custody or questioned without his consent, signalling a brazen departure from the concept of equality before the law, which the good governance mandate that propelled him to power in 2015 championed as one of their front line banners. On the part of the PM, the shelving of the constitutional amendments, which yet again, was a mantra for him in the first few years, indicated that he was playing communal politics.
In such a backdrop, it was clear that the Easter Sunday bombings would serve as a definite clincher in terms of the swaying of the Sinhala Southern polity towards a nationalist chauvinist standpoint. Yet the proportions it took was something that must have surprised even those who were eager to take political mileage out of it. The lackluster approach of the government, after a shocking lapse in responding to very clear intelligence reports provided by a friendly country, in dealing with the anti- Muslim phobia of the non-Muslim sections of the society, showed that it was so apprehensive of jeopardizing its prospects cometh a national election, be it Presidential or General.
Imagine such bomb attacks taking place in the year 2015 immediately after the victory of the present President: would the entire society fall in to the kind of phobia and paranoia as it did in the after math of the April 21 attacks? Very unlikely! The dominating mood then, was towards consensus and reconciliation.Would the chauvinist elements in the fringe have been able to mobilize lumpen sections among the Sinhala Buddhist society to anti- Muslim riots as they did in Kurunegala, Minuwangoda and Kuliyapitiya? Would the security forces have been reduced to mere onlookers, while the rioters torched and destroyed property belonging to the ordinary Muslims? Would government officials have been able to dictate terms as to what dresses people should wear, as they did in this instant? I hardly would think so. Would the President find himself forced to release Ven. Galagodaatthe Gnanasara, who, had been imprisoned after being found guilty of contempt of court, in the first place and not in relation to any ‘patriotic’ activity as such.
The crux of my argument is that the definite and distinct racial bigotry and intolerance that gripped the Sinhala (as well as Tamil) society, had its roots in the dynamics of the political winds that have been blowing leading up to April 2019. The utter bankruptcy and incompetence of the unity government had made it difficult for either of the two leaders of the government to get re- elected and that a candidate from the Joint Opposition, who would more likely than not, be of a jingoistic chauvinist disposition would stand a better chance. The acknowledgement that a candidate with a more racially tolerant outlook would find it challenging to overcome one with a ultra-Sinhala Buddhist backing had begun to shape up the collective psyche of the South, as was seen by the reluctance of witnesses and state officials in the cases that were pending against security personnel charged with murder, abduction and ransom rackets.
Who is to blame? The two leaders of ‘good governance’, of course! Not only have they allowed the racial and religious bigotry that was checked in 2015 to sneak back in to the socio-political landscape yet again; they have allowed such forces to hold to ransom the very ideals for which they stood up then. Raving monks are allowed to insult the judiciary and walk free while others are allowed to subdue the due process of law by compelling the leaders to sack politicians based on their ethnicity alone. When officers charged with grave human rights abuse hold top positions in the military, only some are held accountable for alleged connivance with terrorists.
Looking down the election barrel
As we look down the elections in another six months, what the good governance band wagon has to offer are apologies, excuses and empty rhetoric. The salutary achievements of the January 8 mandate have not only been diluted beyond recognition, the holders of that mandate have become the executioners of all such achievements of good governance which the public thought would be their charge. It has come to a level where the President, who, earlier took credit for the 19th Amendment now, places it in a heap with the infamous 18th, and vows to abolish both! It has come to a situation where the Prime Minister, who earlier sounded as if he was the very embodiment of what is called consensual governance, says that it is difficult for two to ride a vehicle. That was what they have done to the mandate of the silent revolutionaries that went to the polling booth on January 8, 2015.
They abused their own child!
Now the guidelines for the upcoming Presidential and General Elections would be ones which are highly racially and religiously polarized; pitting one race against another, one religion against another and nothing else. All political alignments are going to be along the lines of communalist and divisive factors rather than consensus across the nation.
Courage and political will
Easter bombings and the after math of violence, Islamophobia and paranoia has only aggravated what was always underneath; communalist and opportunistic politics of the three main leaders who call themselves national leaders! The two in power in particular, have allowed the country to become a store house of inflammatory gun powder which could explode any minute, with the potential to burn the entire country to the ground.
Instead of making the dastardly attacks on Easter Sunday a catalyst to show the dangers associated with extremism and fanaticism, of all types and to lure those who are vulnerable to such ideologies, what has happened is that even moderates are being forced to the fringe.
Lack of courage and political will of the two leaders of government, could not have been seen in a clearer way!