By Hilmy Ahamed –
Attempts by the Bodu Bala Sena to align themselves with Maithripala Sirisena and the common opposition exposes without a doubt, the ulterior motives of the BBS. They would want to ensure that the minorities move away from the common opposition, and hopefully not turn up to vote. It would be a futile exercise to expect the Muslims or the Christians to vote for President Mahinda Rajapaksa because of the hate campaign that was allowed to be continued by the BBS , Sinhala Ravaya and Ravana Balaya with impunity; hence keeping the minorities away from voting probably is the best option for the incumbent. Their strategy may just work, should Maithripala and the common opposition entertain any engagement with the Bodu Bala Sena and other extremists. The possible alignment of the Jathika Hela Urumaya with Champika Ranawaka’s stand on the Aluthgama massacre is bad enough for the common opposition and any attempt at engaging the Bodu Bala Sena would certainly drive away a large section of the Christian and Muslim voters. As it stands now, failure on the part of the President to address the grievances of the Muslims and Christian will ensure that over 95% of them would vote against the incumbent.
I do not believe that all is lost for the president to harness at least part of the minority votes. All that needs to be done is to offer the minorities some hope that they could live in this country as equal citizens with every right to have equal opportunities in Business, Education, Employment and also to practice their religion and cultural persuasions. These are of-course guaranteed by the constitution and there is no need for the President to go beyond enforcing these to ensure the support of the minorities. The important task for him is to discharge his duties as the President of all Sri Lankans and not just the president of the Buddhists.
The main grievance of the extremists is that the minorities, especially the Muslims are breeding disproportionately, which has been proved wrong by the department of census and statistics. They also complain about the cultural invasion by Muslims with their attire and other religious practices that are threatening Buddhism. They complain about the expanding land ownership of Muslims, construction of religious places of worship and education etc.
The Muslims, like any minority group around the world, derive security and comfort by living in ghettos. This does not mean that they have any ulterior motives or any undue share of wealth. With Sri Lanka’s growing racism, it is becoming extremely important that Muslims live closer to each other and ensure their safety in numbers. Living in Ghettos also requires other infrastructure to be in place for them to perform their social and religious obligations. For example, the Muslim males are obligated to pray in congregation five times a day. So, they would always want to live among their own rather than being isolated and not be able to fulfill their religious obligations. The need for prayers as a congregation five times a day is one reason for Muslims to build places of religious worship close to their homes. Of course, this is seen as expanding Islamic influence on the whole community.
What is important to understand is that mosques and other places of worship are places where only good things could happen. They discipline young people and help them to learn and practice their religion, just like Sunday schools or Daham pasals. On the other-hand, there are taverns, brothels and since of late casinos in every nook and corner, so why not we have as many temples, churches, kovils and mosques so that there would be a revival of religious practices and encourage people to move away from these vices.
Commitment to tolerance, understanding and peace is the political need of the hour and the president should even at this late stage affirm his commitment to build that just society where everyone could live as Sri Lankans. His strong commitment probably will ensure his re-election. Failure on his part will ensure a swing by the majority of the voters to look for alternatives.