Communal violence, sparked by the death of a 41-year-old man, overshadowed the political developments that were to unfold this week. A motion for the vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political rally by the Joint Opposition and a decision on the appointment of a Law and Order Minister were the likely events that were eclipsed by violence that raged in Kandy and neighbouring areas since Monday.
Unable to defuse tension, the government ran into turmoil receiving brickbats not only from outside but also from within.
While the affected areas in the central hills still remained engulfed in violence, the Ministers hurried to the Presidential Secretariat for the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning. Taken aback by the rising flames of communal tension, the President immediately summoned the Ministers to a separate conference room upstairs.
“There is an emergency situation developing in the country. We cannot have the usual Cabinet meeting now. We can have it in the evening. Let’s discuss what is to be done to arrest the trend!” he told the Ministers.
The Ministers, present, fell in line with the President.
Rishad Bathiudeen lashed out at the police calling them inept in bringing the situation under control. He opined the police could have acted in time to prevent escalation of violence
Rishad Criticizes Police
No sooner had the meeting kicked off, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen lashed out at the police calling them inept in bringing the situation under control. He opined out that the police could have acted in time to prevent the escalation of violence.
Urban Development and Water Supply Minister Rauff Hakeem viewed that the law enforcement and peace maintaining were different. He said one had to be careful in the enforcement of law because arrests of some persons would also trigger reaction from others for inflammatory actions.
Along with them, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka also viewed that stringent action should be taken to restore order at this time.
Next came the discussion on the introduction of the State of Emergency for the first time after 2011. Sri Lanka had been in a state of emergency from 1971 till the regulations were relaxed on August 31, 2011 after the end of the war.
There were exceptions of very brief periods during this time.
Amunuguma has Reservations About State of Emergency
Minister of Special Assignments Dr. Sarath Amunugama expressed his reservation about the re-introduction of the state of emergency by a presidential proclamation as it would affect the image of Sri Lanka in the international arena.
Already, the foreign missions, resident in Colombo, closely observe the unfolding developments regarding the communal tension in the central hills.
Probably, they want to ascertain whether such emergency regulations, in force, they would hamper the lives of people. Under normal circumstances, these regulations are considered repressive. After the end of war in 2009, Sri Lanka came under immense pressure from a section of the international community to revoke the emergency regulations after the war was over. The then government lifted the state of emergency in 2011, two years after the end of the war after weighing pros and cons.
Dr. Amunugama’s argument holds water in such a context. Let alone the communal tension it stirred further and further. As such, the other Ministers insisted on the need to have the state of emergency to deal with the situation.
The President declared the state of emergency afterwards. After that, some ministers opined that social media activities should be controlled at this time to prevent the spread of ideas, video and audio files that could instigate violence between the communities. The President said he once tried to enforce regulations to this effect, but could not proceed due to objections from the Ministers themselves.
“Once I wanted to do something in this regard. Then, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe worked out a mechanism for it. I had to shelve it as other Ministers were not in favour,” he said. The Ministers like Dayasiri Jayasekara vowed to strengthen the hands of the President at this time. They said they would cooperate fully this time. Accordingly, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission [TRC] blocked internet connection making it unable to use the social media and other internet applications on Wednesday in the Kandy area where violence was flaring up.
The government believes the use of the hate campaign inflamed tension taking it to the level beyond control. The government ministers - both Muslim and non-Muslim - were critical of the police over the escalation of violence and spreading it like bushfire.
Communal harmony is not something that can solely be achieved through law enforcement
Kiriella Blackguards Police Officer
Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella, at a meeting with the area police, blackguarded the officers in charge of Kandy. He said he sensed seeds of communal discord being sown by some and alerted the police.
“I told you about it. But, you simply ignored it and said everything could be controlled. What happened now,” he asked a top police officer assigned for Kandy.
Mr. Kiriella, Leader of the House, cut short his parliamentary business scheduled for Tuesday and rushed to his constituency in Kandy to coordinate with the law enforcement authorities to subdue communal flames taking their toll on people.
After the war in 2009, SL came under immense pressure from a section of the international community to revoke emergency regulations after the war was over
Rauff Hakeem Seeks Reinforcements
Minister of City Planning and Water Supply Rauff Hakeem was in the Madawala area on Tuesday night. From there, he phoned the Prime Minister and asked him to send reinforcements to maintain the law and order.
Communal tension, build over a time, remained like a tinder box to explode at any time. Once it is sparked, it keeps smouldering. The police are singled out in the blame game over what happened, but tension can be dissipated and communal harmony can be built through a long drawn process.
Communal harmony is not something that can solely be achieved through law enforcement.
Muslim leaders meet MR
A group of Muslim community leaders had a discussion with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday evening on the current developments in Kandy. They sought his support to curb tension in whatever way possible. They sounded disappointed with the government over its inability to arrest the trend.