By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“….like our Buddhist people, these helpless Tamil Hindus are being victimised day after day by sinful Christian fundamentalist forces. They are trying to distance Hindus from their culture and make them hate their culture.” – Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera[i]
Putting all four major Lankan religions at loggerheads with each other seems to be the set purpose of the Bodu Bala Sena.
The BBS-brief seems to go way beyond igniting conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims and/or Buddhists and Christians. Creating conditions for violent disharmony between Hindus and Muslims and/or Hindus and Christians also seems to fall within the BBS-purview.
The BBS is not just telling Sinhala-Buddhists that they face an existential threat from Islam and Christianity. The BBS has also begun telling Tamil-Hindus that they are facing an existential threat from Christianity and Islam.
On the internet, there is a clip of a speech made by Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera at a ‘Buddhist-Hindu’ walk in Kotahena[ii] (possibly in April or May 2014). The speech is a clear attempt to convince Hindu-Tamils that their real enemies are not the Rajapaksas or Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists but Christians and Muslims, in that order.
Like all fanatics, BBS head-honcho can sound mellifluous and even reasonable, on demand. In his Kotahena speech he lauds Hindus for their innocence and peacefulness, apologises about not being able to address then in their language, calls them brothers and hails Buddhist-Hindu unity. He says that “Buddhists and especially Hindu Tamil people of this country are facing a grave problem/crisis” – that of ‘cultural slaughter’ by Christian evangelicals and Islamic terrorists. He makes a soulful appeal to Hindu priests to be proactive (unlike Buddhist monks who are languishing in their temples) and save Hindu society.
The main points in Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera’s speech are:
Hinduism and Buddhism are fraternal religions.
There is a Christian conspiracy to convert Hindus and make them hate their traditional culture.
Hindus are also being threatened by Islam.
Tamil-Hindus and Sinhala-Buddhists have identical enemies – Christians and Muslims; therefore they should corporate in their struggle to save their faiths and their traditional cultures.
Already some Tamil-Hindus are turning to the BBS to save themselves from these twin invasions.
If the BBS can ignite divisions within Tamil society along religious lines by pitting Tamil-Hindus against Tamil-Christians and/or exacerbate the already existing problems between Tamils and Muslims, there will be a very clear beneficiary: the Rajapaksas.
If some Sinhala-Buddhists can be convinced that they face an existential threat from Islam or Christianity, they can be persuaded to de-prioritise their real problems (especially economic ones) and focus on imagined enemies. Similarly, if some Tamil-Hindus can be made to think that they are facing ‘cultural slaughter’ (‘sanskruthika ghatanaya’) at the hands of Christians and Muslims, they too can be made to focus less on their real problems and more on these illusive foes.
And the Rajapaksas will benefit – especially in the coming election season.
The BBS will never be able to convince a majority or even a substantial minority of Hindus with their insane hate-mongering; they don’t need to. All they need are a few visible and vocal Hindu adherents and such pawns can easily be created through self-interest (let us not forget KP’s transformation from Pirapaharan-acolyte to Rajapaksa-acolyte). The next step would be to stage a few anti-Christian and/or anti-Islam demonstrations/meetings in the North and the East; with the full backing of the state-apparatuses, this would be quite an easy task. The final step would be to ignite/manufacture some incidents – Hindu attacks on Tamil Christian churches and/or mosques.
The multiple advantages of such an outcome to the political projects of the Rajapaksas and their Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist acolytes are obvious.
Ripping Tamil society along religious lines can cause dents in the currently near-monolithic Tamil opposition to the Rajapaksas. Exacerbating divisions between Tamils and Muslims can achieve the same object. If there are Hindu-Christian or Hindu-Muslim clashes in the North or the East, it will provide a convincing excuse to send even more troops to there. Let us not forget that on the pretext of rebuilding the destroyed houses in Aluthgama, a military camp has been set up in that Southern town. There is no guarantee that the camp will be removed once reconstruction is completed.
If there are Hindu-Christian or Hindu-Muslim dissension/clashes it will weaken the TNA and the demand for a just solution to the ethnic problem. Those Tamils who fall into the trap of Hindu-extremism may not support the Rajapaksas; but they will give rise to a new brand of Tamil politics which places not political and economic issues but religious and cultural issues at the centre of its discourse, policies and demands.
A religious-based division might confuse the international community and divide the Tamil Diaspora.
A Hindu-Muslim conflict in the North/East might encourage Modi-India to look differently – and more favourably – at the Rajapaksas.
Two, three, many religious conflicts would be thus be a Rajapaksa dream.
Mahinda Rajapaksa will in all probability win the next presidential election. But an invigorated opposition can give him a tough fight.
The only reason Ranil Wickremesinghe did not defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 was Vellupillai Pirapaharan (and his suicidal electoral boycott). True the UNP is much weaker today than it was in 2005; and the ideal of a common oppositional candidate seems an unachievable one. Several oppositional candidates will divide the oppositional vote. But finally every single vote cast for a non-Rajapaksa candidate (including for dummy candidates put forward by the Siblings) will reduce the average vote and the margin of victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
For example, if disgruntled UNPers vote for another oppositional candidate, instead of abstaining or spoiling their vote, it will serve to reduce the average vote and margin of victory of Candidate Mahinda. Consequently, if different oppositional candidates, through their separate campaigns, can enthuse traditional oppositional voters and a segment of floating voters to vote for them instead of abstaining/spoiling, it can create a problem for the Rajapaksas. A situation where Mahinda Rajapaksa can only scrape-through is not at all unlikely; even the possibility of pushing the election into a second round is not impossible.
The Siblings seem to know this. That is why they are going all out to make the electoral playing-field even more imbalanced than it already is. Another important aim would be to sow confusion in the oppositional space so that instead of a clear Rajapaksa-anti-Rajapaksa divide, there are many divisions, on ethnic and religious lines.
The Rajapaksas know that the minorities will not vote for them. So the goal will be to reduce minority turn out at the next round of national elections. Confusing and disorienting Tamils, Muslims and Christians with new – and imaginary – threats/enemies would be an excellent way of achieving that aim.
A Sri Lanka, with faultlines across every ethnic and religious difference, will become a place of unprecedented disunity, instability, intolerance and brutal violence. Such a development will be deadly for the country and all her people (especially Sinhala-Buddhists). But the Rajapaksas need it, to strengthen and prolong familial rule.
It’s towards that deadly dystopia the BBS is headed, with its sudden overwhelming love for Hinduism, its sugary concern for Hindu-Tamils and its slogan of ‘Buddhist-Hindu Brotherhood’.