(Editorial, Daily FT. 01.09.23) There is a dangerous escalation in anti-Tamil rhetoric as well as protests in the past few weeks which does little to help the path to reconciliation President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been trying to forge since taking office. While groups of Buddhist monks have been the visible leaders leading these protests, some politicians elected to Parliament from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have been making inflammatory comments intended to incite Sinhalese Buddhists in particular to join them to halt what they see as threats to Buddhism in the country.
Last week MP Udaya Gammanpila led a group of Buddhist monks and his supporters to protest opposite the private residence of Ahila Ilankai Thamil Congress (AITC) MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam accusing the Tamil politician of racism. Heavy police and military presence prevented any violence, but it was a clear sign that Gammanpila and his cohorts who time and again rake up communal sentiments to win votes, are looking to escalate tensions between the two ethnic groups. There is no doubt the politics of Ponnambalam too is problematic and not many subscribe or endorse either his methods or rhetoric but there is no justification for intimidating a Member of Parliament by protesting in front of his private residence.
The same principle should apply whether they be those who were engaged in the Aragalaya and took the liberty to attack private residences of politicians and set them on fire or a politician elected from the ruling party resorting to such acts. Such incidents should be stopped before they escalate into violence beyond anyone’s control.
Gammanpila is not alone in igniting communal tensions. SLPP MP Sarath Weerasekera, who regularly makes speeches with communal undertones is a reminder that communal politics in the country is very much alive and continue to seriously undermine any efforts to bring about reconciliation among communities. Last week in Parliament, not only did Weerasekera wrongfully attribute a racially motivated and vile comment to the wife of TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam but also said that it was a Sinhalese policeman who saved her and their two children when LTTE cadres shot dead her husband. We would expect the former Minister of Public Security to at least know that the police and the armed forces of this country are there to protect all citizens and not only the Sinhalese but by making such public utterances, it is also clear he is attempting to segregate people based on their race.
Forty years since the 1983 anti-Tamil violence, Sri Lankans have learnt very few lessons and the country is once again sitting on a timebomb which could explode anytime unless those spreading hate and lies are reined in. The ICCPR Act which the Government has put to liberal use to clamp down on journalists, writers, artists and anyone it sees as its detractors should be used against politicians who are waiting for the next round of violence in the hope that they are seen as the saviours of the Sinhalese and hoping to be rewarded by the voters with a cross before their names on the ballot paper.
In situations like this, it is not only the Government that has a responsibility to condemn and act against troublemakers who are operating with ulterior motives, but opposition parties too have a role to play. The main oppositions Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) as well as the JVP-led National People’s Party (NPP) are yet to condemn the threats of violence against members of another community in the country. If none of the main parties have the will to stand up to unreasonable demands by Buddhist monks and hardline groups, we cannot rule out a repeat of the horrors of what unravelled in the country 40 years ago, in 1983.