NCM: HANDLE WITH CARE
The fear about Muslims after the April 21 massacre of Christians by a Muslim group at three churches and three luxury hotels that had engulfed the country seems to be fast fading away or no longer exists after the anti-muslim riots in Puttalam, Kurunegala and the Gamapaha Districts on May 12 and 13.
What really happened? Where has the fear gone? Did the rioters divert the attention of the people by diverting that of the security forces from recovering swords, knives, explosives and other suspected items which they had been doing during the search operations after the Easter Sunday carnage? Or, was it a Muslim bogey that had been created by the media before the anti-muslim riots.
It was a strange fear. Catholic schools have not been opened for the second term yet whereas the other schools have been. Attendance of students in Government schools is still very low whereas the tuition classes are full of the same students. Even those who did not send their children so far to schools had thronged in their thousands in major Buddhist temples on the Vesak Poya Day which fell on May 18. In fact, the general mood of the country is almost back to normal.
However, with the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen having been handed over to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya by some Opposition MPS, there is a danger of flaring up of feelings once again. Bringing in an NCM against a Minister or any other Member of Parliament is a right of the other Members of the Parliament.
If they have sufficient evidence against an MP, especially against a Minister that he had espoused terrorism or committed corruption, not only have they the right to bring in a motion, but also it is their duty to take him to task, if the Government did not take action against him or her.
Here, the allegations are very serious in nature. They are not pertaining to the usual allegation against Minister Bathiudeen about the deforestation of the Wilpattu area. He is here being accused of supporting the National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) terrorists to cold-bloodedly kill around 300 men, women and children on their holiest day.
He does not deny some of the dealings some people close to him are said to have had with the suspects of the Easter Sunday horror but argues that they had been normal business dealings. It is not clear whether the NCM would succeed or at least it would be taken for debate since it still lacks necessary numbers in Parliament, despite the allegation against the minister being espousing terrorism.
Although National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa echoed the famous statement -“Either you are with us or with the terrorists”- by former US President George W. Bush (Jr.) after the Al-qaeda terror attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, even Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who boasts defeating LTTE terrorism, has not signed the motion.
Parliament, in this case, seems to be partly divided into party lines and partly on religious lines, with UNP Catholic MPS supporting the motion and the Muslim MPS of the party opposing it, despite the Muslims are worst affected as a community by the aftermath of the April 21 terror attack. Against this backdrop, there is a danger of flaring up of anti-muslim feelings once again, which could again lead to anti-muslim riots. That depends on the ferocity of views expressed by those supporting the NCM and the media behaviour with respect to the issue.
What could be expected to happen in case of the NCM succeeding? Will Bathiudeen be arrested over the allegation that he espoused terrorism? Also, what would be the situation if the motion flopped, since this is a pure numbers game? It is very unlikely that he would be put behind bars, whatever the outcome of the NCM might be. It is just a political game. If the proponents of the motion have so strong evidence, which could trap Bathiudeen for Easter Sunday massacre, the best way to do so is to approach the CID with documentary proof, which might not whip up communal feelings among the masses. Nevertheless, now that the motion has been handed over to the Speaker, the politicians, especially those of the Opposition have a duty to handle it with care, without leading to another flare-up of riots.