By Dharisha Bastians
Staging a rally in Vavuniya yesterday, radical Sinhala nationalist groups led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) called on the Government to dissolve the Northern Provincial Council and place the Tamil-dominated Province under Governor’s rule.
The march led by the BBS, which began at the Mamaduwa Junction in Vavuniya, drew crowds of about 300 people to oppose the racist positions adopted by Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran at his Eluga Tamil (Rise Tamil!) rally last Saturday (24).
Ravana Balaya and Sihala Ravaya, fellow travellers of the BBS also participated in the protest. Crowds participating in the demonstration hailed from six mostly-Sinhalese villages in Vavuniya. The demonstration in the Northern town was much less strident in its mood and tenor, with many demonstrators brandishing posters that held concilliatory slogans such as "Let all communities rise together" a clear play on Wigneswaran's 'Rise Tamil' rally. The controversial monks leading the demonstration used less inflammatory rhetoric in their speeches to the crowds. It is unclear if the radical groups mobilising the crowds were exercising caution since they were demonstrating in a Tamil-majority District.
Speaking at the demonstration, controversial BBS General Secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnansara Thero said that there had been great hope in the south that Wigneswaran who had been raised among Sinhalese and served in Sinhalese areas would work towards reconciliation. “But he is currently spreading the poison of racism,” Gnanasara Thero charged.
The BBS General Secretary said Buddhism was protected by the Constitution, but the Chief Minister was demanding the removal of Buddhist statues in the Northern Province. The Prime Minister and the Government was quick to arrest Buddhists for insulting the Q’ran, Gnanasara Thero charged. “This Government has one law for Wigneswaran, and one law for us,” he said.
The controversial Bodu Bala Sena monk said it appeared the Northern Province Chief Minister enjoyed “presidential immunity.”
“It was the Tamil community that suffered the most in the war. But what is Wigneswaran doing now, while the whole world is talking about reconciliation in Sri Lanka? How can he demand that the Sinhalese living in the North be removed? Two thirds of the Tamil people live outside the Northern Province. They live in the south. Is the Chief Minister attempting to shatter that goodwill among communities,” the radical monk told journalists during the demonstration.
Ittakande Saddhatissa Thero of the Ravana Balaya meanwhile asserted that the groups could not accept the Government’s claim that Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan was not supporting Wigneswaran’s racist statements.However, Chief Minister Wigneswaran has denied the charges in an interview with the BBC recently, saying he had never been a racist in his life. The Chief Minister claimed that the Eluga Tamil rally last Saturday was aimed at highlighting the issues faced by the Tamil community. “Speaking about the Tamil community’s problems is not racism,” Wigneswaran said. He stressed that the Eluga Tamil rally was held to win the rights of the Tamil people and should not be construed as an anti-Sinhalese event. Led by Bodu Bala Sena and other groups, the demonstrators delivered a petition to Vavuniya Government Agent Rohana Pushpakumara to be handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena. Speaking to the demonstrators, the Government Agent said Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims had lived peacefully in the Northern Province over a long period of time, and added that he was urging the people not to be upset by the remarks being made by certain individuals for political gain.
The Bodu Bala Sena organised the demonstration in Vavuniya, which is home to a significant Sinhalese population, after Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s Eluga Tamil rally led with demands to end to what the movement called “state sponsored” Sinhalese colonisation of the Northern Province and the continuous erection of Buddha statues in the majority Hindu area.
The BBS and other radical Sinhalese groups claim the Chief Minister’s statements and positions threatened the security of Sinhalese living as a minority in the Northern Province.
The Eluga Tamil demonstration also called for demilitarisation of the North, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and a power sharing arrangement for the North and East based on a federal model.