Govt failed to provide security to areas prone to outbreak of violence - Leader of JVP, Anura Kumara Dissanayake | Sunday Observer

Govt failed to provide security to areas prone to outbreak of violence - Leader of JVP, Anura Kumara Dissanayake

What struck Leader of the JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake most, during his recent visit to areas affected by communal violence in Kandy is the constant fear that had been instilled in those affected by these unfortunate incidents. “The fear is ever present and that is the most dangerous situation” he said, explaining that it creates an environment of mistrust instead of coexistence and peace.

In a candid interview with the Sunday Observer, Dissanayake discussed the effects of communal politics and the need for a National unity political movement in the country, while revealing the party’s plans to fight racism and communalism going forward.

Below are some excerpts of the interview :

Q. The perception is that an unseen political hand was behind the unfortunate incidents in Kandy. Are you of the same opinion?

Racism has now become a part of the country’s mainstream politics. Gradually, the Sinhalese are being pushed towards Sinhala communalism, Tamils are being pushed towards Tamil racialism and the Muslims are being pushed towards Muslim racialism. At each of these instances the incidents are being used politically. They appear and disappear at various points of time while nurturing narrow communal politics. The Digana incident was a rupture caused by these forces. In the country’s history there have been many instances where racism was used for political gain. Those who lost power have used communalism to regain power while politicians in power used it to remain in their positions.

Therefore, rulers unable to affirm the country’s economic policy, foreign policy, rule of law and democracy are easily stirring racial feelings of the public to achieve their political aims. The last local government elections were heavily based on communal politics and the failed Rajapaksa camp has relied on communalism and religious divides to secure their victories. They have created various groups to fan these flames.

The government has a responsibility to reveal those behind these incidents. Meanwhile, these incidents are also beneficial to existing governments to deviate the focus of the people from the common issues faced by them. Rather than question the government on these issues people are questioning and blaming each other. Therefore, the government has failed to curb the racial tendencies of the people which eventually led to the Digana incident though it was predictable. The efforts taken to control the issue are most unsatisfactory.

Q. Are you blaming the government for the recent unrest in Kandy?

Of course. In the current situation it was predictable that a rupture in the fabric of society would occur even due to a small communal issue. The fuel of communalism has already been poured into society and one only needs to light a match to cause extensive damage. On February 22, when this incident occurred there was already communal politics in play and many of us could predict that this situation would arise. We were able to foresee it due to the political trends in the country. But, the government has other sources such as, intelligence, the police, the CID to gather the correct information. However, they failed to obtain the necessary reports from these mechanisms. They even failed to stop these people from gathering even though it was happening out in the open and could not provide necessary security to areas prone to outbreaks of violence.

Q. Many allegations have been levelled against the law enforcement agencies in this incident. What were their failures?

We heard many allegations that the Police looked on during the violence while others claimed the Police asked people to leave, thereby creating the environment needed to escalate the level of violence. The government must investigate these claims and report the correct information to the public. We have still not received such information. Keeping the allegations aside, however, in this situation the Police were clearly unable to provide the necessary safety and security to the general public which is one of their main duties. A faster intervention process based on information gathered was needed to stop the violence from escalating. But, this did not happen as the government itself was focused on other matters about continuing the current government and remaining in power.

Q. The political leadership has been accused for not reining in extremist groups and allowing them to function freely. What is your opinion on this?

It is favourable for a government if issues can be created among those who would stand up to the government when it comes to common issues faced by the public. Important issues are buried and others crop up among the people due to these groups. Therefore, it is clear the rulers allow these groups to operate unhindered. A government should recognize the equal rights of all ethnicities, without which coexistence cannot come into being. If extremist groups are being created the government has a duty to reveal them and their real intention to society at large. The government is not fulfilling this duty.

Q. Was it a correct step to impose a temporary blockade on social media in a bid to stop the spreading of hate speech?

In recent times irresponsible social media use has increased while using the platform to spread untruths and hate. But, one using social media regularly can easily weed out the untruths being circulated. The government’s duty is not to stop distorted information from reaching the public. Through the temporary ban what the government achieved was to test out the spread of government dissent on social media and how to stop it. However, there is in fact a need to formulate steps to take action against circulations of false information and hate posts on social media.

Q. People are worried that social media use will face constant monitoring and censorship after the recent ban. Is there such a possibility?

A chance to test it was presented to the government recently so you cannot disregard such a possibility. This country has a history where media institutions were attacked and journalists were killed to curb dissent against the government. The rulers have been empowered by such attacks. Therefore, government dissent may be curtailed through such actions.

Q. Despite the end of the long drawn war, society today remains divided. How can we change this?

Though there is almost no possibility for an armed conflict to emerge again, other conflicts can arise in the country. These can take the shape of conflicts of opinion, culture and religion fuelled through mistrust and hate. Therefore, it is imperative that the communities come together, as a divided society cannot coexist in peace. Our country is a victim of the ‘Divide and rule’ concept of the imperialists.

But, the rulers since independence have repeatedly failed to bring all these communities together. However, on reflection, they actually do not wish the people to co-exist as the existence of communal politics is more favourable to them. Rulers actually like to push each ethnicity towards the leaders of their communal politics and thereby secure power by resolving the issues of the communal party leaders as opposed to that of the people. Racism and Communalism today is in fact a stream of Politics. Our challenge today is to fight against this communalism with a political movement of national unity. Currently, political communalism has won but I believe we will be able to champion the national unity politics in the future. A new constitution will not be of any help as, at the core of these issues are economic, social and cultural issues, therefore we need broad social reforms.

Q. There have been calls to ban political parties based on religions and ethnicities. What is your take on this?

As a political movement we do not agree with the existence of such groups. We do not need parties representing religions. What we need as I said before, is a national unity political movement in the country representing all ethnicities and communities. However, we have failed to achieve this yet. As a political movement this is our expectation and aim.

Q. Today, society is riddled by misconceptions and fallacies such as, the existence of sterilization pills. How do we change the attitudes of the people regarding these?

The issue is not only to do with education but also connected to politics. Those engaged in communal politics do not present the people with correct data or scientific proof. They are imaginary ideas created by themselves due to the need of a constant enemy. In the past, the LTTE was the common enemy. Now other communities are being shown as enemies to each community. While presenting the people with correct information can be helpful that alone is not sufficient. This is a mode of politics and it can only be defeated through a political movement.

Q. There is a fear that repeated incidents such as that occurred in Kandy would give rise to an armed conflict in the country. How can we prevent this?

Communalism does not exist in isolation. It is fuelled by the racism and communalism of another segment. This goes on to nurture and encourage communal politics. But in reality the possibility of an armed conflict in the country is minimal

Q. What role does the JVP expect to play to achieve this target?

We have tried to gather people of all communities in areas where the JVP has a hold. I am not saying it’s an extensive program but we have commenced various community based programs according to our capability. Meanwhile, the JVP has decided to commence a political movement against racism and communalism. We have prepared several rallies to start the program, such as, the anti-racism program starting March 21 in Colombo and covering the areas of Digana, Matara and Ampara. We will stand up against any political movement that is fuelling racism in the country and create a political movement for national unity.