Dire need for statesmen, not politicians | Sunday Observer

Dire need for statesmen, not politicians

The Easter Sunday bomb blasts that transformed the country’s social landscape occurred a fortnight ago. It is only now that its full impact is being felt. In a space of thirty minutes between 8.45 and 9.15 on Easter Sunday morning, Sri Lanka metamorphosed from being a vibrant, peaceful nation, albeit with all its challenges, to a paralysed country gripped in the throes of a fear psychosis.

There is a sense of déjà vu about all this. Sri Lankans have known what it is like to be a potential target everyday because of thirty years of civil war when terrorism fostered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was at its peak.

That was when you constantly looked over your shoulder, you didn’t know whether you would return to your family every evening and parents travelled separately because they didn’t want their children orphaned.

There is no denying that this fear psychosis has now returned, if anything, with a heightened intensity. Today’s world is quite different from when the Eelam war ended ten years ago- social media has taken over and news travels faster and so does rumour and speculation as a result of which we are all in a 24-hour news cycle.

What is the aftermath? In addition to the dozens of searches, raids, investigations and revelations that we are being fed every day, there is another drama being played out: the blame game, with all its political connotations.

This being an election year, everyone is blaming everyone else.

President Maithripala Sirisena blames the then Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and says that he was unaware of the threat because he was not informed either by the Police or the intelligence services. The then Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando was faulted for telling media that while it was known that a threat was imminent, the scale of the threat was not known. Fernando paid with his job for uttering those words.

IGP Pujith Jayasundera, despite a public call for his resignation by the President, has not handed over his baton. As a result, he has been sent on compulsory leave and an ‘acting’ IGP appointed. Obviously, Jayasundera considered his options carefully and realised that he cannot be dismissed that easily as he has been appointed by the Constitutional Council.

While blaming officials for the lapses, the President has maintained a deafening silence on why he excluded Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the State Minister for Defence from meetings of the Security Council. How is it that, with the President absent from the country, the security top brass told the Prime Minister to ‘wait’ and refrained from meeting him while terrorists were exploding bombs in six locations? Who takes the blame for that?

In the lead up to all this, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe surely knew that he was not being invited to the Security Council for several months. He too remained silent until after the attacks when he told the nation that he knew nothing about the attacks because he was barred from attending the Council. He must take the blame for that too- although, he did at least apologise in his address to the nation.

Questions are also being asked about many leading Muslim politicians. Social media is rife with allegations about some of them. Some have taken to interviews in the mainstream media to try and clear their names although a few of them seem to have had tangible connections with some of the terrorists involved in the bomb blasts.

It is indeed a fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not support the cause espoused by the terrorists. Unlike in the Eelam war, where there was a specific demand for a separate state, this campaign has no demands. It is also a fact that Muslims have readily been giving information which is why those involved and associated with the attacks are being ferreted out efficiently.

However, who takes the blame for fostering the ‘them and us’ concept among young Muslims which promoted alienation of that community? Muslim politicians did that, just as much as the more communal among the Sinhalese politicians did- both, for the purpose of winning votes and getting elected.

It is also shameful that no Muslim politician of standing has offered an apology on behalf of their community. That wouldn’t, of course, mean that they are responsible; it would only mean that they categorically do not identify themselves with the perpetrators or their cause and that they regret the grief inflicted upon the nation. However, none of the so-called ‘national’ Muslim leaders had the courage to do so.

Then, there are those who like to blame others. In a situation where there has been a security lapse of humongous proportions that cost over two-hundred-and-fifty lives, it would be appropriate to be critical and blame those responsible, but that too shouldn’t be done for mere political gain.

That is why the declaration from Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he would contest the presidential election to ‘save the country from Islamic terrorism’ is both not timely or appropriate. All these months, Rajapaksa was being coy and not willing to commit to contesting because there are legal clouds hanging over his candidacy. Even brother Mahinda was not willing to make a definite commitment.

Yet, after the bomb blasts, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants to play the knight in shining armour and save the nation, riding on his horse of patriotism, egged on by nationalists from the majority community at a time when hundreds of families have only just buried their dead and the last issue on their mind is a presidential election. At worst, it smacks of blatant political opportunism; at best, it suggests an extreme lack of sensitivity.

There is no doubt that this drama will continue to play out in the coming weeks.

There will be more accusations and counter-claims, just as much as there will be more revelations and arrests. It is as if this country will never learn from its past mistakes.

The need of the hour is not a blame game or political one-upmanship but unity and vigilance against a common enemy, so that the nation can close ranks against terrorism in any shape or form. The need of the hour is also statesmen, not politicians. Sadly, for our nation though, there seems to be a severe shortage of such men and women in this era, so much so that we are compelled to as ask, where to from here, Sri Lanka?