Gnansara as presidential candidate in 2020!


by C.A.Chandraprema

The Bodu Bala Sena press conference held last Friday without the missing Ganansara, was very interesting in many respects. The statement made by Dilanthe Vitanage, its self styled ‘CEO’ was especially important. The most vital part of what he said was that it was Champika Ranawaka and Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera who had egged Gnanasara towards violence (prachandathwaya).  What he said in Sinhala was "Gnanasara hamuduruwo prachandanthwayata yomu kale Champika Ranawakai Athureliye Rathana Hamuduriwoi." Vitanage was obviously trying to explain away the links that the BBS had and still has with the JHU but in the process, made certain definitive statements which need to be taken note of by all Buddhists. Gnanasara is undoubtedly the biggest disaster to befall the Buddhist community since Mapitigama Buddharakkitha and Talduwe Somarama. As Vitanage said, Champika did indeed use Ganansara as his personal ‘hit man’. For example, Gnanasara was one of the monks who had disrupted meetings of the Anti-War Front led by Kumar Rupesinghe and Dr Rajitha Senaratne in 2005/06.

There was no conceivable need to send a monk to disrupt those meetings. There were plenty of laymen who were only too happy to disrupt those meetings because that was an era when the people were absolutely fed up with the LTTE. We recall that when this Anti-War Front tried to hold a meeting somewhere in Polonnaruwa, there had been more people waiting to disrupt the meeting than to participate in it! Yet Gnanasara was sent by Champika on such missions. What that reveals is absolute unscrupulousness and cynicism and a willingness to use anything and anybody to achieve a political purpose. Champika wears the white cloth and banian ‘national suit’ and puts on a demeanour of being a devout Sinhala Buddhist upasaka mahattaya with a manner of speaking to match. At one point, he and several other members of the JHU actually took temporary ordination and they were seen with shaven heads walking single file with eyes cast on the ground as monks are supposed to walk.

While playing the role of an upasaka mahattaya who eschews violence he sends monks to engage in violence. That was the image that we have been seeing since 2012 when all this started. Gnanasara and monks associated with him will be going on the rampage either against the halal symbol or cattle slaughter or against Muslim owned businesses or in Aluthgama and Champika and his JHU cohorts would be sitting behind a table dressed in immaculate white and justifying in calm and measured terms what the marauding monks were doing. The roles should actually have been reversed. If there is really a problem that needs to be sorted out with violence (as there are in certain circumstances) then the laymen should be doing the marauding with the monks sitting behind a table and justifying what the laymen were doing in calm and measured terms. The fact that Champika had no qualms about using Buddhist monks as storm troopers to achieve his political goals shows that he is a type of politician never seen in this country’s post independence history. Whether there was anybody like that even in pre-colonial history is doubtful.

 The reason why Dilanthe Vitanage criticised Champika (and also Athureliye Rathana Thera) at last Friday’s press conference was obviously to show that the BBS had nothing to do with the JHU now. He admitted that Gnanasara’s political roots were in the JHU but said in so many words that he has nothing to with the JHU now. Nobody should be fooled by this. It should be borne in mind that in 2014, when the BBS was thrashing the Muslims in order to make them go onto the other side, Gnanasara made it a point to openly declare that they were supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yet Asoka Abeygunasekera says in his book that at that time that in internal discussions in the JHU they had discussed the role that the BBS could play in the event that Champika decided to contest the presidency. Gnansara’s expression of support for Mahinda Rajapaksa was to make Muslims go on to the other side. In fact, when Champika and Rathana thera defected to Sirisena’s side, Gnansara called a press conference and lamented "Champika aiye, why did you leave us?" to show that even though Champika may have gone on to the other side, they were still supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa!

 Champika’s denial

 These were the machinations of full time conspirators who have been living on their wits. To this very day, the BBS facebook page has a link to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s facebook page to show where their allegiances lie. But there is no link to Champika’s facebook page or that of any other politician. Last week, when Champika was asked by a TV station about the links between the BBS and the JHU, Champika explained that some people may have been in the JHU earlier but have now left their organization. He said that anybody can find out who is behind the BBS by observing who defends Ganansara in court. Later the joint cabinet spokesman Dr Rajitha Senaratne stated that this matter had been discussed in cabinet and that Champika had said that Manohara de Silva was defending Gnanasara and that Manohara was with Gota! Well, Maithri Gunaratne the present Chairman of the Mineral Sands Corporation is appearing for Gnanasara in the case where the BBS had invaded Rishard Baithiudeen’s ministry. That was the case for which the second arrest warrant was issued against Gnanasara. So by that token can we say that Maithripala Sirisena is behind Gnanasara? Besides, Maithri Gunaratne also led Champika Ranawaka’s last election campaign in Colombo. What does that indicate?

 At last Friday’s press conference, Ven. Magalkande Sudaththa thera who has emerged as the second in command of the BBS, hinted that Gnansara may contest the next presidential elections in 2020. What he said was that with this victimization of Gnansara, the latter may not have any option but to contest the next presidential election. That too is something that has to be taken note of. We stated in this column last week that this latest spate of activity on the part of the BBS was to split the Sinhala Buddhist vote and that was what was proved by what Sudaththa thera said last Friday. What is the likely scenario at the next presidential election which by the way is according to the present constitution as amended by the 19th amendment, is not due in 2020 but between November 9 and December 9, 2019? There will be one candidate from the Joint Opposition and one from the government side. The vast majority of the Sinhala Buddhist vote is expected to gravitate towards the Joint Opposition candidate unless there is another candidate who can siphon off some of those votes.

 So as Sudaththa thera said, there is a strong possibility that this latest round of Muslim bashing is to groom Gnanasara to contest the next presidential elections with a view to using him to split the Sinhala Buddhist vote. That will be the crowning glory of this whole disreputable episode. Gnansara is the only legally ordained Buddhist monk that anyone has heard of anywhere in the world who has actually pleaded guilty to a charge of drunk driving. It’s difficult to think of a politician who has pleaded guilty to such a charge. So what will his election symbol be? A breathalyser device? Be that as it may, Gnansara’s candidacy is a very real possibility. Champika Ranawaka and Maithripala Sirisena are in this together. It is no secret that Sirisena is harbouring hopes of contesting the presidency again. The biggest problem he has is the Sinhala Buddhist vote. Last time, Mahinda Rajapaksa lost not because the Muslims defected en masse to the other side but because he lost a proportion of the Sinhala Buddhist vote for various reasons.

 MR did not have much Muslim votes to begin with and the difference was not made by more Muslims voting for the other side. The difference was really made through the displacement of a crucial minority of the Sinhala vote and that is what is obviously anticipated this time around as well. Nobody should be under the illusion that Gnansara has become active without some kind of cover being provided by Sirisena himself. No minister can extend a helping hand to Ganansara unless the President himself is complicit in this matter. By doing nothing when Muslims are being thrashed or intimidated, there is the risk of antagonizing a part of the Muslim vote as well. But the calculation obviously is that the Muslims will be more apprehensive of bringing a Rajapaksa government into power than giving Sirisena another term. After all, Gnansara had even greater impunity during the Rajapaksa government.

 Vitanage’s revelations

 The yahapalana government can always claim that they at least put Gnanasara in jail for a while and that they had turned him into a fugitive. There is no doubt that at some point Gnansara will come out into the open and will be remanded once again. That will be necessary to turn him into a matyr among the Sinhalese and for the Yahapalana government to retain the allegiance of the Muslims. Such are the devious methods by which the Sinhala Buddhist vote will be split while the Muslim bloc vote will also be retained. Gnanasara is only a performing gorilla in this game being played by ambitious politicians. As Dilantha Vitanage himself said, it was Champika who had made Gnansara engage in violence. Usually it is the monk that advices the layman, not the other way about. But in the case of Gnanasara, the whole relationship is inverted. The word Vitanage used was ‘contract’ and that Gnanasara was used by Champika to perform ‘contracts’ for him.      

 Vitanage also explained how Hedigalle Wimalasara thera of the JHU ‘handled’ Gnansara on behalf of Champika Ranawaka during the last anti-Muslim campaign. He said that they would organize press conferences and notes covering what Gnansara was to say that day was placed before him on the table. But Wimalasara thera would sit near Gnansara and whisper what has to be said in his ear and the notes would be forgotten and what was finally said was what Wimalasara wanted. So what we have here is a half-wit wearing the robes of the Buddha who can be manipulated by anybody. That was how he was given ‘contracts’ by Champika to use Vitanage’s own words. If anybody gives Gnanasara what he wants, he performs for them. The Muslims could have got Gnansara to perform for them if they had got to him before Champika did! The horror in all this is that there is still no mechanism to disrobe a monk whatever he does.

 Article 9 of our constitution says that Buddhism shall have the foremost place and that it is the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha sasana. The Buddha sasana is not going to be protected in this country without doing something about Gnansara. If the politicians are too busy using him for their purposes, at least the judiciary should step in to prevent the entire Buddhist dispensation from being destroyed by this half wit. The entire BBS is just Ganansara. Anything that brings the BBS into focus is Ganansara engaging in some act of violence or some other uncouth activity surrounded by a few hangers on or his handlers. The saffron robe of the Buddha is what gives this thug the impunity to do what he does.

Ironically, the self appointed champion of the Buddhists against Muslims, would have been much less out of place among the Islamic jihadis of the Middle East! In all this it should be remembered that Gnanasara is only the performing gorilla. The people to watch are his handlers. Gnanasara will never perform unless he has patronage from powerful places. He had patronage when the Rajapaksas were in power and the same elements are protecting him under the yahapalana government. And chief among his protectors is obviously President Maithripala Sirisena himself. No minister would be able to give protection to Gnanasara without at least the tacit acknowledgement of the President. In the case of Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Professor Tissa Vitarana who was an eye witness to the matter says, he allowed himself to be blackmailed into inaction by Champika’s threats – so one way or the other MR was made to back off.

 BBS mulling options

 If that was how MR’s neutrality was obtained, how is it that Maithripala Sirisena is also now not cracking down on the BBS? Because pressure is building up and the government as well as the BBS is in a bind. Listening to the BBS press conference last Friday, it is clear that even they are mulling their options. They were talking about a threat to Gnanasara’s life which was why he was not appearing in court. What happened to ‘Samayang’ on the way to courts was also mentioned as one of the reasons for Gnanasara’s non-appearance. Vitanage said that Gnanasara will in due course make his appearance in courts. So it can be seen that they are now racking their brains as to how to handle this situation. The best option available now would be arrange a hospital stay while in remand for Gnanasara because remaining in hiding indefinitely is hardly an option for anybody.

 It has to be borne in mind that if by some chance Gnansara is arrested or he surrenders to court, he has to be charged under the ICCPR Act for inciting religious tensions. This law was invoked for the first time against the former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake. That was for producing at a press conference a document which he said was an agreement signed between the yahapalana leaders and the Tamil National Alliance. The yahapalana leaders claimed that no such agreement existed and it was a forgery. Attanayake was produced in courts under the ICCPR Act for producing a forged document which could inflame racial tensions. He was remanded for one and a half months in one go because bail cannot be granted under that Act for such an offence. Nobody in this country ever remembers seeing the document that Attanayake is supposed to have forged, but the whole country has seen Gnanasara’s antics. 

 At the time Attanayake was remanded under the ICCPR Act, we wrote in this column that this law was not meant for cases like Attanayake’s but to handle blatant cases like that of Gnanasara. Now we have to wait and see whether Gnanasara will be charged under the ICCPR Act in addition any other law that he may be charged under. If he is not charged under the ICCPR Act but under a different law, it will be a clear sign that the government is soft pedaling the issue and seeking to shield their protégé. 

The Muslim community for its part will have to change their approach. The pool of anti-Muslim resentment the BBS is feeding off is very real and goes far beyond the BBS. The Muslims in Sri Lanka should be acutely mindful of the fact that developments on the international arena are also having their impact on ways of thinking here. The spectacle of Islamic terrorism we see everyday on the international news is not helping things back here. The level of manipulation and opportunism in Muslim politics will have to go down. If we go back to the decade of the 1970s, we see the UNP and the SLFP having their own Muslim leaders, with the UNP having the backing of the majority of the Muslims with a significant minority supporting the SLFP. Each party had its own die hard Muslim loyalists. One Muslim leader in the Kalutara district is said to have had blue cement floors in his home to demonstrate his loyalty to the SLFP and Mrs Bandaranaike is said to have been a frequent visitor at his house.

 Muslim leaders will have to reform their ways

When the UNP was in power, it had the likes Hameed and M.H.Mohamed to look after Muslim interests; and when the SLFP was in power the likes of Badi-ud-din Mahmud did the same. People like Alavi Maulana were SLFP stalwarts who had the ear of Mrs. Bandaranaike. They were national political leaders who worked with all communities and also looked after the interests of members of their own community. Today what we see are a set of Muslim political entrepreneurs who obtain Muslim votes and then use their parliamentary seats with the two main political parties to obtain positions.  Thus for the past two decades and more, the people have seen the same set of Muslim leaders joining every government that comes into power. Because they keep switching sides with every change of government, the oft used phase about Muslim opportunism ‘toppiya herunu peththata yanawa’ has gained a new meaning.

 In the old days, that kind of blatant opportunism did not exist within the Muslim community. UNP Muslims were UNP and SLFP Muslims were SLFP. There is this story that we have heard about how Azath Sally’s father who lived in Colombo Central and was such a die hard supporter of the Communist Party, that one day when R. Premadasa came down his road canvassing, he had served ‘lavariya’ to the canvassing party! That kind of integration with the political mainstream no longer exists among Muslims. Today their leaders are seen as cunning political Shylocks by both the Sinhala and well as the Tamil communities. When this is combined with events at the international level, what we have is a lethal mix which in the long term is not going to do the Muslim community any good. Even if there was no BBS, there will always be other groups that will try to make political capital out of the situation. 

 It is only the Muslim community and especially the Muslim leaders that can deprive the BBS of its base by changing their ways. Muslim intellectuals like Ameer Ali and the late Izzeth Hussein have at times taken up the problems within their communities. Ali has referred to the propensity to set up mosques unnecessarily with the result that some mosques have very few faithful to pray in them. On another occasion he had criticized the cultivation of date palms along the streets of some Muslim majority towns in the East to make it look like Arabia! These are things that build walls between communities. What does it take for people to realize that this is counterproductive? The late Izzeth Hussein once expressed the hope that the spread of the use of the burqa will stop when oil money runs out in the Middle East. The Muslim community should think 10 to 15 years ahead, not just about the present.

So far, the biggest advantage they have is that even though some Sri Lankan Muslims may have gone overseas to engage in Islamic terrorism, there hasn’t been a single instance of Islamic terror in this country.  Even as we write this, reports have appeared in the news sites of an ISIS recruiter who has been targeting Muslim youth in India and Sri Lanka. So the Muslim leaders should think fast and act fast, or face the consequences.

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