- Resignations may not necessarily satiate the raging ultra-nationalism
- That failure should not be an excuse for the govt. to act now
A weak government is like the supine barber to whom even the goat prods its goatee. The current government in Colombo is not just weak, indecisive and lacking a common purpose. Its manifest incompetence and vacillation is self- destructive and can set the country on fire.
As of yesterday, the country was heading for a yet another inter-communal turbulence. As usual, the government seemed to be clueless as to what to do next.
On Sunday, Galabodaatte Gnanasara Thera, freshly released from jail on a presidential pardon gave an ultimatum until 12 noon yesterday (3rd) to the president to sack two Muslim governors and a Cabinet minister. “Failing to do that before the ultimatum would see ‘sanakeli (carnival) in the country,” he thundered from the platform where another monk, Athuraliye Rathana Thera has launched a ‘fast unto death.’ Rathana Thera is demanding the removal of the three Muslim politicians, accused of mollycoddling Islamic extremists.
Ministers, MPs and opposition politicians had paid homage to the fasting monk, not to miss television cameras. Even Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith visited the fasting monk, which may suggest, Ven. Rathana Thera’s call has support beyond Sinhalese Buddhists.
Of the three politicians, Western provincial governor, Azath Salley and Eastern province governor M.L.A. M. Hizbullah were appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena and only the president himself could sack them. Whereas Minister Rishad Bathiudeen is appointed by the president in consultation with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who can ask the Cabinet minister to resign. However, removal of the Cabinet minister is the discretion of the president, in consultation with the prime minister.
According to article 42 3) A Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, a Minister who is not a member of the Cabinet of Ministers and a Deputy Minister, shall continue to hold office throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution unless he–(a) is removed from office under the hand of the President on the advice of the Prime Minister;
Effectively, the President, who is still pondering over a second term, is under pressure from the monks to remove Muslim politicians who represent a chunk of Muslim vote bank. Whereas the removal of Mr Bathiudeen needs to be in consultation with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who has ignored calls for the former’s resignation.
Yesterday afternoon, Governors Salley and Hizbullah tendered their resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena. The president accepted their resignations, President’s media division reported.
These resignations may not necessarily satiate the raging ultra-nationalism, rather they could be seen as a capitulation of the government, thereby further emboldening majoritarian bigotry.
The government has proved to be incapable of effectively confronting this socially destabilizing, and ethnically divisive phenomenon.
On one side, it is besieged by its own dearth of political capital, and hence the reluctance to take decisive action. Internal bickering within the government and conflictual relationship between the president and prime minister makes things worse. Foreign investors have already given up on the current political dispensation. (Sub-par economic performance over the past five years is the result.) However, inertia within the government has now hit its nadir, impeding the primary and most basic function of a government: national security.
Easter Sunday carnage itself is the most gruesome proof of that failure. The government failed to police the Muslim community, confront rising extremism, investigate returning IS conscripts, follow up on the recovery of explosives in an extremist training camp in Puttalam, and finally to act on the intelligence alerts on the impending Easter Sunday attacks. However, the serial failure in the past should not be an excuse for the government not to act now, when the decisive government intervention is most needed.
Easter Sunday attacks did not trigger an immediate communal backlash. Riots materialized only after it became clear to rabble-rousers that the government was not capable of decisive action. (Anti-Muslim riots happened only two weeks after the bombing.) Now, there are very public calls for the boycott of Muslim shops and propagating of Islamophobia.
Two wrongs do not make a right. At least now, the government should mobilize its security and legal apparatus to confront rising ultra-nationalism and Islamophobia for they create permissive conditions for Islamic extremism to find new recruits. They also cause long term ethnic polarization. On their part, well-meaning nationalist forces should not try to take the current government into ransom. Such efforts could lead to major social instability, violence and potential economic collapse.
On the other hand, the government is besieged by the perceived complicity of some of its Muslim politicians in actively promoting Wahhabi extremism. Some of them are implicated in initiatives aimed at Arabization of local Muslims, aided by financing from Gulf states. Incriminating evidence is now coming to surface.
Minister Rishad Bathiudeen owned, directly or by proxy, a Tamil language media network, financed by the Gulf donors. Governor Hizbullah’s Batticaloa ‘Sharia’ campus has received the US $ 24 million soft loans from a Qatari foundation.
Azath Salley, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish, who on some occasions had been vocal against the spread of Wahhabi extremism. He is however accused of mediating the release of two suspects, sons of a prominent Muslim Maulavi, who were accused of demolishing Buddha statues in Mawanella. At that time, Salley’s mediation had the support of Muslim community leaders who believed that the two suspects were innocent. They were released from remand custody through the intervention by the president. Minister Kabir Hashim later told a media conference that one of the released suspects was identified as a suicide bomber, which proved to be far from the truth, as the identities of seven suicide bombers were later revealed.
The role of Muslim community leadership, starting from All Ceylon Jamayathul Ulama, in promoting Wahhabism and Arabized social-cultural narratives among the local Muslim community is yet to be fully investigated. Until such an investigation is undertaken and accomplices are revealed, it is natural for the majority Sinhalese to be apprehensive.
It is, therefore, the duty of the government to address these concerns and at the same time, keep in check that such sensitivities do not take a violent manifestation.
During the last six months of the current government, the least one could expect is that it would not reign over the major communal riot, which could complicate the ethnic relations for decades to come.
To that end, it should undertake a few commonsensical tasks that any government would do:
First, it should provide unequivocal instructions to the security forces and police to enforce the full scope of emergency regulations irrespective of ethnic, religious, political affiliations.
Any perceived sources of destabilization and communal riots should be arrested and subjected to preventive detention under the PTA/and emergency regulations.
It should follow up with the arrests made during the previous communal riots in Mawanella and, make sure that the perpetrators are dealt with the full course of law, especially taking into consideration the current security realities.
Release of suspects to appease the partisan political leaders would only embolden the future rioters. Whereas effective legal action laced with a degree of utilitarianism would serve as a deterrent to the recurrence of riots. If Sri Lanka could lock up LTTE inmates for decades without trials, which was a necessary evil in a time of security exigency, the law should be applied with the same efficiency on the perpetrators of anti-Muslim riots and Islamic extremists who plotted attacks, and who would probably plot attacks in future.
To fulfil its basic duties of national security, the government should first and foremost, restore its credential as the monopoly of legitimate violence. Then it should exercise those powers.