Of that powder keg



Saturday 26th August, 2023

The Kurundi Viharaya archaeological site in Mullaitivu has become a powder keg with some fringe groups trying to advance their extremist agendas. The government is hiding its head in the sand, ostrich-style, presumably in the hope that the issue would resolve itself with the passage of time. It is apparently making the same mistake as the Yahapalana government, which let the grass grow under its feet despite warnings of trouble, and invited disaster.

The government sought to downplay the Kurundimale issue when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa raised it in Parliament, the other day, and asked whether there was any truth in the media reports that some foreign intelligence agencies had warned of the possibility of the temple dispute triggering a wave of religious violence. Rejecting the reports as baseless, State Minister of Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon said the government did not want to respond to social media reports. He, however, said certain groups were trying to ignite ethno-religious clashes and the law enforcement authorities were closely monitoring their activities.

The real issue, in our book, is not whether there have been any foreign intelligence warnings of possible religious clashes; what we want to know is how the government proposes to resolve the Kurundimale conflict, which is likely to spin out of control unless action is taken to keep the extremist groups at bay. The deployment of the police in sufficient numbers to stabilise the flashpoint is certainly welcome, but the problem has the potential to manifest itself elsewhere perhaps in some other form, the way ethno-religious violence often does. There’s the rub. How does the government propose to face such an eventuality, which is within the realm of possibility?

The government had better stop sitting on its hands; it must take decisive action to resolve the Kurundimale issue once and for all.

Legal records including gazette notifications issued by the British in respect of the Kurundi Viharaya site are said to be accessible, and it will not be difficult to determine the extent of land that the archaeological site encompasses. This critical task should not be left to self-important politicians or religious zealots; it should be entrusted to an inclusive panel of independent experts. The people who are said to have inhabited the archaeological site’s reservation for years are likely to accept a solution that safeguards their interests.

More importantly, there is a pressing need to prevent religious bigots from setting up places of worship in such a way as to mark their perceived territories and flex their muscles, if threats to religious harmony are to be warded off. Every community has its share of such fanatics, who must be kept on a tight leash.