By Hilmy Ahamed –
The unthinkable has happened. Rishard Bathiudeen, the youthful minister of Industries has given up all his perks and privileges and crossed over to support Maithripala Sirisena, the common opposition’s candidate to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa with one other parliamentarian and 69 other elected members of Provincial Councils, Pradeshiya Sabbha’s etc. Azwer who was forced to resign from parliament to fulfill the long overdue promise of a national list slot for Rishard’s deputy, Ameer Ali is a disappointed man. Rishard has been one of the incumbent governments most ardent and loyal supporters and continued to defend the government despite the onslaught on his community by extremist Buddhists that was allowed to continue with impunity. No action has been instituted against any of the perpetrators of over 350 incidents of violence and intimidation against Muslim during the last three years.
The relationship and trust between Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Rishard Bathiudeen has been envied by many including members of the incumbent government. This is probably the root cause that led Rishard Bathiudeen to take his unpleasant decision despite his unwavering support to the government and Basil Rajapaksa. The brawl at temple trees a few days back is listed as a result of treacherous scheming of certain powerful members of the current hierarchy to undermine the support and loyalty shown by Rishard Bathiudeen towards minister Basil Rajapaksa. A major onslaught on Rishard’s character has been undertaken with tacit support of certain influential persons at a private media institution. This media institution, despite their hosannas about other crossovers continue to bash Rishard, making the media outlet look more like one of the state media institutions. Whatever the reasons are, the government camp lost one of their most loyal champions.
Rishard’s list of woes could be pretty long. The unleashing of the Bodu Bala Sena on him and his community is seen as the first step in undermining him. The unfounded charges of encroachment in to the Wilpattu National Park by Rishard’s Muslim IDP’s were the beginning of the conflict between Rishard and the government. It is also claimed by Muslims of Mannar that hundreds of acres belonging to them have been appropriated by the armed forces. Large extent of lands belonging to the Muslims was also distributed by the LTTE to Tamils from the Mannar district, which has still not been returned to the Muslims.
Basil Rajapaksa who was in-charge of the presidential task force had the total responsibility for the development work undertaken at the end of the war. Rishard has made valuable contribution towards Basil’s efforts as minister in-charge of resettlement and rehabilitation in that has consolidated Basil’s position amongst the minority communities.
Rishard understood the need for support for IDPs as he himself was displaced in 1990 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forcibly evicted the Muslims from the Northern province with less than 24 hours notice. The Muslims were not allowed to take with them anything of value, not even the deeds to their properties. Rishard has fought for the last 24 years on behalf of his “forgotten people” who have still not been provided the opportunity of returning to their former homes as they are termed “old refugees”.
The worst straw for Rishard was the besieging of his ministry by the Bodu Bala Sena and the threats made against him, which the government chose to ignore. No arrests were made, nor any action taken despite this thuggery by men in robes that was undertaken in front of the media in broad daylight.
The clear indications from the government that they would not need the support of the Sri Lanka Muslim congress confirm that negotiations with Hakeem and SLMC have failed. Whatever decision the SLMC makes will not make a huge difference in the way the Muslims would vote in this election. The SLMC in all probability would move to support the common candidate with in the next hours.
The last few Muslims to hold on and battle for Rajapaksa are seen by the community as insensitive to the suffering of the Muslim community. Faizer Mustapaha, who fought valiantly to save the Grandpass mosque is a disappointed man as the mosque remains closed and the promised land for a new mosque has not been honoured. Further, he was an eyewitness to the pogrom in Aluthgama and Beruwela. He too was held hostage at the Naleemiya Institute on the 15th of June by the mobs that came to burn down the institute and his vehicles were damaged. No inquiry or action has been taken to bring the perpetrators of the violence in Aluthgama to justice. With all this, It remains to be seen as to when Faizer Musthapha will announce his defection.
With the end of the war in 2009, a large percentage of the Muslim community pledged their support to His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa even though the Muslims have traditionally favoured the United National Party. Muslim civil society and religious leadership too engaged in a constructive dialogue with the president and defence secretary. Despite all this, the Bodu Bala Sena was allowed to target Muslims with its hate campaign. It is unfortunate that elements outside the government has been able to drive a large portion of the Muslim population away from supporting this government during the last three years. Thus, the defection from the current government is mainly due to its failure to provide security and justice to the Muslim community.