Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian
Given the mood fostered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, the response to the serial blasts in Colombo on Easter (April 21) is predictable: Root out the terrorists, who have international links, and step up surveillance. The decision of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, using his emergency powers, to ban the wearing of burqa, reflects this knee-jerk response. What is interesting is that the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU) had asked Muslim women to cooperate with the security personnel after United National Party (UNP) member Ashu Marasinghe moved a Private Member’s Bill in parliament banning the burqa, lift the veil when asked to do so, and they had even asked the women not to wear the burqa, as reported in the Sri Lanka media.
Meanwhile, Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith had mooted the idea that President Sirisena should appoint a fresh commission to probe into the security lapses that led to the blasts, and that the commission should have religious heads, and the commission should be led by the Buddhist clergy. Indian analysts are likely to interpret these developments in a different way, but the Indian interpretation would not be the right one.
Archbishop Ranjith held his press conference along with a member of Buddhist clergy, Venerable Ittepane Dhammalankara Maha Nayake Thera. Sri Lankan politicians and community leaders are grappling with the issue, and the analysts have recognized the fact that there has been a spread of puritanical Wahabism in the island-nation, and that the community has been getting isolated and ‘ghettoised’. While Wahabism might be driving the community into a corner, the Buddhists and Christians too have been found to be cocooned as well. Interestingly, the suggestion is that there should be a greater intermingling of communities to combat the fanatics in each community.
The politics of Sri Lanka has been majoritarian long before it has emerged in India. The Sinhala-Tamil rivalry is based on language, religion and territory, and this turned bitter and violent because of the hardliners among the Sinhala Buddhists and the Jaffna Tamilians. The emergence of fanatical, violent groups among the Muslims in Sri Lanka will make the situation complicated than ever.
The other main question is whether violence unleashed by local Muslim groups is part of the international jihadi network which was once led by Al Qaeda, and now by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? The video released by the IS claiming responsibility for the Colombo carnage seems to settle the issue. The connection does not clarify issues as much as it complicates it.
The United States has tried to draw everyone into this so-called global war against terrorism, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee naively believed in it. NDA-2 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi too appears to believe in it, but less than the Vajpayee government because Mr Modi’s worldview is Pakistan-centric. For Mr Modi, Pakistan’s Islamic militant groups pose a greater challenge, ideologically as well strategically, than the Al Qaeda and the IS. And he is quite right as well.
However, Mr Modi is a little nonplussed because the Colombo terror act involved two minority groups – Muslims and Christians. He does not know the stand he should take in the matter. It can be said that even the Sri Lankan government seems to be at a loss because the majority Sinhala Buddhist majority has not been affected.
This should partly explain the puzzling response of the Sri Lankan security agencies in ignoring the Indian intelligence inputs. But sooner than later, the Sri Lanka leadership cannot allow the island-country to be the playfield of the fight between jihadi Islam and imperialist Western Christianity. And as one of the Sri Lankan analysts had mooted there is need for harmony among the many communities – religious, linguistic, ethnic. And there is a lesson in this for India also. The different communities in India have to live together to keep the fanatics out and the politicians with majoritarian worldviews. Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and Hindu nationalism in India are of no help in fighting jihadi Islam. Though Western powers bear the moral responsibility of creating the demon of jihadi Islam, it does not serve any purpose in blaming them. Sri Lankan community leaders are showing the way how this menace of Islamic terrorism can be fought.