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Rajitha’s Lone Battle Against BBS

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Minister Senaratne was a critique of the Bodu Bala Sena since its inception. The Minister once termed the organization as the armed wing of the ‘Buddha Sasana’. He was never hesitant to dub the organization as a ‘terrorist movement’ which had little or no regard for the core values of Buddhism

Fisheries Minister Rajitha Harischandra Senaratne is a tough politician in every sense of the word. When most of the government members were afraid to raise their voices over the conduct of the Bodu Bala Sena, Minister Senaratne took up the challenge to openly claim that the conduct of the BBS was suggestive of a terrorist group! He also said he was not afraid of any group and he had faced various political opponents throughout his long political career who were much stronger and more powerful than the BBS.
Senaratne’s history speaks volumes for his ‘metal’ and the manner in which he dealt with his political opponents.

Rajitha’s political opponents

Having graduated from the Faculty of Dental Science at the University of Peradeniya, Senaratne soon became the Secretary of the Government Dental Surgeons Association (GDSA), a union that was outspoken and powerful during the late 70s and early 80s. Senaratne, as a trade union activist who strongly supported leftist politics, was harshly critical of the J.R. Jayewardene government and its policies.

Rajitha Senaratne became a newsmaker when he joined Vijaya Kumaratunga to form the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party which emerged strongly in the early 80s as an alternative of some sort to the ‘traditional left’. However, when the JVP launched its armed struggle in 1987, the SLMP was one of its prime targets due to its opposing views when it came to the ‘national question’ and the setting up of Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment.

When the JVP resorted to violence, Senaratne was a strong critique of its ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ policy. As a result, armed JVP members were on a feverish mission to gun down the leftist dental surgeon. His colleagues Vijaya Kumaratunga and Dewabandara Senaratne were brutally killed by JVP gunmen in broad daylight.

During the Presidential election campaign in 1988, Senaratne was critically injured in a bomb blast at an election rally in Grandpass that was conducted to support Ossie Abeygunasekera’s election campaign. Although he underwent surgery following the attack, two pieces of shrapnel still remain in his skull. However, that never deterred Senaratne’s political career.

He contested the Western Provincial Council election in 1988 from the United Socialist Alliance of which the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party was a constituent partner. Having won the Provincial Council election he also contested the General Election in 1989 from the same Alliance, defying threats and ‘death warrants’ from the JVP. However, after the assassination of SLMP Founder Vijaya Kumaratunga, differences of opinion emerged between Kumaratunga’s successor Ossie Abeygunasekera and Senaratne. As a result of this internal dispute, Senaratne formed the ‘Bahujana Nidahas Peramuna’, the party which sheltered Chandrika Kumaratunga upon her return to Sri Lanka a few years after the death of her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga.

Subsequently, Senaratne joined the United National Party and the late D.B. Wijetunga appointed him as a national list Parliamentarian. During the General Election in 1994, Senaratne contested from the United National Party for the Kalutara District and secured a Parliamentary seat. He was a firebrand MP in the opposition from 1994 to 1999 and played a pivotal role in the debate over the Channel-9 scandal which was a major setback for the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga government. He was also the first opposition Parliamentarian who openly questioned the ‘educational qualifications’ of the former President.

He was also the first politician in Sri Lanka who was unseated from Parliament by a court order. In 1999 the court disqualified him from doing business with the state and he was unseated from Parliament. Although he had to sacrifice his Parliamentary seat, the UNP reappointed him to the vacancy created by his own unseating. Senaratne has not lost his Parliamentary seat since 1994 and has been a member of the House for more than 20 years.

In 2007, he crossed over to the UPFA along with Karu Jayasuriya and 16 other Parliamentarians of the UNP. Ever since then he has been an influential minister in the ruling camp and headed important ministries such as the Land Ministry and the Fisheries Ministry. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has entrusted Senaratne with the task of handling the problem pertaining to Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan fishermen which has become a major problem between Sri Lanka and India.

First salvo at BBS

Minister Senaratne was a critique of the Bodu Bala Sena since its inception. The Minister once termed the organization as the armed wing of the ‘Buddha Sasana’. He was never hesitant to dub the organization as a ‘terrorist movement’ which had little or no regard for the core values of Buddhism.

In response, General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena movement Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera ridiculed Minister Rajitha Senaratne while addressing a public meeting several months ago. Gnanasara Thera said he was a ‘Dentist’ who had no understanding of what he was talking about. He also urged the people of Kalutara to defeat the likes of Senaratne – who are not supportive of Sinhala-Buddhist organizations – in future elections

When the violence broke out in Beruwela and Aluthgama, Minister Senaratne was in the US, participating in a study tour at the invitation of the Harvard University to study international politics and leadership. Although he received reports on the violent clashes in his own constituency, he was not in a position to cut short his tour and return to the country. However, on his return he visited Beruwela, Aluthgama and Dharga Town, and was shocked when he saw the level of destruction caused by the anti-Muslim clashes.
Soon after his visit, he convened a press conference and lashed out at the perpetrators who were behind this violence.

“If I have committed a mistake, the law should be implemented against me too. It takes so many years to construct a city. But it would take only a few hours to destroy it. That is exactly what the goons have done. The hearts of the Muslims in the area have been shattered now. The only way we can heal the hearts of the Muslims is by implementing the law. The government should understand that. Police and security forces should be allowed to take action against the culprits,” he said.

Making another important revelation at the press conference, Minister Senaratne said a senior Police officer had informed him that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) had launched an investigation into the speech made by the BBS General Secretary. It is widely alleged that it was this ‘infamous’ speech that incited violence in Beruwela, Aluthgama and Dharga Town.
However, it should also be noted that it took two weeks for the CID to initiate an inquiry into the Aluthgama violence which claimed at least six lives and injured scores.

Rajitha accuses the BBS of LTTE links

A few days after the statement made by Minister Senaratne, the CID contacted BBS General Secretary Gnanasara Thera and informed him that they wanted to record a statement from him over the clashes in Aluthgama. On July 2, Gnanasara Thera visited the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department at 1.30 p.m. and gave a four hour long statement to the Police of his version of the story.

In his statement, Gnanasara Thera completely distanced himself from the incident and said the BBS had no hand in the violence. He accused what he termed as Muslim extremist elements of inciting violence and said they wanted to trigger a clash between the Sinhalese and the Muslims.

However, another interesting development took place just a day after Gnanasara Thera gave his statement to the CID. Minister Rajitha Senaratne, in a radio interview, fired another cannon ball at the BBS saying its leaders had secret discussions with Tamil Diaspora members who were supportive of the LTTE.

He also said that UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake ‘facilitated’ the meetings between the BBS and LTTE supporters. The Minister said he even had photographs to prove that the BBS stalwarts had met LTTE supporters of the Tamil Diaspora. He said that the BBS and its conduct was part of a larger international conspiracy to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka and further trap the country in allegations of human rights violations.

However, speaking to The Sunday Leader, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake flatly denied the allegation that he facilitated a meeting between the BBS leaders and Tamil Diaspora members. He said he was not aware of any such meeting and had no connection whatsoever with either of the parties.

Gotabaya distances himself from BBS

While this controversy gained ground in the Sri Lankan media, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa categorically stated that he had no association with the Bodu Bala Sena.

Speaking to Sri Lankan website Ada Derana, the Defence Secretary said, “I have no affiliation with the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and I have never assisted them. Those with narrow political motives try to insinuate that I am behind every problem that surfaces between groups,” the Defence Secretary said.

“There are certain groups which are trying to create chaos in Sri Lanka at a time when the country is facing questions about human rights at the UNHRC. I have worked tirelessly towards bringing peace to Sri Lanka and will not stand idly by as people try to disrupt that peace,” he said. The same views were expressed by Army Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya who addressed a press conference in Colombo that same day.

President visits Beruwela again

Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa too visited Aluthgama again to observe the progress of the work carried out by the Army to repair and restore the properties damaged during the anti-Muslim clashes on June 15 and 16. Most of the rebuilding work is presently being done under the guidance of the Sri Lanka Army. The President also spoke to people who were affected by the violence and they repeatedly told the President that the culprits came from ‘outside’!

During the inspection tour which took place on the sidelines of the workshop for ruling party MPs, the President met Sinhala and Muslim communities in Pathirajawela, Dharga Town, Warapitiya, Seenawatta, Aluthgama and several other areas. Rajitha Senaratne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena and Major General Ubaya Madawela accompanied the President on the tour.

The President also visited the Kande Viharaya in Aluthgama and had a discussion with the Chief Incumbent Venerable Batuwanhene Buddharakkitha Thero.

At the same time, the workshop organized in Beruwela gave a strong message to the country that the government was serious about its damage-control measures in the aftermath of the Aluthgama violence. The President, who had just returned from a four-day official visit to the Maldives and Seychelles, chaired the special workshop for all Ministers, MPs and Provincial Council members representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The day-long workshop was held to discuss the new development projects launched by the government and the way forward. Treasury Secretary Dr P.B. Jayasundera, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Professor Dhamma Dissanayake also spoke at the workshop and responded to questions posed by Ministers and MPs.

Addressing the workshop, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the main opposition United National Party was gaining an advantage from the present controversy. “The UNP’s involvement in the plot to distance the Muslims from the government is clearly visible,” the President said.

“The Opposition Leader is famous for uttering a lie every week. At one point he said that a student is charged Rs 50,000 to be admitted to Mahindodaya laboratories by the government. He also launched a massive media campaign saying the International Monetary Fund has advised the government to slash the education budget. There was no element of truth in such allegations and all those attempts were directed at deceiving the people,” the President said.

“The UNP has grouped at village level to propagate lies against the government and was plotting to distance the Muslim community from the government. The opposition has set up a number of groups to create various opinions that are hostile to the government,” the President added.

However, anti-Muslim clashes and the emergence of extremist elements was a hot topic between ruling party representatives who took part in the workshop. Although some remained tight-lipped about the people who were instrumental in creating this situation, some vociferously stated that stringent action should be taken against those who were behind violence, overtly and covertly, regardless of their status.

http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2014/07/06/rajithas-lone-battle-against-bbs/

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