Slanging matches won’t do

Police Spokesman SSP Ruwan Gunasekera, Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne and Law and Order Minister Ranjith Maddumabandara, addressing the media on Wednesday, blamed the recent incidents of communal disturbances in Kandy on the Mahason Balakaya and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which consists of the SLFP dissidents.

‘He that has an ill-name’ is said to be ‘half hanged’. The Rajapaksas did not act fast enough to quell the Aluthgama anti-Muslim riots in 2014 and were seen to be giving kid glove treatment to the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which was blamed for the savage attacks. It is only natural that the potentates of the Rajapaksa regime can’t live down their reputation and their opponents continue to blame anti-Muslim riots on them rightly or wrongly.

However, no sane person expects the police, much less politicians, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth especially when it hurts the powers that be. Under the last government, the police claimed ruggerite Thajudeen had died in a car crash. But, following the 2015 regime change, they, true to form, made a volte-face; they suddenly found that he had been murdered! What they will say about the incident in the event of a change of government in the future is anybody’s guess. When a little girl was sexually abused and killed in Kotadeniyawawa in 2015, the police arrested a schoolboy on suspicion, beat a confession out of him and ensured it got wide publicity. The savage killer happened to be someone else.

Senaratne, Maddumabandara and Gunasekera also told the media on Wednesday that Minister Champika Ranawaka wasn’t responsible for the Teldeniya violence. There was absolutely no need for them to make such an announcement; nobody had named Ranawaka as the mastermind of the anti-Muslim frenzy!

The reputation of the government and the police is such that nobody believes anything until they deny it officially. The public also tends to believe the opposite of what they say. When the media blew the lid off the Treasury bond scams the kneejerk reaction of the government was to reject the charge and vilify journalists who reported the fraud. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself denied, on the floor of the House, that there had been any wrongdoing. During the Rajapaksa rule, pro-government goons, armed with clubs, were seen operating alongside the riot police to crush a UNP-led Opposition protest in Colombo. When the then police spokesman was questioned at a media briefing on the incident he had the chutzpah to deny that they were thugs; he claimed they were ordinary citizens carrying clubs to ward off stray dogs in the city!

There was obviously a hidden hand in the recent anti-Muslim violence. Whose hand was it? If there had been any Opposition involvement in the incidents, there wouldn’t have been any inaction on the part of the police who are keen to please their political masters; they would have cracked down on the rioters within minutes of the eruption of violence. What prevented the police from doing so? Secretary to the National Police Commission Ariyadasa Cooray, who reportedly asked the IGP to submit a report on police inaction in Kandy, has been retired abruptly. The timing of his retirement and the circumstances that led thereto make one smell a rat.

It is being claimed in some quarters that the recent communal disturbances helped the government divert public attention from its disastrous electoral defeat last month and the attendant crises. It is also said that the unfortunate incidents helped some beleaguered government notables reassert themselves and shore up their crumbling images by making themselves out to be knights leading a crusade against the evil. There have been instances where politicians in power engineered ethnic riots to further their interests. In 1983 the J. R. Jayewardene government instigated violence against Tamils and proscribed the JVP, blaming it for the attacks. But, everybody knew the JVP was not responsible for the pogrom and it had been banned because it was campaigning against the outcome of the 1982 referendum, with which the JRJ regime replaced a general election to retain its five-sixths majority in Parliament.

However, it is unfair for anyone to claim that the yahapalana government was behind the racial violence in Ampara and Kandy. Similarly, it is wrong for the government to accuse its rivals of having engineered the Kandy riots. Attempts by the government and its rivals to pin the blame for racial violence on each other won’t help get at the truth. Investigations are still on and President Maithripala Sirisena also has ordered a high-level probe. Now that the Mahason Balakaya leader has been arrested the police should be able to find out whether there were politicians behind the communal disturbances. If it can be proved that the SLPP or any other political party is responsible for ethnic violence it must be dealt with strictly according to the law. Slanging matches won’t do.


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