New Delhi: The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka and the nearly three hundred people killed by them could instigate ethnic violence of such intensity as to plunge the island nation into turmoil once more. Seven of the eight explosions were suicide bombings and this provides definite evidence of their foreign origin and guidance, most likely from international jihad centres in the Middle East and elsewhere. Churches and hotels were primarily targeted and this bares vengefulness for the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre. This is new for Sri Lanka which has seen Tamil-Sinhala, Tamil-Muslim and Sinhala-Muslim clashes for more than fifty years. If Sri Lanka had been ethnically peaceful, it would have been harder for foreign terrorist ideologies to take root. But since the island state has witnessed bloody civil war, a stream of political assassinations, mass terrorism and suicide bombings, and so forth, the future looks grim.

Terrorist ideologies and to an extent terrorist states thrive in disturbed areas. Obvious vengeance for Christchurch should have come in the West where white supremacists form a constituency but security is tighter after group and lone wolf attacks. Sri Lanka has proved more vulnerable. It is a poor country with a chauvinistic majority population of Sinhala Buddhists who have crept up demographically to constitute nearly three-quarters of the population. Rather than be fair to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil minority group after the obliteration of LTTE terrorism, its grievances related to language status, equal citizenship, political recognition, etc, largely remain unresolved. War crimes against Tamils also remain uninvestigated and unpunished. Meanwhile, schisms in the Sinhala national political leadership have led to communalization of Sinhala Buddhist-Moor Muslim relations, with riots breaking out last year and in 2014. At the height of its power and influence, the LTTE turned against Muslims perceiving them to be close to Colombo despite sharing the same spoken Tamil language.

If Sinhala Buddhist-Muslim or Sinhala-Tamil clashes had broken out again, minor consolation would have been provided by the indigenous origins of the clash, notwithstanding that bloodshed is bloodshed. But the patent foreignness of the Easter Sunday bombings give the odour of Sri Lanka becoming another Lebanon/ Syria or even Afghanistan with their terrible consequences. To be sure, the bombers were not foreigners but Sri Lankans, but this somehow makes things worse. The scale of the attack and the unusually large number of suicide bombers employed point to not only deep planning and preparation but commitment and determination. This cannot be taken lightly. And since Sri Lanka lies in India’s immediate neighbourhood, the osmosis effect on southern India cannot be discounted. Press reports speak of Indian warnings to Sri Lanka about the attacks and the involvement of a group called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath but the magnitude of the bombings indicate a bigger, perhaps even a multinational, conspiracy.

When violent foreign ideologies take root in a country, the only way to neutralize them is to bring harmony in domestic society. If ethnic alienations are gradually erased, militancy is denied breeding ground. Except for Ranil Wickremesinghe who is handicapped by a limited political base, Sri Lanka’s political leadership is not seized of the urgency of ethnic reconciliation. President Maithripala Sirisena has not only proved a nonstarter in that preeminent constitutional post but has shown both immaturity and vengefulness in straining relations with his prime minister, Wickremesinghe. And his political judgement is called seriously to question when he allied with his rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to appoint him to Wickremesinghe’s post until the Supreme Court reinstated him. Rajapaksa is megalomaniacal and will do anything for power. With such a cast of top political actors, would anyone give Sri Lanka the odds of overcoming the newest challenge to its sovereignty and national integrity? The guiding hand of India could help.