By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
The current casino crisis has ruffled a government that is generally unshaken by public outrage over anything. There are many sides to the casino project of Australian gambling magnate James Packer: its economic cost-benefit, the accountability process, and the moral dimension and social repercussions that it may entail. Minister Champika Ranawaka-frontline face of the Jathika Hela Urumaya– has decided to take up arms over the moral and social repercussions. Indeed the public expectation about the JHU at the beginning was that the party would act as a badly needed moral conscience- raiser that can rein in a government prone to excesses. That expectation vanished when that party got reined in by the establishment. Has Chamipka given us new hope?
None, it seems when a high-profile JHU monk in Parliament reportedly made a statement in favour of the casino project. According to the report the monk had stated that Sri Lanka must move ahead with the rest of the world implying thereby that the casino idea is a progressive step forward. The two contradictory stands represent in different ways the religious hypocrisy of the “morals party.” We sinners know that it is not surprising for religious groups to be hypocritical. When such groups are tied to the political bandwagon their hypocrisy is metaphorically naked.
The pro-casino monk has agreed to the government proposal with the proviso that the Five-Star casino should be confined only to foreigners. It is bad for the locals but good for foreigners. The monk has had a moment of alzheimers when he forgot that the Dhamma is for all humanity and not merely for locals. If one takes up the position that allowing this casino is something morally outrageous isn’t it bad nestling it in Colombo- the capital of Dhammadeepa- with a massive tax haven to boot?
The confusing thing is why both these JHU stalwarts have suddenly awoken to the moral issue? Neither of these two individuals made a hum while numerous and more obscene events took place under the eight-year long watch of this government? When former General Fonseka was incarcerated and jailed? When Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was unceremoniously and controversially removed? When the current Chief Justice was controversially installed? When the constitution had been violated or abused? When abductions of government dissenters take place? When the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission is assaulted in public? When drug dealers are given protective shelter and even authority? When rape and murder by Pradershiya Sabha members take place? When prominent journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge was slaughtered on his way to office?
Furthermore, why hasn’t the JHU offered the advisory light of Buddhist compassion to the government’s post-war handling of the Tamil question? Why does it wait and watch while fortresses are being built against the Tamil people and not bridges that will diffuse the triggers for conflict and hostility? Silence means complicity.
Minister Champika and his Buddhist Party has a smaller but very poignant issue elsewhere in Lanka to be taken up immediately: Videos are doing the global cyber rounds that show baby elephants in Pinnawela, that instinctively love to run around and play in the mud, being chained for tourist entertainment. Would this not ring a bell with the JHU and furnish the party with a little window of opportunity for achievement-now that it has failed in major areas? If such an incident were to happen here in Australia- where few claim to be pious like Minister Champika and his JHU- there would have been horrendous shouts!
The JHU climbed to political position on the dead body of a Melbourne monk named Revd. Gangodavila Soma or ‘Soma Hamuduruwo.’ Soma Hamuduruwo had been one of those personages who although pretty ordinary can attract followers. Although controversial here in Melbourne the monk had been a go-getter; he had his strong faithfuls and equally strong foes. In the years before his death he had an unexpected phenomenal break in Lanka when he became famous for his bana. Soma Hamuduruwo overnight attracted a cult. Taking his enormous popularity at its tide Soma Hamuduruwo declared his candidature for Presidency. He went to Russia to accept a doctorate for a booklet he had written some years before that; unsupervised by an academic. That was itself unusual and didn’t put the Revd. monk in good light. The monk was known to be an acute diabetic and this disease probably helped speed up toward his sudden death over there in Russia before he could earn his coveted goal. To the discerning, all this had been known. Yet the founding monks of the JHU entered into political fray to whip up the emotion that had been constructed over the death of the monk. The newly formed JHU promised that they would initiate an enquiry into Revd. Soma’s ‘controversial’ death and bring offenders to book. They put the blame on Christians because Revd. Soma had been accompanied to Russia by a Christian.
Over an emotional roller coaster the bhikkus of the JHU entered parliament but did nothing about their promise. Champika, leading nationalist JHU orator, was not in parliament then; yet he, too, did nothing about the promise. Instead, he weaved his way to parliament later.
It is ironic that over the years of a JHU-backed government Lankan Buddhist social values have been subjected to severe degradation. A political system has been created that brings out the selfish gene of Lankan men and women. An oppressive climate prevails that shelters the government from scrutiny, keeps citizens in the dark and inquisitive citizens in danger zone. Civic institutions have been weakened under poor national leadership. The upshot is that the average man and woman simply mind “their own business” and cease to react with shock at brutal events that take place.
If this is the political and social outcome of JHU influence, that party should realize that it has no place in the political landscape other than to spark a revulsion against the broad Buddhist institution itself-some day, some time.