By Ameer Ali –
One of my friends from Mannar reminded me of an adage in Tamil, araciyalvaathikku aiyo pavam illai, which implies, never feel sorry for a politician. What follows is not to feel sorry for Risad Bathiudeen the politician, although one should have sympathy for him as a fellow human being, but to feel surprised at how easily the leader of the Catholic community, Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit, after being so publicly vocal and accusatory at President NGR’s nonchalance over the PCoI report, has gone amazingly silent soon after the arrest of the above politician and his brother. Before them, when Noufer Moulavi and Hajjul Akbar, two Muslim religious notables, were arrested and declared as the masterminds behind that infamy by Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera, the Cardinal who by that time had access to the report, ridiculed the government for not catching the mastermind and others who aided and abetted. At one stage, he even threatened to take his case before world judiciary to seek justice to his people. Is his current silence tactical or part of any deal with the President? The public is confused.
To start with, it was not the Catholic Cardinal, but the Buddhist monk turned politician Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, who went on a televised hunger strike in front of the Maligawa on 31st May 2019, and who demanded the immediate removal from office two Muslim Governors, Azath Sally and Hizbulla, and Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. This drama led to a counter drama when all Muslim ministers and deputies resigned en masse a few days later. They all happily resumed office afterwards, apparently at the request of prominent Buddhist prelates. The Thera should now feel happy, because two of the three are in prison and the third is out of office. However, one notable personality who travelled all the way to Kandy to bless the starving Thera was the Cardinal. One does not know whether the Cardinal was prompted to visit that fasting hero, because of Christian sympathy to the hungry or because of the Cardinal’s support to the Thera’s political cause. Also, whether the Cardinal would have done the same had Bathiudeen not included among those three is another question only the Cardinal could answer.
After that drama, one hears of the Cardinal again when that minister’s brother Riyaj Bathiudeen was arrested on 14 April 2020 under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) but released on October 30th, apparently for lack of evidence. Current Attorney General Dappula de Livera has criticized his release at that time as ‘improper’. However, when the Cardinal was asked to comment on the release, he is quoted to have said, “political wheeler-dealing appeared to be obscuring efforts to bring perpetrators to justice” (D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Daily Mirror, On Line, 26 April 2021). He must have been referring to political bargaining at that time between the regime and Muslim parliamentarians to get that notorious 20th Amendment passed through the legislature. Cardinal’s comments therefore make it obvious that he believes that Bathiudeens are involved in that tragedy. Now that the brothers have been arrested again under PTA, the prelate naturally has suddenly gone silent. This raises two disturbing questions.
Firstly, what happened to the Cardinal’s original demand from the President to bring to book all perpetrators behind that massacre, and most importantly its mastermind? PCoI report has made a number of references and clues regarding these individuals and organizations, and the Cardinal, having read the report should know who they are. So far, the President’s axe has fallen only on the necks of Muslims. Were there no non-Muslim individuals of high and low ranks and non-Muslim organizations involved in that tragedy? Does the Cardinal believe that the arrests made until now complete the story?
Secondly, recently Harin Fernanado, an opposition MP dropped a bombshell in parliament when he mentioned about a certain “boss” and his/her code word “sonic-sonic” to pass messages, which rocked the House and must have echoed inside the Presidency. The government is trying to arrest this parliamentarian, and along with him a few others whose recent speeches in the House have become a source of irritation and embarrassment to the government. Given the security crackdown on freedom of expression in the country, Parliament is the only place where members are privileged to speak freely. Even that privilege is now under threat. All this imply that the mastermind is still out somewhere and the regime is not interested in catching that person or persons. Politics is depriving justice to the Christian community that lost 269 innocent lives. Shouldn’t the Cardinal continue his mission for seeking justice and speak out, adding weight to the opposition voices? One wonders whether there is a devil’s bargain here at the expense of Muslims.
It was reported that Prime Minister MR has vowed to crack down on those who are trying to create trouble and division within the government and compared his team as a family. It was the Prime Minister’s own family of MR-GR-BR-CR that stitched together the various constituents of this larger family, and a genuine effort to bring to book all those involved in the Easter tragedy has the potential to tear it down to pieces. Outside this larger family, the public that made it possible in the first place is fast losing its trust. The popularity of NGR and his regime is tumbling by the day, and it was best illustrated for the first time when traffic was held up by security officers, amidst continuous tooting of horns, to clear the way for the VVIP and VIP entourage to pass through smoothly.
It was the Easter massacre that enthroned this family in 2019, and it is the fallout from its investigation that may eventually dethrone it in the near future.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia