By Chathuri Dissanayake
Eight Muslim members of the Government, including three Cabinet Ministers, resigned from their posts yesterday, along with Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, whose removal was demanded to enable impartial investigations on the Easter Sunday terror attacks.
Along with Industry and Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Co-operative Development and Vocational Training and Skills Development Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, four State Ministers and one Deputy Minister also resigned, giving the Criminal investigations Department (CID) one month to complete investigations on any allegations against any of them.
The Muslim leaders, expressing disappointment in the way the Government has handled the recent communal tensions, emphasised they were “sacrificing” their portfolios to make way for “a proper investigation.”
Rauff Hakeem, who held the City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Ministry, making a statement at Temple Trees immediately after resigning, said that they expect the investigations to culminate in completely “vindicating” them all.
“We’re sacrificing our posts to create an environment to facilitate peace and coexistence,” the former Minister said.
Along with Hakeem, Highways and Petroleum Resources Development Minister Kabir Hashim, Minister of Postal Services and Muslim Religious Affairs Abdul Haleem, State Minister for Social Empowerment Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana, State Minister of Health Faizal Cassim, State Minister of Provincial Councils & Local Government H. M. M. Harees, State Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Rural Economic Affairs Ameer Ali, and Deputy Minister for Ports and Shipping Abdullah Maharoof also resigned from their posts.
The resignations, which was preceded by Western Province Governor Azath Salley and Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M Hisbullah also stepping down, were demanded by Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who commenced a hunger strike last Friday in front of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. The Thero, who is also an independent Member of Parliament, demanded all three be removed from their posts, claiming they were connected to the terror attacks which killed over 250 and injured over 400 people on 21 April. However, no formal connection to these three politicians has been established by the intelligence agencies investigating the incident.
In their letter of resignation, the members have highlighted that they were resigning to “facilitate the Government to expeditiously investigate and inquire into all allegations that have been levelled, and in order to prevent any would-be chaotic and anarchic situations.”
“We, all elected by the people, have decided to unconditionally tender our resignations from the respective Cabinet portfolios that we hold with immediate effect,” their collective letter of resignation states.
After both Governors resigned, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who was also a key figure in the 2015 political change and advisor to President Maithripala Sirisena, gave up his fast on Monday afternoon following the resignations.
Hard-line monk Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, who was recently released from prison where he was serving a sentence for contempt of court, also visited Ven. Rathana on Sunday, giving the Government a 24-hour deadline to remove all three politicians from their posts ending at noon Monday.
As Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Gnanasara Thero remained in Kandy for the second day, shops in the town centre were closed for business as supporters of the two Buddhist monks flocked to the hill capital on Monday morning. Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith too visited the fasting monk to express support for his cause.
Speaking to media in Kandy, the Cardinal noted that no analysis has been made of people indirectly linked to the attacks, calling for detailed investigations focusing on such individuals.
“The President and Prime Minister must conduct investigations into these incidents and take the correct decisions. This country has only been given to politicians for a term of about five or six years, it is not their legally owned property,” he said.
As tension rose in Kandy, Ven. Gnanasara however called on the Sinhalese population to remain calm, charging that there were “political forces” attempting to blame the majority community by instigating violence.
“This is a fight we will win without throwing one stone. I call on the Sinhalese to stay calm, as there are political forces surrounding us, trying to create violence and blame the Sinhalese. We must now allow them such an opportunity. This is a clear fight against extremism, and this is a fight we will surely win. This fight has already been taken over by the Sangha, and if there are Sinhala political forces who want to join us, we don’t care about their party colours, but they must fight our fight.”
Pledging support to the cause, groups in different part of the country took to the streets, with mobs forcing closure of shops in Kalutara. Shops were also reportedly closed in several areas including Kurunegala and Gampola.
Muslim political leaders lamented the continuing harassment to their community, despite helping the authorities investigate culprits of the Easter Sunday Attacks. “But the innocent Muslims are at the receiving end. They have become victims today,” Hakeem said, speaking of the harassment faced by Muslim community.
“We have suffered immensely, we have suffered heavy harassment at every turn. Several are languishing in remand prison on minor, trivial issues,” Hakeem noted, calling on the Government to deliver justice to “everyone equally” without delay.
The Muslim leaders, who will remain in Government, however warned that their support to protect the administration was conditional upon how their community is protected in the face of violence and harassment.
Noting that until the Government is able to end “the culture of hate speech and the culture of impunity that exists” and until the security of the Muslim community is “assured and a thorough investigation into allegations conducted,” the Muslim leaders will not be confident of the Government. Hakeem warned that their support will on the “conduct of the Government in continuing investigations thoroughly and properly and doing justice to everyone equally and properly.”
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, extending his support to his former colleagues, said he applauded their move.
Quoting the words of Lord Buddha, @MangalaLK tweeted a message thanking the Muslim MPs for the example set by them. “‘Hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.’ Today, it was left to our Muslim Ministers to exhibit this sacred teaching of Lord Buddha while impostors in robes incited hatred in his name. A shameful day for our beloved #lka”
Tamil National Alliance Spokesperson M.A. Sumanthiran however regretted the move taken by Muslim leaders, warning that victimisation will continue. On Twitter, he said: “Most unfortunate that Muslim Ministers succumbed to pressure from racists. Yesterday us, today you, tomorrow a new ‘other’. We continue to stand in solidarity with Muslim people & call on all right thinking SriLankans to do the same
@MASumanthiran, Spokesman. #LKA #NoMoreRacism”.