During a news briefing held at Temple Trees in Colombo recently, Minister Rauff Hakeem announced that all Muslim ministers including cabinet, state and deputy ministers have decided to resign from their portfolios.
Pix by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
Days after the barbaric Easter Sunday terrorist attack on innocent Christians, the authorities announced that the next target of the terrorists was “Hubbu” mosques, the mosques with graves of Islamic saints. Apart from the announcement possibly having been based on the intelligence reports, the logic behind it was that the terrorists were Wahhabis, who were against Muslims respecting graves of saints.
The Dawatagaha mosque at Town Hall in Colombo is also one with a grave of a saint and Riyaz Salley, the brother of former Western Province Governor Azath Salley, is the Chief Trustee of it.
Therefore, the logical conclusion one has to arrive at is that Salleys are targets of terrorists instead of being terrorists or supporters of terrorists, who killed more than 250 people at churches and leading hotels on April 21.
Azath Salley may be a corrupt politician -- as majority of politicians in the country are. He is also well-known for his summersaults from one political party to another, seemingly for personal gains.
"The ball is in the court of agitators against Hizbullah, Salley and Bathiudeen"
However, with facts we have thus far, identifying him with terrorism is illogical.
Former Industries and Trade Minister Rishad Bathiudeen in his capacity as a minister or his associates seemed during police investigations to have had business dealings with the family of Mohamed Ibrahim of Dematagoda, the father of two Easter Sunday suicide bombers.
Also, Ibrahim was a National List nominee of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at the last parliamentary elections.
Yet, for media and opposition politicians, Bathiudeen is an espouser of terrorism even before the news reached them that he had allegedly exerted a mild veiled influence on Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake to release a suspect, whereas the JVP is not.
M.L.A.M. Hizbullah who resigned as the Eastern Province Governor on the same day Bathiudeen and Salley did so from their posts is a resident of Kattankudy, the hometown of National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim and where the NTJ terrorists seem to have been based in. Therefore, it is inferable that Hizbullah and Zahran knew each other for a long time. As such, the pictures of Hizbullah shaking hands with Zahran do not suffice to prove the allegations against the former that he supported terrorism.
Hizbullah once in 1989 came to Parliament on a motorbike and it is said Bathiudeen had come to Colombo as a refugee with his belongings in a “silisili” bag after the LTTE evicted Muslims from the North.
"Muslim leaders are now accused of being racist by resigning as ministers, en masse"
However, now these two are said to have amassed vast wealth, thanks to the political system of the country! Nevertheless, their wealth cannot necessarily be attributed to any support by them to terrorism, until it is proved.
Hence, following the public outcry against these three prominent Muslim politicians, the government, without arresting them right away, had to appoint a special three-member police team for those accusing them of espousing terrorism to submit evidence to prove their point.
Muslims in the country who hate the NTJ as the entity that brought the current misery to their lives also subscribe to the government’s stance on these three men and view the campaign against them as racism with political motivation.
"The resignations can be treated as a collective defence against a racist onslaught"
It is against this backdrop that Parliamentarian Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera who was not in the scene since the Easter Sunday attacks launched a fast at the Sri Dalada Maligawa premises in Kandy all of a sudden last Friday, demanding the removal of the three Muslim politicians from their posts; interestingly, not the arrest of them.
The perception by Muslims that the agitations against the controversial three men were not merely against them but against the whole community was vindicated by increasing possibility of violence targeting ordinary Muslims around the country, leaving the three men concerned intact.
That was further vindicated by the announcement on Sunday by Bodu Bala Sena Chief Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera whose “Abasaranai” threat is said to have triggered anti-Muslim violence in Aluthgama, Beruwala and Welipenna in June 2014 that “Senakeli” (Carnival) could be seen throughout the country, unless the three Muslim politicians are out from their posts by Monday noon.
"Many Muslim leaders have not been community conscious when it came to political power or ministerial portfolios"
Frustration and fear came to a peak among Muslims with no Buddhist political or religious leader voicing against the mounting anti-Muslim rage or not criticising, leave alone condemning the “Carnival” announcement or calling for restraint.
There was a situation where there was no government in the country. Nothing was heard from President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the situation.
In some Muslim areas, people are learnt to have had a sleepless night on Sunday and some people are said to have left for safer areas.
The situation became more dangerous as a procession was also announced to be conducted on Monday from Kandy to Colombo in support of the demands of Ven. Rathana Thera.
Being sacked or resignation by the three politicians became inevitable when Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s deadline for the removal of them was approaching on Monday and Muslims were waiting for downright humiliation on top of the frustration and fear that had already engulfed them.
Heat was felt by at another level by the Muslim ministers irrespective of their party affiliations which led Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader and Minister Rauff Hakeem to criticise his Sinhalese colleagues except for Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera at the Cabinet meeting on Monday morning for letting down the entire Muslim community, while they were being targeted as a community.
"In some Muslim areas, people are learnt to have had a sleepless night on Monday and some people are said to have left for safer areas"
It also forced the Muslim ministers to take a collective decision to ease the sense of humiliation among their targeted community and the isolation of the three politicians, who in their eyes had become sheer racist targets. This was the story behind the mass resignation by the Muslim ministers, deputy ministers and State ministers from their portfolios on Monday.
The Muslim leaders told the media they were resigning from the portfolios in order for the authorities to conduct investigations against the three politicians without being influenced and for the masses to see that they are being conducted independently.
Despite this being a secondary reason, in fact, there is a situation in the country that Muslim ministers would be accused of having interfered if the accused politicians were cleared of the allegations.
"Ibrahim was a National List nominee of the JVP at the last parliamentary elections"
Now Muslim leaders are accused of being racist by resigning as ministers, en masse, without letting only the three politicians who had been accused to step down.
However, it must be recalled that many Muslim leaders have not been community conscious when it came to political power or ministerial portfolios. There have been instances in the past where some of them had even openly justified the attacks on mosques, to gain political mileage.
In fact, the mass resignation can be treated as a collective defence against a racist onslaught against the entire community.
They will go their own way even throwing acid at each other when electoral power struggle starts.
Now the ball is in the court of the agitators against Hizbullah, Salley and Bathiudeen.
They have to use the opportunity to place the evidence they have before the special police team that has been appointed to investigate the allegations against the trio.
It is also the onus on the part of the government to make arrangements for an impartial judicial probe on the complaints that might be lodged with the special police committee, without giving in to the pressures of the electorate that is to vote at the presidential election in about five months.
On the other hand, Muslims must be prepared to accept the outcome of the probe, if it is seen not manipulated by people with a vested interest.