Sri Lanka does not seem to have returned to its normal conditions even after six days’ of the Easter-day carnage. Panic still grew and fears of unexpected attacks were haunting people even as warnings come in different forms in the Island. Reports of ‘further attacks’ and ‘reprisals’ have led to alerts that people stay away from public gatherings, including in churches and mosques. Friday prayers in mosques saw low turnout across the Island while the government itself apparently had issued warnings of ‘reprisals.
Meanwhile the shootout between troops and suspected militants has broken out in Sainthamaruthu, not far off from the town of Batticaloa, site of one of the Sunday blasts. It was reported that three suspected suicide bombers were among the 15 dead after the shootout. Even as the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the Sunday blasts, the Colombo government has not yet come out with any substantive evidence. However, the government confirmed that they were carried out by nine well-educated Sri Lankans, eight of whom have been identified. The role of National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) has already been noted by officials. Search operations get underway across the country and suspects are being taken into custody from various places in Sri Lanka.
While nation-wide campaigns and operations continue, with a view to instilling confidence among the people, political leaders and officials accuse each other of their ‘responsibility’ and ‘complicity’ in the blasts. Some would say that the serious security lapses could be the end result of the political crisis that emerged last year with the President and Prime Minister taking opposite position on a variety of issues. For instance, the Minister of Public Administration and Disaster Management, Ranjith Madduma Bandara noted that the main reason for the terrorist attacks would have been the political crises that took place last October 26. He also said, ‘’although I consider this as the main reason, we as a Government should not pass the ball but take full responsibility to ensure that our citizens are safe.’’ Meanwhile, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian, President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran indicated that the Eastern Province Governor Hizbullah’s “alleged connections” with NTJ must be investigated along with “all connections this group has had with various other politicians and previous defence officials.” According to him, Muslims have “repeatedly complained about these miscreants.” He further noted that in the past, Muslim groups raised the issue of radicalization with government officials, and appealed that steps be taken to halt this process. In 2017, for instance, they had held a campaign in Kattankudy and asked the authorities to arrest Zahran, a suspected Leader of the NTJ.
TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, on the other hand, said that there should be an investigation to determine whether there was a foreign link in the Sunday blasts. Sampanthan also posed a spate of questions which included: “why the terrorists chose Sri Lanka for this attack? Is it that we are divided politically? Is it that we are weak in the economic perspective?” He said that the parliament “unanimously agreed to pass a new Constitution. We should go forward with that for the sake of our country. We shouldn’t be a divided country. We should be united.”
According to Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), NTJ was an advanced outfit of terrorists who organized suicide bombings right from the beginning unlike the LTTE which took a while to carry out suicide bombings. He said that the terror group should be rooted out from the country at any cost. He also reminded that we should not jump into generalizations such as that people had at one time classed Tamil politicians and Tamils as ‘tigers.’ Bathiudeen also denied allegations that there were connections between him and the terror outfit. For example, MP Dissanayake had alleged that the suicide bomber who carried out the attack on the Shangri-La Hotel was a ‘Coordinating Secretary’ to him. He called it as being a cheap act of revenge on Dissanayake’s part.
While criticism of the government lapses continued within the ruling dispensation, some sections of the media came down heavily against the government. Ceylon Today in its editorial said that “the Government, by now has proven explicitly its inability of ruling the country. People are of the view that this Government should resign for causing such a calamity in the country in a deliberate manner. Prior to this Government being brazenly defeated at future elections, it is wise for the Government to resign in a dignified manner, as the public have become greatly discontented over the Government, following the Easter Sunday carnage.” The editorial continued: “It is high time that the Government resigned without letting any such tragedy to take place in the country in future due to its incapability” (24 April).
While the security apparatus is geared to meet the contingency situation in the Island, the working population of Sri Lanka is to bear the brunt of the tragedy. Business activities are experiencing a fall that has negatively impacted the economy. The Island as a whole suffers due to the setbacks in various sectors. The worst scenario is in the fast expanding tourism industry. The Government was actually aiming to earn $5 billion in the tourism sector in 2019 as the industry gears to attract over 3 million tourists this year. After the Easter-day tragedy, many tourists were in a frantic mood to leave the country. Hotels also got immediate cancellations of bookings. Tens of thousands of people who are dependent on the tourism industry, both directly and indirectly, are reeling under pressure to make both ends meet. If the uncertainty continues, the Island nation will have to experience serious setbacks in both trade and industry, having a negative impact on the national exchequer.
This write up has also appeared in the Global South Colloquy. The author is Dean of Social Sciences and Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org