Winning the Hearts of Minority Communities
Chairman of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, Narah T. Arulkanth on the need for national development with the entire country on board.
The result of the presidential indicated ethnic polarization of the Sri Lankan polity. The new president has the challenge of uniting an ideologically scattered people. The Chairman of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, Narah T. Arulkanth spoke with The Catamaran about building a Sri Lankan nation and the need for national development to happen with the entire country on board.
THE CATAMARAN: The final result of the presidential election indicated that the people of north and south support opposing directions. What is your view about the challenges of uniting this divided polity?
The voting pattern of the election clearly indicates that Sinhala Buddhists have one opinion while the majority of the other ethnic communities are entirely different. We must understand that people are divided into ethnicities. But I decline the allegation that Tamils and Muslims have taken decisions as racists. If Muslims voted on racist grounds, they could have voted for M.L.M. Hisbullah. Likewise, Tamils, if voted on such grounds, could have voted for candidate M.K. Sivajilingam. Sajith Premadasa gained the majority in Jaffna and Batticaloa districts. He gained 312,722 votes from Jaffna district which comes to 83.86 % of votes while Gotabaya Rajapaksa only managed to reach 6.24%. 2% voted for Sivajilingam in the Northern Province and Hisbullah got 4% of the Eastern Province vote. Sivajilingam and Hisbullah could have gained majority votes if the Tamil and Muslim people were racist.
THE CATAMARAN: Why did the Tamil and Muslim people trust one candidate mostly?
That is a serious problem. We have to think deeply as to why one of the candidates was welcomed warmly, while the other was rejected outright. The Sinhala and Tamil media of Sri Lanka take two definite paths. Sinhala electronic and print media target Sinhala people while Tamil media target Tamils and Muslims. Some media owners are directly or indirectly connected to politics. Media organizations are run based on the agendas of their owners. Media is a business today; it uses numerous tactics to grab audiences. Racism is one such tactic. Mainstream Tamil media took one viewpoint to the Tamil and Muslim people of North this year. It was partial to one candidate. The other candidate was not given fair media coverage. We see the reverse phenomenon occur in Sinhala media with another candidate.
THE CATAMARAN: New President declared he would rule the country based on Buddhist principles. Do you think this further alienates Tamils and Muslims?
Over 300,000 Tamils voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In the plantations alone, 50,000 Tamils voted him. As a Sinhala Buddhist, I am happy President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he would rule the country according to Buddhist principles. Buddhism is a non-violent philosophy. A good Buddhist never harms people of other communities. This country has been Sinhala Buddhist for 2,500 years. The problems arose between Sinhala Buddhists and minorities, not because of this statement. Problems are caused due to the way the statement was taken to people by the media. The message was that Sri Lanka would be a Buddhist country because Gotabaya was elected president. I think the media and politicians are responsible for many racist issues in this country. They manipulate people for political gains. When problems occur, they blame the people and escape.
THE CATAMARAN: Social media was highly influential in the past presidential election. What are your views on this?
Even the Election Commission could not control social media. We must learn lessons from these experiences and update the legal system not to repeat the same error. Unfortunately, we forget everything immediately after an election. There are groups that run social media on the funds received from Tamil diaspora. They want to promote racism in order to get international attention back on Sri Lanka. Some media had posts with north and east coloured in green on a map of Sri Lanka. Some coloured this part in the map in red to show the votes as LTTE votes. This must not be done. The attempt to brand Tamil people as Tigers merely because they did not vote the candidate the accusers wanted is wrong. Not only the people who live in the north and east but all the Tamils and Muslims throughout the country want to live in peace. Branding all Muslims as extremists because some Muslims launched the Easter Sunday attack is also wrong. The aim of the Tamil people in the north is living without a war. We must help them. People in the north have more serious problems than what the people in the south have. People in the plantation sector have no facilities even to carry on free education without obstacle. Upcountry people never supported terrorism. The punishment given to an offence not done is more painful than a punishment given to an offence. Likewise, a similar thing will happen if a group that wishes ethnic unity is branded as racists. We must understand these issues a-politically.
THE CATAMARAN: What measures should the new President follow to unite a divided people according to the result of the presidential?
New President must understand that minorities have rejected him for a reason. He must try to get them closer to him. It is important that he be genuine instead of hoodwinking people. He must try to win the next election in a way that indicated that he won more than Sinhala Buddhist majority votes. This time, we observed that both candidates started with two blocks of votes in their banks. Gotabaya Rajapaksa knew that he would get the majority votes of the Sinhala Buddhists whereas Sajith Premadasa was aware that he would gain the majority among the minority communities. This is not a healthy situation.