By Lukman Harees
In a classic case of pot calling the kettle black, during an interesting Press interview given by BBS, its’ spokesman Dilanthe Withanage let the cat out of the bag . In response to the accusations made by MR to BBC Sinhala Service, regarding the role played inter-alia by BBS in contributing to his defeat at the January 2015 Presidential Elections by engaging in anti-Muslim violence, Dilantha pointed out that they have evidence that it was people associated with Mahinda Rajapaksa who were responsible for Aluthgama and fashion Bug attacks . He further stated that it was precise the reason why there were no arrests made while making another tongue-in-the-cheek assertion that BBS have never been associated with or provoked any Anti Muslim violence. Very likely the journalists present may have enjoyed the joke and even wished they replay the recording of Ven. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara’s speeches specially the venomous and hate filled barks prior to Fashion Bug arson attack and Aluthgama mini-1983 style communal violence .
It was an open secret that BBS received wide state sponsorship through the agency of the powerful Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then secretary of the Defence Ministry during MR regime which encouraged them to operate without fear or sanction wherever they wished- whether government offices, way side meetings or on the streets. Dilantha as per local news reports, admitted that MR did attend one of the Sena’s meetings initially, but added it was his brother Gota who “understood our intentions better”. When public opinion turned against BBS after the anti-Muslim riots in 2014, Dilanthe further claimed that Gota helped the group. “We know him very well. He collected the right information from the army intelligence that favoured us”. “Then Presidential candidate Sirisena had largely kept silent about BBS during the elections. But we had to campaign against him as his manifesto directly attacked BBS and its alleged religious terrorism”.
It is however not the first time that MR accused BBS of being part of the conspiracy to defeat him at the Polls. In an interview with the French news agency, AFP, in early 2015, MR said that neither he nor his defense secretary brother, Gotabaya had anything to do with the BBS despite popular belief that the Rajapaksas were behind the group. He accused JHU leader Patali Champika Ranawaka of defending the BBS at a time when he wanted to take action against the group widely held responsible for a string of attacks against minority Muslims. MR said that he had finally came in to the sense that BBS was a result of a western conspiracy against him.”I lost the election partly because minority Muslims ditched me thanks to the work of the BBS.”. Ven. Gnanasara countered by stating that the defeat of MR was caused by activities of his own sons. MR’s recent interview to BBC was in reiteration of this assertion, stressing further that he knows how to keep BBS in its’ proper place.
When the BBS instigated Aluthgama violence targeted the Muslims physically , psychologically and economically, then MR regime tried their utmost to clear BBS name even doctoring the police and medical evidence against the culprits who mercilessly attacked Muslim businesses and homes, and shot innocent worshippers who took up positions to defend their places of worship. Then government shamefully instructed their representatives at the UN Human Rights Council to place the blame on the Muslims for having cast the first stone, thus branding the victims of this unfortunate human tragedy as the perpetrators.
Muslims quite rightly therefore joined hands with the other communities to defeat MR Regime which supported the racist reactionary forces like BBS which led a well-orchestrated hate campaign particularly against them. In fact, one of the cornerstone of the policy imperatives of the Yahapalana government which was ushered in after the defeat of MR was ‘National Reconciliation and Unity’ and they also formed an office to monitor the progress. Muslims therefore looked upon the new government to take concrete action to ensure they live as equal and dignified citizens of this country, while also act justly and fairly, particularly inquiring into the Aluthgama tragedy and punish the perpetrators. However, the issue was unceremoniously swept under the carpet. Ven. Gnanansara was once again back in action in full venom against the Muslims as usual, blaming them for all the ills facing Sri Lanka.
It was true that some initiatives were taken by this government, such as an attempt to bring in the Hate Speech Bill although it was later held in abeyance due to pressures from civic and legal groups . There were also efforts being made to draft a more equitable constitution as well. However, despite such progressive steps, signs are now clear that such measures are being sabotaged by racist forces such as BBS and newly emerging hate groups such as Sinhaleys and Mahasonas ,which are once again being allowed to operate freely to instil fear and a sense of insecurity among the minorities specially the Muslims . Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has already gained reputation of having become their patron saint, batting for their side.
In this context, it is interesting that ‘new and fresh evidence’ have emerged both from the BBS and MR camps that those associated with the other camp are responsible for the immense suffering and destruction caused to the Muslims specially associated with the Aluthgama tragedy and Fashion Bug arson attack ( which case was withdrawn due to pressure exerted by Gota at that time). This ‘accusations- mud-slinging’ match strengthens the demand of the Muslim community made to the Yahapalana Government to initiate an inquiry to identify and punish those responsible, based on the revelations made by both these parties- MR and Dilantha at their recent Press interviews. Will the government take them seriously and act decisively, is a matter both people of Sri Lanka and the international community will eagerly watch as it will be an acid test for the government to prove that its’ promises of justice and fair-play to all are credible.
It is also important that the Yahapalana government stop ‘run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’ policy with regard to dealing with these racist hate groups and taking decisive action against them. There is no need to wait for a New/ amended Hate Speech Bill to be drafted, as the legal experts say that there is enough legal teeth available already to deal effectively with these reactionary elements which have been conspiring , perhaps with foreign collaboration, to make Sri Lanka slide into another war; this time a religious war.
Moreover, when the Yahapalana Government under the leadership of HE Sirisena and Hon. RW is set to put in action a long time sustainable plan for development, which was unveiled on the 1st January 2017 to take Sri Lanka forward, it is imperative that national reconciliation and inter-communal harmony takes precedence and the confidence of all communities boosted to live as equal and dignified citizens. Otherwise, this plan will be like many other plans in the past, which also looked laudable on paper but later proved to be worthless in action.