By Mass L. Usuf –
When will these politicians and their henchmen learn how to engage in politics respecting the rights, dignity and honour of the others? When will these people ever place the greater interest of the nation before their selfish selves? When will the supporters of these politicians take off their blinkers and see things in their real and wider perspectives? These are questions that have haunted the people of this island nation for more than 70 years, since independence.
Short of a bloody revolution, the accumulated wrath, disgust and disappointment of the people compelled the idea of the dire need of an alternative political platform. This alternative emerged almost naturally, simply with a single-minded determination to get rid of the corrupt politicians and to position the country on the path of progress.
It is in this background that the next President of Sri Lanka will be elected configuring the entire country into one large electorate. There is Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna), Sajith Premadasa (New Democratic Party) and Anura Kumara Dissanayake (National People’s Power Movement) who are acknowledged to be the main contenders. There is then among the alternative political groups the former Army General Mahesh Senanayake of the National People’s Movement and Rohan Pallewatte of the Social Democratic Party of Sri Lanka. A long list of other candidates too are contesting.
In a country which calls itself a democracy and holds elections regularly, is it not an irony to question from the contesting presidential hopeful about ‘Marana Tharjana’ (death threats). The former Army General Mahesh Senanayake who is contesting this time has been questioned if he is prepared to face the fate of his predecessor General Sarath Fonseka. Incidentally, General Sarath Fonseka contested against Mahinda Rajapaksa as the common opposition candidate in the 2010 presidential election. He lost in the election. Soon after he was made a political prisoner according to some commentators.
There is then the story of the duo who challenged in Courts, the dual citizenship status of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, another candidate contesting for the Presidency. Gamini Viyangoda and Professor Chandragupta Thenuwara were the Petitioners for this action. What is heard through the news channels and the social media are the death threats levelled against these two persons for filing the petition. Where the hell is this so-called democracy and the unfettered right of the citizen to access the justice system?
One notable distinction in the election campaign is that all the other candidates are directing their appeal and addressing the entire citizenry of this country – Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malays. However, what is commonly spoken about in public is that the Gotabaya campaign strategy is to muster the maximum possible number of Sinhala votes only. This obviously will signify only a Sinhala supported victory. This approach people say is evidenced by the several ethno-nationalist groups including organisations headed by monks endorsing the candidacy of Gotabaya. The concern is that some of these organisations which have engaged in hate, violence and extremism are alleged to have been created by Gotabaya or supported by those who are presently around him.
What Others Said
For example, in the past one headline read as follows: ‘Weerawansa Misused Public Money To Help His Journo And Monk Buddies’. “An Audit report shows how former Minister for Housing Wimal Weerawansa misused public money to help his buddies namely Iththekande Saddhatissa Thero of “Ravana Balaya” organization and Journalist at “Lankadeepa” Prasanna Sanjeeva Tennekoon. (Colombo Telegraph, 06.08.2015)
“Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Openly Supportive of “Ethno- Religious Fascist” Organization Bodhu Bala Sena” was the title of a column by D.B.S Jeyaraj. “On Saturday March 9th 2013, the Presidential sibling regarded widely as the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka was the chief guest, ceremonially opening an institution linked to the Ethno Religious Fascist movement known as the “Bodu Bala Sena” meaning Buddhist Power Force.” (dbsjeyaraj.com).
“Gota, Israel responsible for creation of BBS”. A report in Sri Lanka Mirror stated, “Former Ambassador to Geneva Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka …….. said it was Gotabaya Rajapaksa backed by the Israeli government that was responsible for creating the BBS.” (19.06.2017).
In a column titled, ‘Gotabhaya Rajapaksa And His Bala Sena’ Tisaranee Gunasekera wrote as follows: “Anti-minoritism is the creed of the BBS, cowing the minorities its raison d’être. Igniting an anti-Muslim Black July seems to be its ‘nationally important task’. When the über-powerful Defence Secretary, the man who controls the police and the military, gives a character certificate to such a violently divisive organisation, it is not a happy portent.” (Colombo Telegraph, 14.03.2013).
Dangers of this Strategy
If this public perception is correct, it will be paving the way for a dangerous division in the already fragile social fabric of Sri Lanka. It is generally accepted that intention is judged by the action. Based on the action of working towards obtaining maximum Sinhala votes only, the implication is to shed off dependency on the Muslim and Tamil votes. Even though the Gotabaya strategists may not want these votes, there are many among the Tamils and Muslims who will still vote for Gotabaya. How this gamble will play out mathematically is a question? Previously, the votes of the Tamils and Muslims had a significant role to play in a Presidential election.
Racist Hate Campaigns
With the mercury of the election fever rising, the most common and well-known method of campaigning is taking root. Creating fear psychosis in the spheres of national security, threat to Buddhism, the eradication of the Sinhala race and the reason for all these – Islam and Muslims. “We must fight extremism and eliminate extremism from this soil.” The stereotypes seen elsewhere globally against the Muslims is in currency today in Sri Lanka.
There may be some truth in what Dayan Jayatilake said that Israeli’s are involved. In fact, he also referred to several other matters and said, “I have written proof of this, and my friends also have written proof of this in case something happens to me…..During the period of 2008-2009 there were many delegations which visited Israel by top Defence Officials. Minister Champika Ranawaka was also once there but that is no surprise.” The most startling statement he mentioned was as follows: “The Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry is Israeli occupied territory.”
Bash the hambayas, harass them, terrorise them, make the entire Muslim community look like terrorists. The recent shameful, despicable and shocking diatribe against the Muslims by Gammanpila’s party stalwart stunned the moral sense of not only the Muslims but also of the Sinhala people.
It is only within your diktat Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa to prove the public perception as wrong. Irrespective of who becomes the next President, we citizens want a President for the entire country and for all its people without any distinction or discrimination. A strong message to your supporters to stop unnecessarily indulging in the pastime of ‘hambaya’ bashing officially or unofficially, directly or indirectly will be helpful. You will be depriving yourself of the trust and confidence of a large section of the minority communities. The Tamils and Muslims love this country as much as you do.
Take a cue from the other candidates, they or their supporters do not indulge in this pastime of bashing the Muslims or ignoring the other minorities.