Fast unto death: Mixed reactions from politicians | Sunday Observer

Fast unto death: Mixed reactions from politicians

In the aftermath of Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera’s unilateral decision to embark on a fast unto death, demanding the removal of two Governors, A.L.A.M.Hisbullah and Azath Sally and Minister Rishad Bathiudeen over widespread protests and allegations of their possible links to the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks, the Sunday Observer collected views from a cross section of political leaders as to their stance on the recent development.

It has been claimed that Rathana Thera who is a Member of Parliament staged a political showdown to win back masses in the face of decisive elections later this year. The Thera stopped his death fast on Monday after the two Governors, from Eastern and Western provinces, tendered their resignation to the President. It was rumored that under pressure, the President had asked them to resign.

On the same day, nine Muslim members of the Government, including three Cabinet Ministers resigned saying they were stepping down to make way for an independent inquiry on the accused Muslim leaders. However, the Chief Prelates of the Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters called upon the ministers who have not been accused of terror links to resume their government duties to serve the people.

SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem told Parliament on Thursday (6) that they will meet the Chief Prelates to explain the situation and the decision to withdraw from their portfolios.

Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera’s role

During the episode of Athuraliye Rathana Thera’s fasting and the resignation of Muslim ministers, the controversial Buddhist monk, Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera too became a leading figure with his back to back statements.

He first visited fasting Rathana Thera and supported the fasting. “I should say Athuraliye Rathana Thera is my mentor in the National Movement. I cannot let him retreat from his mission because of three politicians.” Gnanasara Thera told the media that day, “Hirey giya apita maranaya maha amuttak neme (Death is nothing for us who were jailed).”

However, Gnanasara Thera told the media soon after the fasting that Rathana thera’s action overshadowed the ‘national agenda’. He also blamed his fasting, claiming that it pushed Muslim leaders into one camp.

UNP MP Kabir Hashim

“We did not resign to protect any individual, we stepped aside to facilitate an independent inquiry. If someone is found guilty of wrong doing, that person or persons should face the law, irrespective of the status.

“There were concerns that the investigations are being influenced by Muslim members of the Government. As responsible ministers, we decided to temporarily relinquish our duties to let an independent inquiry proceed. That was the common idea behind our action.”


UNP MP Rishad Bathiudeen

“I was prepared to face the no-confidence motion by the Opposition against me, but before it was debated, Rathana Thera went on a fast unto death demanding our resignation.

“We felt that some people were trying to recreate a Black July and whip up communal clashes. Then, all Muslim leaders collectively decided after a discussion to resign for the sake of our community and the country, so as not to let vested interests twist the situation and blow this out of proportion. I did not resign out of fear for the no-confidence motion.

“The allegations against me are not proven, and they are the work of a politically driven racist gang.”

UPFA MP Keheliya Rambukwella

“If we had a racist intention, when the no-confidence motion against Rishad Bathiudeen was brought, we would have pointed fingers at the other Muslim members of the Government, including Ministers Kabir Hashim, Rauf Hakeem, Abdul Haleem having links to the Easter Sunday bomb attacks.

“Ven.Rathana thera need not have gone on a protest fast near the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, if the no-confidence motion against Bathiudeen was fixed for debate on June 2, as demanded by us, the proponents. Then, People would not have come to the streets.

“But with the resignation of all Muslim ministers, State Ministers and Deputy minister in the Government, a clear division between the Muslims and other communities have been created.

“We believe the Government and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe have orchestrated this mass resignation.”

UPFA MP Vidura Wickramanayake

“This whole scenario unfolded in the aftermath of April 21 bombings. The ruthless massacres of Easter Sunday happened simply because of the indecisiveness of the Government.

“Being informed of the looming threats by the foreign intelligent services and also the warnings by local people belonging to the Muslim community, the Government failed to apprehend the terrorists and protect the people.

“After 2015, a political hiatus was created and the situation now is deep rooted. The Central Bank bond issue was the beginning of this political unrest, economic downfall and the social disintegration.

“In a situation like that where government indecisiveness continued to prevail even after the attacks on churches and hotels, Athuraliye Rathana Thera took a personal decision to conduct a fast unto death.

“When the Thera’s actions seemed to gain public support, the two Governors in question resigned. The Ministers were not asked to resign, but they had resigned on their own. The indecisiveness of the President and the Prime Minister led to this situation. The continuation of this political hiatus is not healthy for political, social and economic well-being of the country.

“I believe this situation has been created due to lack of mature political leadership. This is a time we should all get together in the interest of the country and focus on long term gains.”

Communist Party General Secretary D.E.W. Gunasekera

“If I am being honest with what happened after April 21, a massive blood bath was prevented by the religious leadership of the country, not the political leadership.

“Otherwise, we could have experienced another Black July. It was fortunate that Malwathu, Asgiri chapters and Cardinal came to one place and people listened to the religious leadership.

“We should be extra-careful if any issue has a connection with racial or religious factors. We have experienced its danger in 1983. But apparently the politicians have not learnt a single lesson from the ‘Black July’ aftermaths

“Allegations were on a single minister. They (Muslim Ministers) could have forced him to step down, permitting to conduct an inquiry. I don’t know who took this foolish decision. Because it gave a wrong message to the country. Sinhala community saw this as uniting Muslim community against them. Anyone can easily interpret it in that way. Finally, this was an opportunity for both Sinhala and Muslim extremists.

“When there were allegations against certain ministers, the security forces should have been allowed to do their investigations independently. But what political leadership did was bringing back-to-back no-confidence motions and then forming a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). All these steps politicised the issue. In fact, this politicisation happened targeting the election coming in 6 months. That is the ultimate truth.”

Deputy Minister Karunarathna Paranavithana

“It actually showed that we take decisions on race basis when there is a problem. If Ministers are polarised on race or religion, it is a great threat to the country.

“Now all we have got to do is accelerating the inquiry to find out the culprits. Then, we can bring back Muslim leaders into mainstream politics.”

“JHU and ‘Jathika Maga’ produced these demands before Rathana Thera started his fasting. We actually do not know the ultimate aim of Rathana Thera’s action. However, we visited Rathana Thera and asked him to desist from holding his fast as the issue could be resolved politically. I am not aware of any connection between Rathana Thera’s fasting and the withdrawal of Muslim Ministers from their portfolios. However, Rathana thera’s fasting was out of our control. That is all that I can say.”

Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian Dr. S. Sivamohan

“Last week’s political environment elicited two aspects. With their resignation from ministerial portfolios, the Muslim leaders showed that Muslims do not have security in this country. That was one aspect. On the other hand, it was clearly seen that Sri Lankan Government is under the pressure of Buddhist monks.”

“If we look at the allegations, some bombers had taken photographs with Muslim politicians. But if you come to my office you will see how many people come to my office and take photos with me. They talk in good faith, and if they want to take a photograph, I allow it. That is usual.

But we do not know whether those people are engaged in crimes. So just because of being in a photograph with some criminals, they cannot be forced to resign.”

“Because of Rathana Thera’s fasting, the situation became worse. Recently released from jail, Gnanasara Thera also heated up the situation. In this context, if those politicians refrained from resigning, a communal violence could have erupted. Actually, we do not understand who is behind all this.”

Controversy over death fast venue

Some members of the Temple administration has questioned whether Rathana Thera’s death fast at Maha Maluwa desecrated this most sacred place of worship for the Buddhists. An authoritative source said an internal dialogue was on to review the Thera’s actions within temple precincts, which created a huge public outcry to investigate the allegations against some Muslim political leaders.

Ven.Thera began a fast unto death after meeting the Chief Prelates, but it is said that the Ven.Thera had not mentioned at the meeting where he would stage the protest. “The Thera would not have got permission if he had revealed his intention,” an inside source said.

The supporters who gathered around built a temporary shade for the protesting Thera as well as a make-shift toilet in the Maha Maluwa which is in the high security zone of the sacred city.

The angry supporters at the site hooted at some government as well as opposition politicians when they attempted to meet the Thera. The whole place had been littered as a result of the big crowd that put up camp for several days. But in view of the massive support from the Buddhist sections of the society to the Thera’s action which was to bring to book the Muslim leaders accused of having links to Easter Sunday bombers, the administration of the Temple had decided to keep it under wraps for the time being.

However, it is learnt that the Chief Prelates of the Malwathu and Asgiriya chapters were also disappointed at the whole incident, particularly for using the sacred precincts for political campaigns. Maha Maluwa is sacred for Sri Lankans in many ways. It was also the place where the Kandyan Convention (Udarata Givisuma), between the British and the Kandyan Chiefs to cede the Kingdom to British rule was signed on March 10, 1815.