By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“The government has turned us into orphans in our own motherland.”
Boralesgamuwa farmers affected by the Weras-Ganga Project (Lankadeepa – 24.9.2014)
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s latest beautification project, the Weras-Ganga Development, with walkways and a food court, was declared open with much fanfare this month. Jackson Anthony, dramatist turn sycophant, used the occasion to proclaim that the time has come to upgrade Mahinda Chinthanaya (Mahinda Thought) to Mahindavādaya (Mahindaism – Mahinda Ideology)[i].
For many farmers of Boralesgamuwa (as for most Tamils and Muslims and increasing numbers of Sinhalese), Mahindavādaya has become a Mahinda-Vadaya (Mahinda-Affliction). Their fields could not be cultivated for two seasons because they did not have access to the usual source of water thanks to the beautification project. Now they are being told by the military how they should cultivate their fields. Lacking the money and the manpower to follow military instructions, the farmers have given up cultivation. They say that if they are unable find “labouring jobs to feed their families, they will just have to die, while watching the moneyed ladies, gentlemen and their families promenading and enjoying themselves”[ii].
In February 2010, chief prelates of all four chapters decided to hold a special Sangha Convention on Democracy and Governance. Gen. Sarath Fonseka had been arrested and the monks planned to officially request the government to cease persecuting the war-winning army commander.
The Rajapaksas went into panic-mode. This was not some minor gathering, but a convention bringing together representatives of the entire Sangha Sasana. State media heaped vitriol on the Convention while frenzied efforts were made behind the scenes to cancel it.
At the eleventh hour the Convention was cancelled. Afterwards, Ven. Athangane Ratanapala Thero told the media that the head of the Malwatte Chapter had been under ‘severe stress’: “Many members representing the government as well as some members of the clergy who are working for the government used tremendous pressure on us to stop the meeting”[iii].
The Chief Incumbent of the Mihintale Raja Maha Vihare was more explicit. He said that a group of 45 Buddhist monks visited the Malwatte Mahanayake Thero and informed him that he would “have to take the responsibility if two or three bombs went off within the premises of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic”. He also named names: “Chancellor of Kelaniya University, Ven. Dr. Welimitiyawe Kusaladhamma Thero, former parliamentarian Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, Ven. Diviyagaha Yasassi Thero and Ven Rekhawa Jinarathana Thero were among the 45 monks who wanted the Mahanayake to cancel the Sangha Convention”. They initially threatened to leave the sect; when blackmail failed they called the President “who personally spoke to the Mahanayake urging him to cancel the convention.” The Chief Prelate refused. That was when the ‘bomb threat’ was made. When asked about the incident, the Chief Prelate replied “that the Mahanayakes were compelled to postpone the event to ensure the safety of the Maha Sangha and the Temple of the Tooth.”[iv]
That is how the Rajapaksas act towards any gathering of monks they consider undesirable.
Just this week Terrorism Investigation Division prevented Professional Web Journalists Association from holding a workshop on internet security. The management of the hotel where the workshop was to be held was informed by the TID that an organisation (consisting of retried army officers and disabled soldiers) is planning to surround the premises. The security of the workshop-participants cannot be guaranteed, the TID said. The management, like the Chief Prelates, got the message; the workshop was cancelled.[v]
No such threats or warnings will mar the Sangha Convention of the Bodu Bala Sena. It will be held at the Sugathadasa Stadium, which in itself is a sign of governmental blessing. The visit to Sri Lanka by the hatemongering Burmese monk, U Wirathu, is also likely to go off without a snag. As the BBS boasted on its Facebook page, the saffron-robed rabble-rouser who gained infamy for remarks such as “Muslims are fundamentally bad; Mohammed allows them to kill any creature; Islam is a religion of thieves, they do not want peace,”[vi] came via the VIP lounge and was whisked off to a safe place[vii].
Whether the Rajapaksas are actively helping the BBS gathering, with money, facilities and monks (to fill the hall) is not known. But the very fact that the convention is being held on such a giant scale proves that it has the Rajapaksa seal-of-approval. The Rajapaksas did not hesitate to use the most execrable measures to prevent the Sangha Convention in 2010, including an implicit threat to bomb the Temple of the Tooth. The fact that they are allowing the BBS Convention to happen is the clearest possible proof that this gathering has their blessing.
It is now almost certain that Presidential elections will be held in January 2015, before the Papal visit. Obviously the Rajapaksas have been jolted into feverish haste by Uva. In such a fraught context, a large gathering of monks will be allowed only if it is seen as beneficial to the Siblings.
The Rajapaksas know that most Tamils and Muslims did not and will not vote for them. Their main concern is to ensure that their support base among the majority community does not erode any further. The electoral playing field has been skewed constitutionally; the Siblings will not hesitate to use violence and malpractices. But as Uva demonstrates, such measures can result only in an extremely marginal – and politically de-legitimising – victory. To win the massive victory they need, the Rajapaksas need to keep their Sinhala-Buddhist base intact.
Economic concessions – more will be made in the coming months – may not be enough; even in the rural-fastness of Uva, a large number of Sinhalese seemed to have seen through that obvious gimmick. Other tactics are needed.
Sinhala-Buddhists must be made to feel insecure in order to reignite their desire for a powerful protector. “Making the community more fanatical and exploiting the resulting fanatics” [viii] seems to be the Rajapaksa aim. And a BBS-Wirathu combine will be ideal to focus the attention of the Sinhala public not on their economic woes but on ‘threats’ to ‘Rata, Jathiya and Agama’ (country, race and religion).
The BBS convention will constitute a leap forward in the Rajapaksa efforts to impose a racist politico-psychological climate on the upcoming election season. It will help enormously to keep the electoral discourse mired in Tiger revivals, Jihadi threats and Christian/Catholic conspiracies.
In August 2007, JHU head, Ven. Ellawalla Medananda Thero proclaimed that (Christian) fundamentalists were planning to infect Buddhist monks with AIDS. “I got information that fundamentalists at a meeting in Kurunegala had decided to eliminate Buddhism from this country. Part of their plan is to infect the monks with HIV virus… Monks could be infected with the virus when they go for a blood test or blood transfusion.”[ix]
That is the kind of discourse the Rajapaksas would want during election season. What better way to drive real life economic, political and social issues than to addle and poison Sinhala-Buddhist minds with suspicion, fear, anger and hate against Tamil/Muslim/Christian fellow Lankans? Who better to give that project a violent leap than ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ of Burma?=
[ii] We have become orphans in our own lands – Famers of the Boralasgamuwa fields say – Lankadeepa – 24.9.2014
[viii] The Language of the Third Reich – Victor Klemperer