Photo courtesy Colombo Gazette
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a recent and chilling phenomena of Sri Lanka’s post war political landscape is locked in a battle with Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC), a constituent party of the ruling UPFA. The Minister accuses the BBS of desecrating the Holy Koran, attacking Mosques and Muslims, while the BBS accuses the Minister of supporting or providing political patronage to displaced Muslims encroaching in the Wilpattu forest reserve.
The Vision for a Sinhala Buddhist Eelam Chinthanya
It was my old friend, colleague and fierce LTTE critic, Dr. Ram Manikkalingam, one time Senior Advisor to President Kumaratunga, who introduced me to the term “Sinhala Eelam” as opposed to the Peoples Republic of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is multi ethnic, multi religious, pluralistic and diverse. But there has been and is, another vision of life on this Island, mono ethnic (or mono ethno religious), intolerant, non accommodative of diversity and narrowly ethno nationalist. In the North and East, this vision was promoted and fought for through terrorism by the LTTE for a Tamil Eelam. Fortunately that endeavor was comprehensively defeated in 2009. Conversely and regrettably, in post war Sri Lanka, there is an attempt by extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups, such as the BBS (& its ideological incubator the JHU) to turn Sri Lanka in to a Sinhala “Eelam”, a mono Sinhala Buddhist, ethno religious enclave, unaccomadative and unwelcoming of ethnic and religious minorities, where the Hallal label is banned on products, where Muslim women cannot wear their traditional religious attire, where mosques, churches and places of minority religious worship are attacked, where Christians cannot worship in homes, where Christian children are forced to perform Buddhist rites in public schools, where joint press conferences between Buddhists and Muslims are attacked with impunity, where prominent Muslim business ventures are vandalized, to name just a few of the fascistic features of what Sinhala Eelam looks like. Nothing like a democratic and pluralist Sri Lanka.
President Rajapakse refutes President Kumaratunga
A few weeks ago, President Kumaratunga’s public policy think tank, the South Asia Policy Research Institute (SAPRI) released a report on religious intolerance in Sri Lanka. The report had been prepared by SAPRI, through high level interfaith dialogue between clergy, as its methodology and arrived at recommendations to promote religious amity and tolerance. The objective of President Kumaratunga’s intervention was to try and take the conclusions and recommendations of the interfaith dialogue to the current political leadership of the country, both in the government and in the opposition. While the opposition accepted the report and indicated engagement with its contents, in the course of public meetings, President Rajapakse rejected the contention that there was religious intolerance in the country. It is difficult to fathom the basis on which President Rajapakse believes that the BBS and it’s like minded fellow travelers are a non violent, tolerant and pluralistic organization. Evidence to the contrary is after all widely available on video footage.
The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a respected American based research organization has listed the BBS as a “terrorist” organization. A few months ago, in an issue of Time magazine (print edition banned in Sri Lanka) but online editions widely available, the “face of Buddhist terror” was the cover article, featuring the anti Muslim hate campaigners in Myanmar. Recent press reports claimed the BBS had invited the head of the Burmese anti Muslim hate group to visit Sri Lanka. It became incumbent on Media Minister and Government Spokesman Kheliya Rambukkwella to defend the BBS as not being a terrorist organization, but to also concede that there have been numerous claims of religious intolerance and violence in the country.
Minster Vasudeva Nanayakkara, an old leftist firebrand and Minister of National Integration has recommended that the BBS be banned. Former deputy mayor of Colombo, Azzath Salley, also sought to take on the BBS, including through legal action, but backed down after been detained by the Defense Ministry under the PTA.
A Basil acolyte verses friends of Gota
Minster Rishard Bathiudeen, from his days in the President Task Force (PTF) for Northern rehabilitation headed by Minster Basil Rajapakse, has been and is, a loyal and close associate of Minster Basil Rajapakse. The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and its ideological incubator the JHU (most of the BBS leaders were one time in the JHU) on the other hand have been publicly associated with Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, including at the controversial opening of the BBS, Galle headquarters. Notwithstanding all the drama regarding the BBS and its controversial anti minority, mono ethno religious “Eelam Chinthanya” vision for Sri Lanka, there is a right royal battle verses an acolyte of Minister Basil Rajapakse (Bathiudeen) and an organization (BBS) whom political insiders, link with overt sympathies and covert support to the Defense establishment of Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. Neither is backing down. The President seems unwilling or incapable of defusing the situation. The Muslim community is fed up of assaults against it and he cannot lose Rishard, in a situation where Rauff is waiting for an opportunity to leave the Government. He is unwilling to crack the whip on the BBS, which has snatched the leadership of extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalism away from the JHU, by becoming even more extreme than the JHU. Interestingly there seems to be a clash of visions for Sri Lanka’s future between the Basil acolyte and Gota’s friends. Whether this clash of vision, extends up to their political patrons, only time will tell. Meanwhile the UNHRC process in Geneva, on an international probe on violations of human rights rolls on, while the battle for Sri Lanka’s future, a pluralist Sri Lanka or a mono ethno religious, Sinhala Buddhist Eelam, continues between power elites.