Harmony among religious groups vital- - Rishad Bathiudeen | Sunday Observer

 Harmony among religious groups vital- - Rishad Bathiudeen

Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said when Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President, the resettlement of the Northern Muslims was carried out methodically by the Task Force headed by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. But unfortunately, it was not completed.

The former Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said there were many more waiting to be resettled in their own lands in the North.

Excerpts:

Q. What does the All Ceylon Makkal Congress 2020 election manifesto give emphasis to?

A. We are lucky to be born in a beautiful country such as Sri Lanka, where people of various ethnicities live in harmony. Our main objective is to create a democratic environment for people of all faiths, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims to live unitedly.

In my electorate in the Vanni district the Sinhalese constitute a minority. However, in my political life I have not discriminated against any race or religion. I treat everyone as equal. I have helped the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in my electorate, in the past. I have resettled people and built houses for them. I have reconstructed Buddhist and Hindu temples, churches and mosques as well. This unity among the races and development of all people will continue in my future career. This is what we have emphasised in our party manifesto.

Q. In your political experience which Government in your opinion has done the most for the Northern Muslims?

A. As we are all aware, the Northern Muslims were chased out of the Province by force by the LTTE. Our wish is to resettle them in their own lands. When Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President, the resettlement of the Northern Muslims was carried out methodically by the Task Force headed by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. But unfortunately, it was not completed. There are many more waiting to be resettled. We want to resettle every one of them in their own lands in the North as they lived before the war against terrorism.

Q. Do you say that the good governance regime did not do anything for the Northern Muslims?

Although they had an intention to help them at the beginning nothing constructive happened. They were able to provide some of their basic needs.

However, they failed to get any land for the Northern Muslims and the people too were not satisfied with what they got from the previous government.

Q. There is an accusation that you resettle people by destroying the Wilpattu forest. What is your comment on this?

A. It is only a rumour, there isn’t any truth in that. Those who accuse me have looked at my resettlement process in the wrong way. Our resettlement program is completely based in the Mannar district and I have not exceeded the limit. The Wilpattu forest is in the Puttalam and Anuradhapura districts. So how can it be the truth. It is something purposely aimed at me.

Q. The UNP has split into two factions. In that situation what made your party to choose the Sajith Premadasa faction?

A. At the last Presidential election Sajith Premadasa received around 5.5 million votes and his policy is very much in line with that of our party. He wants all religions such as the Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims to live in harmony in the island. In the present situation we need harmony among religious groups and we should give priority to that. For the past 35 years we have undergone much hardship and now enough is enough. We are blessed with a beautiful country and now we have to build trust among the various ethnicities and religions.

Q. How do you view the Government’s anti Coronavirus campaign?

A. Sri Lanka has achieved a better place compared to other parts of the world in eliminating the virus. It is a great achievement and we really appreciate the hard work done by the Health officials, Security Forces and Government officials under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Q. Your brother Riyaj Bathiudeen is in CID detention allegedly in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. What is your comment on this?

A. Insaf Ibrahim, the businessman involved in the Easter Sunday attack has met my brother at my previous Ministry for an official purpose. He has given six incoming calls for the same reason.

In this regard my brother was arrested for further investigations and is under detention.

I watched a video in which Insaf Ibrahim’s wife says that even she had come to know that her husband is a terrorist only after the Easter Sunday attacks. My brother Riyaj is innocent. If he had known that Insaf Ibrahim was a terrorist he would never have talked to him or met him.

If they prove by the investigations that my brother is involved in the Easter Sunday attacks, I have nothing against the authorities producing him in Court and even passing the death penalty. But if he is not found guilty, I request them to release him. He has been under a detention order for the past two and a half months and so far he has not even been produced in Court. Being a politician, I don’t wish my brother to be politicised under any circumstances. I trust the authorities will take action regarding my brother as soon as possible.

Q. Displaced minorities from the Mannar district now residing in the Puttalam district often face many issues to casting their votes in their original hometown. As a politician representing the Northern Muslims how do you view this issue?

A- This is a matter relating to their fundamental rights and I have nothing to do with it. Although they were chased out of the Northern province their wish is to be resettled in their own lands. These people never wanted to give up their originality in their land of birth. I request the Election Commission to help these people to cast their votes in the Puttalam district.

Q. There is a common belief that all Muslim parties in the country are united. In that sense why is your party not contesting together with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in all districts?

A. For a long time the two parties have been representing Parliament. Therefore, according to our party’s popularity and allocation of seats in the upcoming Parliament, we contest alone in some districts, and in some others we contest together with the SLMC. Contesting alone does not mean that there’s no unity among us.

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