Only a gesture of playing to the gallery? | Sunday Observer

Only a gesture of playing to the gallery?

In a move that took many by surprise, two former Ministers, Kabir Hashim and M.H.A. Haleem who resigned recently have been reappointed after they were sworn-in before President Maithripala Sirisena, it was announced this week.

This was after all Muslim Ministers in the Cabinet had resigned en masse, following an attempt to submit a motion of no confidence against the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen for his alleged links with those involved in the Easter Sunday bomb attacks.

Thereafter, we saw a so-called ‘fast unto death’ near the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy by parliamentarian Athuraliye Rathana thera. The monk demanded the removal of Minister Bathiudeen as well as Governors Azath Salley and M.L.A.M. Hizbullah.

As the days dragged on and the monk’s health appeared to be affected, pressure was brought on the two Governors to resign. They did so, apparently at President Sirisena’s insistence, but Bathiudeen had declared defiantly that he would stay put as he had not been found guilty of any offence. He was challenging the authorities to prove him wrong.

However, it appeared that there were moves to incite violence against the Muslim community in many areas in the country if Rathana thera’s health was to deteriorate. Fearing a calamitous situation that could escalate into a full-scale ethnic conflict, Muslim Ministers including Bathiudeen, cast aside their differences and united in their stance to resign from the Cabinet.

In doing so, they declared that they had genuine concerns about the safety and security of their community, if they were to remain in the Cabinet. The resigning Ministers also said that they would provide a month’s time to the Government to complete any investigations against Bathiudeen and any other Muslim Minister. It was a commendable move then because they appeared to consider national interest before their own well-being, and the perks and the privileges that go with being a Minister.

It was a Pyrrhic victory for Rathana thera. He may have succeeded in securing Bathiudeen’s resignation but because of that the Government avoided what would have been an embarrassing motion of no-confidence it could have potentially lost, as several ruling party parliamentarians had indicated that they would vote against Bathiudeen, because of the sentiments being expressed in their electorates.

It was also noted that Rathana thera had succeeded in doing what no other politician had been able to do before. He had managed to unite the entire Muslim leadership of the country under one banner- the banner of defiance against the monk’s stance of blatant majoritarian communalism.

Shortly after the Ministers’ resignations were submitted, we also saw the ludicrous announcement that a three-member committee had been set up at Police Headquarters to receive complaints against Bathiudeen, Salley and Hizbullah. That was absurd because anyone can lodge a complaint against anyone else at a police station anywhere in the country and there shouldn’t be special committees to receive complaints against identified individuals!

Now, we hear that Hashim and Haleem have been reinstated. This is also after President Sirisena had declared that he would not swear-in new Ministers unless and until the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the Easter Sunday attacks was halted. The PSC though is still continuing and held sittings this week too!

We must pose the question as to why Hashim and Haleem returned to their portfolios. The investigations against Bathiudeen, Salley and Hizbullah are ongoing and no finality has been reached. They have not been exonerated of complicity with the Easter Sunday bombers nor have they been officially charged with any offence. The one-month period the Ministers themselves set as a ‘deadline’ has also not elapsed: they resigned only on June 3.

Political resignations are worthwhile only if they are done with the courage of moral conviction and is a sincere reflection of a particular stance. They are not worth the paper they are written on if it is only a ‘gesture’ of playing to the gallery, or if the Ministers return to their posts before the ink has dried on their resignation letters.

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, we have seen many of the latter and almost none of the former. Recently we saw the resignation of Ravi Karunanayake in the aftermath of the fallout from the bond scam. Although Karunanayake tried to make it look like he was sacrificing his political career for the lofty ideals of integrity, what he really did was make a virtue out of necessity- and jump before being pushed.

It would be fair to say that the only resignation in the last forty years of presidential government in this country that was morally motivated, did not entertain any political agenda and came at real cost to the individual was that of Gamani Jayasuriya who resigned as a Minister in the Cabinet of J.R. Jayewardene because he found the Indo-Lanka Accord morally unconscionable.

Although Kabir Hashim has been a widely respected politician from the United National Party, being its General Secretary and having held important portfolios such as Highways and Higher Education; and Haleem has not generated much controversy in his short political career, we must on this occasion question their judgment. If they wanted to return to office in just over a fortnight, why did they resign in the first instance?

Since the inquiries into the conduct of Bathiudeen, Salley and Hizbullah remain in a state of flux, do they now feel that the Muslim community is safe from the more militant sections of the majority community which is still, periodically baying for their blood and calling for sanctions on their business establishments? Or, was this yet another political stunt, to tide over the crisis that seemed imminent at that time when Rathana thera was threatening to fast unto death?

It is an understatement to say that Sri Lankans have lost faith in their politicians.

Any residual confidence the country had in them evaporated in October last year during the constitutional crisis, when Parliament descended to its absolute depths and their shenanigans were broadcast live to the country, chili powder mixed water being thrown, and all.

Threats of fasting unto death do not help restore that confidence- and neither will the resignations of Ministers, if what they are seeking is a respite of a fortnight before they return to their old jobs!