The ethnic violence mainly in Kandy District and sparsely in several other districts has subsided, if not ceased. But the scars will certainly remain for a long time. Now the authorities including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have given details of damages to the lives and the properties incurred by the violence while announcing the details of their preparations for the reparations including paying compensations to the victims who were mainly Muslims.
What a ridiculous situation! Last week people burnt hundreds of houses, shops and mosques and this week the authorities are making arrangements to pay compensation for the damages out of the public coffers. What has the country or the criminals who went on rampaging or the alleged forces, political or otherwise behind the incidents gained through this carnage?
President Maithripala Sirisena has announced that he would appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the incidents that took place in Kandy District, but the statement issued by the Presidential Media Unit on the matter had not included the incidents in Ampara that had happened a few days before the Kandy incidents as ones that are also to be probed.
One cannot find fault with the professed intension of appointing a Presidential commission on the Kandy carnage. City Planning and Water Supply Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem too had requested the President to appoint a Presidential commission. But a commission on an ethnically sensitive issue is a double- edged weapon. The proceedings could reveal the conspirators, if any, behind the incidents, as it is one of the purposes of the commission, according to the statement issued by the President’s Media Unit. Also it would expose the weaknesses on the part of the government in quelling riots. On the other hand the proceeding can also turn into a platform for the hate mongers which could aggravate the situation.
The government should not attempt to use the commission to cover up or delay the exposure of its weakness in containing the situation. Already the members of the very government such as Parliamentarian S. M. Marikkar have accused it of timidity. Another member of the government, Parliamentarian Mujibur Rahman had said he was ashamed to be in the government. Megapolis and Western development Minister Champika Ranawaka had stated that the inaction of the authorities at the initial stages of the incidents contributed to the spread of the carnage. Minister Lakshman Kiriella accused the intelligence apparatuses for their failure in foreseeing the situation. An ardent supporter of the government and a leading member of the civil society that helped the regime change in 2015, Ven. Dambara Amila Thera called on the President to step down if he cannot handle the situation with a firm hand.
Some opine that despite the declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of curfew, the government was hesitant to take stern action against the rioters when they were running amok, for fear of further erosion of its Sinhalese vote bank which is already tilting towards the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp. However, the very attitude has demonstrated the weakness of the government among Sinhalese as well as the Muslims.
If there was no such political reasons for the lethargy and inaction on the part of the law enforcement authorities in quelling the racially motivated attacks, as pointed out by the very supporters of the government, should the government wait until the commission report is handed over to the President to take action against those who failed to perform their duties?
The recent local government elections proved that the government has failed in keeping its promises of eradication of corruption and economic development. The Kandy mayhem proved the government’s failure in its much-touted reconciliation process as well. Leaders waxed eloquent on prevention of recurrence when the floods created havoc in the lower Kelani Valley areas in 2016 and Aranayake landslides occurred. But nothing happened. Garbage problem is yet to be addressed even after the Meetotamulla disaster.
Yet, the government has still time to address these issues and build confidence among masses. Only ingredient needed is firmness and openness in policies and speaking in one voice as a government.
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