COLOMBO: The Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, C.V.Wigneswaran, has issued a statement refuting the Sri Lankan Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe’s allegation that he and the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) have demanded a ban on Buddha’s statues being erected in the overwhelmingly Hindu (and Christian) Northern Province.
The Chief Minister said that he and the Northern Provincial Council had only objected to the illegal erection of Buddhist statues and the building of Buddha Viharas in areas where there are no Buddhists. He also said that the objection was to the erection of these illegally on forcibly seized privately owned lands. Statues of the Buddha and the construction of Buddhist temple are being done without consulting the elected Provincial Council.
Wigneswaran clarified that neither he nor the Council is against the building of Buddhist places of worship, provided it serves the people around, is done with the sanction of the local council and on land which is not seized from private owners.
The Tamils have been complaining that since Eelam War IV ended in 2009, the Sri Lankan armed forces and Buddhist monks have been building Buddhist places of worship illegally and without the concurrence of the local elected representatives with the aim of converting the surrounding areas into Sinhalese-Buddhist enclaves.
Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe said in parliament that the Northern Provincial Council had no constitutional authority to ban the construction of Buddhist places of worship. This was in response to the outcry from Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalists that the NPC and the Chief Minister were arrogating to themselves rights which they did not have.
According to the Governor of the Northern Province Reginold Cooray the threat from the construction of Buddhist places of worship is being blown up as there are only 15 Buddhist places of worship in the entire North in contrast to hundred so Hindu temples and Christian churches.
But Wigneswaran said that the whole controversy had arisen from a misunderstanding of the Tamil case. No one in the North would object to construction of Buddhist temples there if it can be justified in terms of the population around, and if it is done as per the law of the land. But the fact was that there had been illegalities and absence of consultation, he pointed out.
Recent attempts by some radical Buddhist monks and organisations to provoke Tamils and Muslims and the government virtually kowtowing to them instead of taking action against them, are creating the feeling that the Sirisena-Wickemesinghe regime is going the way of the previous Rajapaksa regime which alienated the minorities.
The Budhu Bala Sena and the Ravana Balaya joined by Ven. Ampitiya Sumana Thera of Batticaloa are publicly provoking Tamils and Muslims. While the BBS has made wild charges against the Muslims, Ven.Ampitiya Sumana publicly abused a Tamil official and also Muslims in vile language while police officers looked on passively.
President Maithripala Sirisena sees this as part of former President Rajapaksa’s plot to scuttle the drafting of a new constitution for Sri Lanka. He cautioned the opposition against using Buddha Sasana and the monks to whip up anti-government sentiments. He charged that the opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is poisoning the minds of the Buddha Sasana by alleging that Buddhism will cease to enjoy “the foremost place” in Sri Lanka and that the country will be “divided” by devolving too much to the Tamils in the North and East. In an effort to defuse tension, Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe met leaders of all religious groups, but the outcome of this is not clear.