ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka

Loss of innocent lives is the cost of the utter ineptness of a crisis-ridden Government of Sri Lanka. 


The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 have not only shaken the island nation but also the entire world. Coordinated bombings carried out on Easter day in Catholic churches and tourist hotels have led to more than 350 deaths. (As we go to press, this figure has reportedly been revised to “about 253’’). It has been reported that the explosions at St Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, St Sebastian’s church, Katuwapitiya, Zion Church, Batticaloa, and Shangri-La, the Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels were carried out by suicide bombers and the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has apparently claimed responsibility for the attacks. The scale and intensity of the attacks, choice of targets, and the fact that places of worship were targeted during prayer congregation were horrific. However, these were consistent with the recent pattern of terrorist attacks as witnessed in the attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. These attacks on the one hand have brought to the fore the infirmities of the crisis-ridden Sri Lankan polity and on the other, also highlight the insecurities faced by religious minority communities, particularly in the context of the history of ethnic tensions in the South Asian region.

What is most astounding is that there was prior specific intelligence available of the possible terror attacks targeting the Catholic churches and, according to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the information was not officially conveyed. Since the President of Sri Lanka as ex-officio commander-in-chief remains the minister of defence as well as the minister of law and order, the failure to act on intelligence inputs amounts to a grave dereliction on his part. This seems to be the result of the breakdown of administration since the time when it was termed as a “constitutional coup’’ attempted by the President in October 2018. However, the Prime Minister cannot be absolved from the responsibility either, as the ministry of law and order was brought under the President’s purview and the Prime Minister seems to have acquiesced to it. The cost of the ongoing crisis involving the conflict between the Maithripala Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) has been enormous, leading to the loss of hundreds of innocent lives. It is a tragic irony that the incompetence of the very government that came to power in 2015 with a mandate for ethnic reconciliation now threatens to jeopardise the uneasy and unstable social compact in a country that was in the throes of civil war barely a decade ago. Championing the line of ethnic supremacism and authoritarianism, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already blamed the initiatives of reconciliation for undermining the security forces and national security. It is feared that with the election due later this year, there could be a consolidation of opinion around such positions and it would receive impetus from the invocation of emergency provisions that vest sweeping powers in the President. Such consolidation could intensify the constant sense of insecurity among the religious minority communities in Sri Lanka. It is such a predicament that the terror groups like ISIS (along with other extremist terror outfits across religions and regions) seek to perpetuate through their modus operandi of propaganda by terror.

Although the causality of the attacks cannot be directly located in the domestic ethnic tensions (for there is no history of strife between Sri Lankan Muslims and Christians, and both the communities have been targeted by the majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist extremists), these will have repercussions for the social fabric of the country. There already have been reports of demands made by some members of Parliament for discriminatory measures, hate speeches against the Muslim community, and at least 700 refugees from the persecuted Ahmadiyya community, are in hiding after fleeing their homes in the Sri Lankan port city of Negombo. In the last 10 years, there have been several instances of targeted attacks on the Muslim community by Sinhala Buddhist extremist outfits like Bodu Bala Sena. During the 1980s and 1990s Muslims, predominantly ethnic Tamil, were persecuted in Jaffna by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Along with this, there are also concerns around the growing influence of Wahabism funded by Saudi Arabia that is leading to radicalised fringe elements within the minority community. Such a potentially conflict-ridden situation demands that the political leadership in Sri Lanka, particularly those in power, adhere to the promise of 2015 and not let the living ghosts of majoritarian authoritarianism haunt the nation once again. Otherwise, it can have dire consequences in a global scenario marked by the rise of right-wing extremism.

From the Indian point of view, the most disquieting factor in the aftermath of these attacks has been the brazenly cynical invocation of the tragedy by Narendra Modi in his election rallies. This reprehensible behaviour has come under rightful criticism from commentators and citizens from Sri Lanka. One has to keep in mind that such a position taken by an Indian Prime Minister can further weaken the already shaky Indian position in South Asia.

Updated On : 15th May, 2019


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