Sri Lanka's Muslim cabinet members leave after addressing media in Colombo, Sri Lanka. -AP
In a significant and interesting development, 9 Muslim ministers and 2 Muslim Governors have tendered their resignations on June 3 taking a collective stand against the Muslim community being allegedly demonised in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terror bombings of April 21. 2 Muslim Governors who quit are Hizbullah and Azath Salley representing Eastern and Western provinces.
Their resignations came in the wake of commencement of fast by a well known monk Athuraliye Rathana Theo who is also a MP representing the United National Party (UNP) led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe.
Meanwhile, the fasting Budhist monk at Kandy is drawing considerable attention from the media and political circles as he abstains from eating at Dalada Maligwa temple. Even leaders of Catholics have extended their support to the fasting monk adding more muscle to the Buddhists 'cause.
At the same time, some liberals who are against the fasting, has come out in the open saying that there are several legal and constitutional provisions available to protest against the Muslim governors and described this act as a mere gimmick.
In a related development, the fasting monk has received tremendous support from a controversial religious personality, Gnanansara Thero who was till recently in the jail but was released following a Presidential pardon. He is head of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or Buddhist Power Force.
Most interestingly, the exercise leading to the pardon saw the two Muslim governors who resigned recently, effectively intervening to secure Theo's release. We, therefore, see an act of harmony and then a volte face vitiating the communal atmosphere. This is highly conflicting amid emerging reports that Muslims should not have resigned and instead fought out the contentious issue by remaining in the system.
The recent resignations by the Muslim bigwigs are likely to give some space and time to the Sri Lankan authorities for a deeper probe into their alleged nexus with the terror suspects of Easter Sunday.
In the meantime, reacting to the developments, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauff Hakeem, told the media that either the government proves the Muslim complicity in the terror attacks, apprehends the culprits and proceeds with punitive actions or acquit them to uphold their dignity. More such angry reactions are underway. He has given a one month ultimatum to the government to fulfil this challenge.
It would appear from the ongoing developments that on one hand, Muslims are really agitated that they are being persecuted on suspicion of conniving with the Islamic extremists, and on the other the Sinhala segment of the polity especially the monks, are pressurising for action against the Muslim leaders thus heightening the chances of a vertical polarisation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities leading to prospects of a showdown which might be of disastrous consequences. Abundant caution seems called for exercising restraint. Buddhist majority need not get provoked lest it assumes a scene what Myanmar saw in 2012 with communal disharmony at its worst.
Arguably, if Muslim community's political power is relegated to a secondary position, in light of concerns about national security, the country, according to sceptics, might head towards an utter chaos.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on June 8 and it may not look unlikely if he is kept in the loop of the current developments by the Sri Lankan leadership. Prime Minister Modi is barely a week old in his second spell and visiting Sri Lanka at this juncture assumes much importance. If his good offices are sought in ironing out the prevailing creases in Colombo, then chances of communal tranquil remains a distinct possibility.
The writer is a Delhi-based columnist and security analyst who writes on topical issues.
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