Two Muslim Provincial Governors and all nine Muslim members of the Sri Lankan Council of Ministers resigned on Monday following a sharp deterioration of the politico-communal situation in the island nation.
Those who resigned were the Western Province Governor Azath Salley, Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hisbullah, Cabinet Ministers Kabir Hashim, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen and MHA Haleem; State Ministers Faisal Cassim, HMM Harees, Amir Ali and Ali Zaheer Mowlana; and Deputy Minister MAM Maharoof.
Meeting the media in the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministers said that despite the Muslim community’s unstinted cooperation in the investigations into the multiple suicide attacks in Colombo and other towns on April 21 by a bunch of Muslim terrorists, the Muslim community as a whole is being persecuted, nay, “tortured” with impunity.
The Ministers said that Muslims had not opposed any of the curbs placed on them for security reasons and yet they are being branded as terrorists or terror supporters through the mainstream and social media.
The Ministers, who were mainly from the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), said that they would not leave the ruling United National Front (UNF) or resign from parliament but would sit in the House as backbenchers.
The Ministers also warned that given the relentless communal animosity, Muslims would have to chalk out their own political path.
In this context, the Ministers gave the government a one month deadline to complete the investigations against the two Governors and Minister Bathiudeen.
However, prior to the Ministers’ press conference, the President’s Office announced that Governors Hisbullah and Salley had resigned and that their resignations had been accepted.
In his letter, Hisbullah told the President that he is resigning because his community is under threat. He had to resign to save his community from violence.
Monks’ Fast Unto Death
It was a “Fast Unto Death” by a Buddhist monk, Ven.Athuraliya Rathana Thero, which had precipitated the crisis. A member of parliament belonging to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Rathana Thero demanded the resignation of Commerce and Industry Minister Rishad Bathiutheen, Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hisbullah and Western Province Governor Azath Salley, as he alleged that they had links with Jehadist forces which carried out the suicide bombings in Colombo and other towns on April 21.
Bathiudeen, Hisbullah and Salley insisted that they were being maligned and pilloried without any evidence, and were refusing to resign.
There was a No Confidence Motion in parliament against Bathiudeen, which was billed to be taken up on June 18 and 19. There was a vile social and mainstream media campaign against Governor Hisbullah, whose “Batticaloa College” was dubbed an undercover “Shariah University” allegedly funded by dubious (Jehadi) remittances from Saudi Arabia.
Though Western Province Governor Azath Salley had helped in identifying radical elements and in securing the release of the firebrand monk Gnanasara Thero from prison, he was being dubbed as an accomplice of terrorists or terror suspects.
Rathana Thero’s fast quickly attracted Buddhist monks and laypersons who either joined him in Kandy or fasted in their own towns. In Batticaloa, a Tamil MP, Vyalendran, sat on a fast seeking the removal of Hisbullah from the Governorship of the Eastern Province thus voicing the Tamils’ animosity to Hisbullah who is anti-Tamil in their eyes.
Among those who visited the fasting Rathana Thero was Cardinal Malcolm Ranjth, the head of the Lankan Catholic church. Protesting against the Cardinal’s visit, the Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera, said that the Cardinal was “fanning the flames of communalism.” He forwarding the tweet to the Pope in Vatican, seeking action.
Since the consequences of Rathana Thero’s Fast Unto Death could be disastrous, President Maithripala Sirisena apparently appealed to the Governors, who he had appointed, to resign and go through an inquiry. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked Minister Bathiudeen to step down and clear his name through an investigation.
But Bathiudeen’s Muslim colleagues in the Council of Ministers felt that they should show solidarity with him as the charges against him are made against all Muslims in Sri Lanka.
There have been calls for boycotting Muslim-owned businesses. A government gynecologist is being accused of conducting 8000 unauthorized sterilization of Sinhalese women allegedly to reduce the Sinhala population. The social media is being used to abuse Muslims, cast aspersions on their culture, and question their loyalty to Sri Lanka.
On top of it, Gnanasara Thero, General Secretary of the radical Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) gave a rabble rousing speech warning of a takeover of the government by Sinhala Buddhist nationalists if Hisbullah, Bathiudeen and Salley did not quit soon.