|Racist utterances and
undermining govt. strategy
Last week saw a
protest that had the potential to erupt into a major
conflagration: Muslims protesting remarks allegedly made by
Minister of Environmental Affairs Champika Ranawaka.
Fortunately, the demonstrations were handled tactfully and there
were no disastrous consequences.
The Muslim community had apparently been angered by the
Minister’s alleged assertion that they were not original
inhabitants of this land and that arrived in this country only
as traders. We are not proposing to discuss that proposition in
these columns; that would be an exercise for historians in
What interests us though is the carefree abandon with which
ministers of this Government appear to voice their opinion. Not
so long ago we had Minister and leader of the Upcountry Peoples’
Front (UPF), Periyasamy Chandrasekharan virtually espousing the
cause of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in
Parliament. And now, we have Minister Ranawaka, the sole
representative of the Jathika Hela Urumaya allegedly casting
aspersions on the origins of the Muslim community in this
The fact that both the UPF and the JHU are in the Cabinet of
ministers-not to mention other assorted political parties such
as the Lanka Samasamaja Party, the Communist Party, the Mahajana
Eksath Peramuna-is an indication of the political spectrum
covered by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
That such diverse political parties are accommodated in the same
room, is in itself, testimony to the political skills of the
But, in order to govern with that kind of coalition, the
President must receive the co-operation of all his ministers,
not periodical stabs in the back that only further their
personal or party political agendas. Regrettably, that seems to
be what is happening, judging from the remarks attributed to
some ministers on some very sensitive issues.
There was a time when the concept of collective cabinet
responsibility was implemented to the letter. In the first J. R.
Jayewardene Government, then Minister of Plantation Industries
and a former Minister of Finance himself, M.D.H. Jayewardene,
criticised in Parliament the Budget presented by Finance
Minister Ronnie de Mel.
MDH was a senior party man but nevertheless, JR told him that he
had violated cabinet responsibility and showed him the door.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we know, cannot deal with the same
iron fist. His is a fragile coalition with the Opposition
relishing every prospect of throwing a spanner in the works. So
he needs the collective support of each and every member of his
Government. In fact, that is the main reason why the cabinet
numbers over a hundred and almost every Member of Parliament is
That is not to say that the cabinet should be a group of yes men
singing unbridled hosannas to the President. They are certainly
entitled to their opinions and the right and the freedom to
express those opinions. But in so doing, shouldn’t they be
mindful of the political complexities and the sensitivities of
Not so long ago, we had a controversy over certain remarks
attributed to the Commander of the Army, where he again
allegedly asserted that the majority community took pride of
place in this country. Those remarks too did cause considerable
embarrassment to the Government, and the Commander of the Army
should have been more prudent in his choice of words. But, at
least he was a military professional with a job to do and it
could be argued that he was speaking in the context of a
professional soldier and in no other capacity.
A politicians’ role is entirely different. Not only are they
policymakers they are also the representatives of the people.
Therefore, when they jump the gun and utter what they fancy, it
can have serious consequences.
When the Minister of Environmental Affairs who is a minister of
the Government allegedly claims that one community in this
country are apparently only traders, it may convey the wrong
impression that this is the viewpoint of the Government.
And that can have potentially catastrophic results, because we
are in the midst of an extremely sensitive stage of the Eelam
war. The Military is said to be poised to win the war and
capture key Tiger controlled regions, and the spotlight has been
focussed on the Government to ensure the welfare of Tamil
civilians in these areas.
The Government is certainly doing its best in this regard but
the LTTE propaganda machinery is also in overdrive, trying to
convince the rest of the world that Colombo is practising
genocide against the Tamil community.
In such a politically charged atmosphere, which Government
politician would venture forth with comments that convey the
impression that the majority community is in some way or other
superior to other communities in the country? Only someone who
is either very naive or someone who is very opportunistic.
Either way, it will not only not help the President or his
government, it has the potential to undermine the strategies
adopted by them.
It is time then that ruling party politicians think again about
what they say and how their remarks may be interpreted. Fanning
communal passions may get them racy headlines in the next day’s
newspapers but they are placing the next generation in peril.
And that is something that this Government at this juncture
could well do without.