All about Dinh Diem and the Aragalaya | Sunday Observer

All about Dinh Diem and the Aragalaya

27 November, 2022

A recent statement made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the Aragalaya, protests and political organisers of these events has given rise to much discussion in the political arena.

“Conduct meetings, protests and marches in a legal manner. Shout out that I am a dictator. That is fine. But I must say one thing. Get a permit and take to the streets. If anyone thinks one can conduct another Aragalaya without a permit I have asked the police to stop it. I will not allow an Aragalaya to take place to overthrow the Government. I will deploy the military and declare an emergency. There is no place for Dinh Diems in this country. Hindu and Muslim clergy were threatened. The Catholic Bishops also said they are against violence. Then who are the religious leaders who were with these groups? We do not want to follow the rule of Dinh Diem. I will not allow for a Dinh Diem and those around such persons,” he said.

Following his speech, one name has managed to pique the interest of all involved. That is the name of Dinh Diem.

Dinh Diem ruled over South Vietnam from October 26, 1955 - November 2,1963. At the time he was called the President of South Vietnam, or the Republic of Vietnam.

It is said the Vietnamese hail from those who migrated from China, Tibet and Thailand over the years.

The Dinh part of Dinh Diem’s name comes from an area called Dinh in Vietnam. In December 1946, the French colonists began a war in a bid to occupy Vietnam. President Ho Chi Minh called on all Vietnamese to come forward to protect the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which was still in its infancy. The war which went on for seven years ended in 1945 after the colonist forces were defeated in the area of Binh Dinh. This was the birthplace of Dinh Diem.

Dinh Diem was born into a prominent Catholic family in 1901. After obtaining a degree in 1921, he followed his older brother to the Vietnamese civil service. He rose to popularity for the service he rendered to the Catholic community of the country. This led to his entrance to politics which was supported by France, Rome and other Western countries. The end result was that Vietnam gained its independence from the French in 1953 and its power was taken over by capitalist forces.


Though the French attempted to colonise Vietnam since the first half of the eighteenth century, they succeeded in doing so only in 1861. At that time South Vietnam was known as Cochin China. The French went on to declare Saigon as the capital of Cochin China and built it to resemble Paris. Saigon to date bears the signs of its colonists as a result.

The Geneva talks in which Ho Chi Minh also participated led to the division of the country. France withdrew its troops. North Vietnam was allowed to be ruled by the Viet Minh Communists led by Ho Chi Minh.

In contrast, an anti-communist puppet Government of the western forces was set up in South Vietnam. On September 7, 1954, Norodom Palace became the residence of Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam. In 1955, Dinh Diem overthrew the Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai through a fraudulent referendum. While Dinh Diem declared himself the President of the Republic of Vietnam, he renamed the Norodom Palace as the Independence Palace. It is a popular belief that the palace is located on a dragon’s head; therefore, it was also referred to as the Dragon’s Head Palace.

It is evident Dinh Diem received the fullest support of the Catholic church to come into power due to his brother Dinh Thuc, who was a Bishop of the church during Diem’s rise to power. While Diem maintained good relations with the United States when he first came to power in Vietnam his rule soon turned into a strict dictatorship.

Certain Catholic priests were so powerful that they maintained their own private armies. Dinh Diem took steps to appoint Catholics to all the top posts of Government including the military. Catholics received all Government funds and support including foreign subsidies.

Due to Diem’s pro-Christian policy, the majority Buddhist community suffered greatly and they were forbidden by law to even display a Buddhist flag.

However, those in the Aragalaya who followed the path of Dinh Diem called their struggle a struggle of love. However, saying ‘I love you’ in Dinh Diem’s language, i.e in Vietnamese is no easy task. This is because the language has no specific terms to say ‘I’ or ‘You’ in order to form the sentence ‘I love you’. In Vietnam, people address each other according to their ages. For example, in Vietnamese, they use “anh” to address older brothers, “chi” for older sisters, and “em” for younger siblings. This is the reason why many Vietnamese are often heard asking the ages of others allowing them to use the correct pronouns when addressing them. But in the Dinh Diem style Aragalaya of love in Sri Lanka, many were heard addressing Damith as either ‘Akka’ or ‘Nangi’.

At the time Aragalaya activist lawyer Nuwan Bopage had this to say about the resignation of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.


“This people’s struggle was carried out for a change in the political system and the economic pressure that the people of this country were facing. The resignation of the Government including President Rajapaksa is the result of a three-month public struggle. A mass of people gathered around the struggle like never before in history. What usually happens is that one party, a front, joins together for this kind of protest. But this movement, which started based in Galle Face, turned into a public struggle that went beyond party politics. Today the President has stepped down as a result of this public struggle.” he said.

A newspaper report on May 25, 2018 forewarned of a Dinh Diem-type struggle arising in Sri Lanka. It said that the Security Council had also received information about this. But the next day, the Security Council rejected the news as follows.

It said there was no truth to two reports featured in the Dinamina and Lakbima newspapers.

“According to the relevant news report, it has been stated that it is based on a matter that was discussed in the recently held Security Council meeting, but in the background that no information has been reported to the Security Council about any threat to the State security or the safety of people’s lives in Sri Lanka no necessity arose to discuss the topic. Therefore, this news is false and has been created by a person or organisation. The President has instructed the Inspector General of Police to conduct an investigation and report on who released the false information to the media.”

But four years on, the situation that occurred on May 9, 2022 should be taken into account as groups in the Aragalaya even sought to form a political party.

The Dinh Diem worshipping Aragalaya activists registered a new political party called ‘Jana Aragalaye Purawesiyo’ and submitted the necessary documents to the Election Commission. Many have now forgotten that the Secretary of the party, Chanaka Bandara at the time said that they would continue to stand up for the aspirations of the people, despite certain groups attempting to misuse the struggle to achieve their own ends.

The President in his speech on November 23, also said:

“I also listened to the Prime Minister’s speech. Today we are fortunate to have a normal debate in this House. This is something that is done in every country. But between May 9 and 13 July, there was no such normalcy. We have now gone to court regarding the incidents of May 9. One MP was brutally killed. Another MP who first said Gota Go Home was also attacked and barely made it out alive. How can we condone this?

We opposed such incidents. The MP in the previous week said the Government must be overthrown but they attempted to set him on fire inside his own vehicle. If the Government must be overthrown or if it should go ahead with either Gotabaya or Mahinda Rajapaksa should be dealt with internally.


No one should be killed for this.” The President said in reference to the violence unleashed on the person and property of politicians by Dinh Diem worshipping Aragalaya activists. Following May 9, the damage to homes and property of MPs in the Mount Lavinia and Nugegoda Police areas has been estimated to be over Rs. 770 million.

Members of Parliament Premanath C. Dolawatta, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Jayantha Katagoda, Johnston Fernando, Bandula Gunawardena, Jagath Kumara, Sitha Arambepola, Rohitha Abeygunawardena and Gamini Lokuge’s houses and properties were damaged in this manner. Nine houses in the Nugegoda police division and four in the Mount Lavinia police division including vehicles had been damaged in the incident.

Perhaps the activists of the Aragalaya learnt to carry out Dinh Diem-style arson attacks from Vietnam itself. According to Vietnamese traditional religious belief, death is not the end of life. They believe that it is only a transition from this soul to another. Therefore, the Vietnamese believe that they need furniture and other luxuries in life to live comfortably in the new life after death. In Vietnam, when someone dies, their relatives buy paper replicas of the furniture and other fineries they need for the afterlife and burn them. It is their belief that these items reach their dead ancestors through the smoke.

The so-called Dinh Diem worshipping activists of love in the Aragalaya were only able to kill one MP. But perhaps they attacked the homes of politicians in the hope of sending many more to their afterlife. However, the houses, furniture and vehicles burnt will now not be of any use in their afterlife as they are still alive.

According to the Urban Development Authority, the Galle Face Ground which was a haven for the Aragalaya has suffered damage amounting to Rs. 4.9 million as a result. According to them, restoring the grounds will cost Rs. 150 000 while Rs. 4.7 million will be needed to re grow the grass. It was only after this revelation that Minister Prasanna Ranatunga advised the Urban Development Authority to take necessary legal measures to recover compensation from the Aragalaya activists.

No activists in Galle Face held a Buddhist flag. Perhaps this was because they worshipped Dinh Diem who banned the flag from being used in Vietnam. In May 1963 the Dinh Diem Government brutally killed nine unarmed Buddhists for opposing this ban.


The greatest loss Dinh Diem suffered was the loss of his people’s support. Dinh Diem could not understand the heartbeat of the majority of Buddhist Vietnamese people, and they saw him only as an oppressor and a dictator. When a bhikkhu called Quang Duc set fire to himself in protest, this resulted in a massive uprising of dissent against Dinh Diem forcing him to back down.

On November 1, 1963, the country’s leading generals launched a coup d’état with assistance from the CIA. Though he attempted to save his life by contacting American journalists and officials, he failed. An anti-Government coup with the support of Buddhist Vietnamese people who lived in South Vietnam was successfully implemented and the final result was the assassination of Dinh Diem, the then President of South Vietnam.

We must now analyse what the President intended to say by referring to a person such as Dinh Diem. Examining the recent political events, it is evident that the Frontline Socialist Party along with the Catholic leadership has been active politically more than ever before. What was also evident is that they have been directly working against the Government and criticising it mercilessly in recent times.

When former President R. Premadasa died in a bomb blast J.R was of the opinion that Premadasa’s mixing politics and war had caused his death. Today, religious leaders and politicians have confused religion and politics. Religion must be placed in a private domain and not according to a political agenda.

Catholic forces pumped millions of dollars into the Aragalaya through NGOs while Cathlolic leaders supported it, actively bringing in their congregation members to the grounds. They portrayed it as a meritorious deed through their media outlets and the money pumped provided food and drink including liquor as well as sanitary facilities in the blink of an eye.

It was a sign that the leadership was intent on setting up a new Government as it felt the existing Government was not delivering justice for the Easter Sunday attack. Perhaps this is what the President meant when he said he will not allow a dictator like Dinh Diem, who came to power with the help of a religious group but then discarded democracy to emerge in this country. The similarity between Dinh Diem and the relevant parties only goes on to prove his statement.

Even before Dinh Diem came to power, he made various attempts to seize power. In the end, it was the Catholic Church that helped him to achieve this end. After coming to power, he acted as a dictator, refusing to hold democratic elections. The fact that certain parties in this country openly say that they do not believe in parliamentary democracy is an example that the ghosts of Dinh Diem are in fact among us.


When examining the past, one thing that is clearly convincing is that we have lost many things as a country by mixing religion and politics. Democracy is the supreme factor in governing a country which takes precedence over all religious beliefs. A believer in democracy respects all religions. History will certainly testify that the rulers of the Dien Diem model and the so-called religious leaders who do not believe in democracy will not benefit peaceful and unarmed citizens of all religions.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to defeat this Dean Diem-style coup by the Frontline Socialists, the church-led mafia and others due to his far-sightedness and his political wisdom. In other words, President Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power due to the good fortune of this country and the nation. If not the above-mentioned Dinh Diems would have destroyed the country’s Buddhist and national heritage while leading to the crowning of imperialist NGOs and the ecclesiastical mafia which is plaguing the society. The details of this conspiracy have since been revealed. By referencing Dinh Diem on the day the President revealed this bitter truth to society.