ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen (centre) addressing foreign media in Colombo
- “Sad I am targeted since I’m a minority political leader”: Rishad
- Calls on President Gotabaya to take note of dangerous trend that could damage his plans
The lack of any Muslim ministers in Sri Lanka’s new Cabinet is just fine, said a leading Sri Lankan Muslim political party chief yesterday.
Rishad Bathiudeen, the prominent Muslim political leader – MP, ACMC Leader and also a leading Cabinet Minister of the former Government – said that the new Government took all people as “Sri Lankans”.
“They won with a majority. They can appoint the Cabinet as they want, that’s their right. If they see us too as Sri Lankans and if they treat us equally, that is enough for us,” said Bathiudeen, addressing a press briefing for Colombo-based foreign correspondents yesterday.
Bathiudeen also voiced his grave concerns on increasing political mud-slinging against him on such charged issues as the Wilpattu and Easter Sunday bombings.
“They used terrorist leader Zahran’s incident to create anti-Muslim fear among the voters of the majority community and won the Presidential Election. They cannot politically market Zahran again in the forthcoming General Elections. Therefore they need a new target. That is us, Muslim leaders – mainly myself and SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem. However, this is very wrong. Both I and Hakeem are democratically-elected Muslim political leaders and not in any way similar to Zahran,” Bathiudeen said.
“I have been pointed out as a person who destroyed Wilpattu. I did not destroy any parts of Wilpattu Forest Reserve by abusing my powers. In 2009, the Muslim refugees displaced in 1990 received the opportunity to re-settle in their original lands. Then, Easter Sunday attacks, once we resigned as Muslim Ministers just after Easter Sunday attacks. Police, and CID investigations were conducted to find out whether I too had links. In fact, I also openly called to investigate me if the officials suspected I had links with terrorist Zahran. The CID gave one week time to file complaints against me, which all media reported. The IGP appointed three teams on this led by ASPs. Official investigations finally proved that there had not been any links between me and the Easter Sunday terrorists, and this was informed to Speaker as well.
“There are false accusations on me about refugees living in Puttalam travelling to Mannar to vote at the Presidential Elections. Even though they are living in Puttalam, their voter registration is in Mannar, and they urged the Prime Minister to register them properly to vote. I asked permission from Finance Ministry whether I can arrange transport to them from Puttalam to Mannar on Government CTB buses, which was approved.
“The Northern Displaced Refugees Forum also at the same time asked for permission, made a request to our Ministry, to make the same arrangement. This organisation collected the bus fare and properly re-paid the amount to our Ministry. There are no pending payments, to our Ministry or to the Government, since all costs were paid back. If this transport did not take place, 12,000 voters would have been unable to vote. You may ask why the Government should pay for this type of expense. It is the Government that should always help its citizens to exercise their voting rights. In this case, we with the Northern Displaced Refugees Forum have taken all the costs of this activity with no burden to the Sri Lankan public or the Government. “I am very sad about these accusations since I am targeted as a minority political leader. This is the reason I insist they publicly harass me and my community towards a very unpleasant situation, very possibly ahead of forthcoming elections. They are clearly attempting to create a communal riot in our country in this manner. It is also important to see that they behave in this way when a new President is in place in our country, which means they do not have any respect for the new President or his high office. Therefore I urgently call for the attention of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on this dangerous trend.” Bathiudeen was Minister of Industry, Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Cooperative Development, Skills Development and Vocational Training till 21 November.