By Kumar David –
A felonious monk, a Buddhist outcry and Gota’s bid for power; Gota and the threat of a religio-fascist state
Let’s get this straight: A monk called Gnanasara was convicted in a court of law for a criminal offence. The result is not the outpouring of revulsion against a criminal in religious robes, no in racially and religiously half-mad Sri Lanka the demand is for a change in judicial procedures and change in laws to accommodate felons in robes. Who knows abuse of abithayas may soon be deemed permissible if the perpetrator was adorned in saffron! The madness of fascistic demands in Buddhist Sri Lanka has gone out of control. The trial and execution of Buddharakkitha and Somarama was not met by masses running wild, or Mahanayakes, monks and chauvinist Ministers like Champika Ranawaka and Jayawickrema Perera advocating that cases to be moved to special courts, or stay of sentence and special privileges for the two murderers. No, in the 1960s Buddhist chauvinism was not out of control. How far Sri Lanka has declined in 60 years!
‘Lanka likely to set up special courts for Buddhist monks after landmark jailing’ blared a headline on the site NewsIn.Asia, datelined 19 June 2018. The piece opined: “There are indications the coalition government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will accede to the demand for special courts to try cases against Buddhist monks”. Political commentators know that the Rajapaksa machine stands behind this ‘accede I’m damned, refuse to accede I’m damned’ pressure confronting the Sirisena-Wickremesinga lame-duck duo. Another below the belt shot aimed at judicial independence was the canard that Gnansara’s conviction was to please “international forces and NGOs” (Secretary General of the Asgiriya Chapter). I supposes pandering to Muslims is also implied.
This troublesome monk who leads the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) interrupted court hearings in which military intelligence officers reporting to Gotabaya Rajapaksa were accused of abducting Sandya Ekneligoda, a critic of the 2010 Rajapaksa regime, in circumstances where the Muslim-hate BBS’s link to Gota and a hot and spicy video allegedly about Ranawaka were no secret. The involvement of the BBS, an anti-Muslim organisation, in stoking unrest in Aluthgama and terror, killing, looting, and burning homes and shops is widely believed. Recently this monk was also at the centre of anti-Muslim pogroms in the Kandy area. This particular conviction, however, was not for these offences but for obstruction of justice and threatening Ekneligoda’s wife.
Notwithstanding these allegations and his conviction for felony, thousands of Buddhist faithful marched across the country demanding Gnansara’s release and mocking the justice system. Cabinet Ministers demanded special courts to “try” (meaning release) convicted felons in robes. They insist that the laws of the land should not apply to the Buddhist clergy. If the powers-that-be accede to these ultimatums we are well on the way to a religio-fascist state. The gravity of the Buddhist outcry is evidenced in a series of news clips of 18 and 19 June put together by a friend who is as horrified as I am by these happenings. The clips are reproduced in a separate box.
My initial reaction to these goings on was that the President is sympathetic to Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and the Prime Minister weak. But I was pleasantly surprised when Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale, supported by BASL, informed the Kalyani Sangha Sabha that Gnanasara would be treated like any other prisoner and said the government would abide by the Prisons Ordinance. This was in response to a communication from the Sangha Sabha. I presume the Minister’s conveyed the considered views of the government and had the support of president and prime minister. The subsequent grant of bail to the monk, my lawyer friends inform me, is quite usual because appeal proceedings may drag on for months or a year.
What makes this background crucial is Gota’s presidential bid. The Gnanasara campaign adds fuel to the fire Gota’s campaign hopes to ride on; that is stoking fires of chauvinism. Tamil and Muslim votes are beyond reach, so the strategy is to maximise majority community votes and frighten minority communities into abstention. A Gota fan I was in conversation with a few days ago revealed another stratagem; “We will buy Tamil votes and even Muslim votes”. He was confident of results. Be that as it may the following verbatim quote from the Colombo Telegraph Editor (20 June 2018) proves my point that a religio-fascist mood is being whipped up by political monks. The statement unleashed a firestorm but some political Buddhists have backed the Anunayaka’s call for Gota to model himself on Hitler.
“Ven Vendaruwe Upali Thero, the Anunayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter delivering an anusasana on the occasion of an almsgiving marking the 69th birthday of Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that he should opt for military rule if this is what is necessary to build the country. Ven Upali, noting that Gotabaya is referred to as a Hitler, suggested that if that is the case he should be one and build the nation. ‘What we need is a leadership that has the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa and is linked with Buddhism, the Buddhist Order and the Sinhalese. We can see that the law has completely broken down. We need a leader who shows fidelity to the doctrine (dahami naayakayek),’ Ven Upali also said”.
Channa Wickremesekara in A Tough Apprenticeship: Sri Lanka’s Military Against Tamil Militants, (2017) says: “As state institutions Sinhalised, so did the Army which gradually acquired the role of the armed forces of a Sinhala State; Sinhalisation of the forces completed the organic link between the two … By the late 1970s the Army was almost exclusively Sinhalese.”
A religio-fascist movement is gathering strength around the battle cry of making Gota the next president. While Gota’s bid must be defeated, before that point is reached it must be aborted if possible – this is the plain truth shorn of nicety and sophistry; averting fascism is not a tea party. The first Rubicon that Gota must cross is renunciation of US citizenship. This must be obstructed. A class action civil plaint should be filed in US courts holding Gota accountable for human rights violations and war-crimes that the UN Human Rights Council has deemed fit to investigate. If an American citizen is involved in such activities it needs investigation by a US court before the alleged perpetrator is cleared for renunciation of citizenship.The 1996 War Crimes Act makes it a federal offence for a US national to participate in torture or human rights violations and covers those who issue orders or fail to stop it.
Secondly, the government of Sri Lanka must formally move US courts and/or the Justice Department. The prospect of a religio-fascist becoming president of Sri Lanka, though in my view the likelihood is remote, requires that every effort be made to block it. The outside world, not only India and the West but also China, Japan and other Asian nations need to fear the rise of any form of semi-fascism, even in a small country since it is regionally destabilising. There are good reasons for the outside world to take an interest.
In this context I find it difficult to understand why the government of Sri Lanka has named Dr Dayan Jayatilleka as Ambassador Designate to Russia. I have no animus against Dayan, I knew him well as bright, well-read and fluent; a student on the ‘other side of the river’ in Peradeniya. My problem is with the government. He is the most articulate defender of Gota and the most penetrating critic of yahapalana in the English media. Governments do not appoint their most pungent critics to important ambassadorial positions. If Dr J acts in accordance with his beliefs and remains loyal to the views he has advocated, as he will and as he must, he will be a thorn in the flesh of this government. This foxes me. The scheming of President Sirisena who is in cahoots with Gota is comprehensible, but what insanity overcame the Prime Minister and Cabinet! I don’t get it.