Highlighting concerns raised when the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, the recent appointment of the Police Commission shows just how unacceptable the new framework for independent bodies is. The appointments to the new Police Commission includes the Buddhist monk Elle Gunawansa. It is difficult to imagine someone more unsuitable to serve in the Police Commission, of all things. Truth, sometimes, is really stranger than fiction.
Alle Gunawanse was known to be a firebrand Buddhist monk with a tendency to go out of control once he began to speak. There were several monks like Gunawanse, who began their careers by encroaching on state land and putting up a small structure. Their success depended on political patronage. Gunawanse too encroached on crown land in Colombo 7 (Cinnamon Gardens) opposite the BMICH on Bullers Road.
It was well known to contemporaries that Gunawanse had strong links with late Minister Gamini Dissanayake and was a recipient of patronage from the Mahaveli Ministry. His humble structure was replaced by an impressive one from state funds, and in honour of the Maheveli Project received the grand name of Maheveli Maha Seya. He also acquired a Pajero Jeep – the symbol of the new rich of the Jayewardene era. As an extremist he was very much in tune with Gamini Dissanayake’s politics of that period. Gunawanse was known to organise karate classes for his Buddhist Front and ministers had participated in black-belt awarding ceremonies. It is clear that in this (as in any other) opportunistic alliance between politician and monk, it was the politician who reaped the long-term advantages. Gunawanse came in a long line of monks who occupied such positions (e.g. Buddha Rakkitha Thero of the S.W.R.D Bandaranaike era who later featured in the latter’s murder trial).
Sinha Ratnatunga’s ( now the Editor in Chief – Sunday Times) book Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience released in 1988, ascribes to Gunawanse an important role in the events of July 1983. He first appears (p.12) trying to whip up the emotions of the crowd at Borella cemetery. Gunawanse, wanted to harness the anger of the crowd and turn it against the Tamils. Gunawanse played on the alleged mutilated condition of the bodies to incite the crowd, demanding that the bodies be shown – ‘even a little dismembered finger’. That was the beginning of the holocaust.
The monk, who was the leader of the Sinhala Mahajana Peramuna is presented on the evening of the 24th of July asking the Army funeral authorities to show the bodies of the dead soldiers before they are interred. There is an oblique reference to him (p.16) as the monk who had come uninvited to the cemetery, who, that same evening, led a mob down Cotta Road, Borella, with a list in hand. He was subsequently reported being seen at the Cinnamon Gardens Police station, having come in a jeep with a pistol tucked under his robes, demanding curfew passes. The longest reference to Gunawanse’s activities appears on page 32 regarding the events following the late night cabinet meeting on 27th July. ( Read “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Rajan Hole.” for an in-depth analysis of Gunawanse’s criminal behavior )