Is racism to be the chosen path? | Sunday Observer

Is racism to be the chosen path?

Are sections of the Buddhist clergy advocating racism at the expense of national unity, and, are some political parties hoping to reap political rewards from that? These questions need to be asked in view of two recent ‘incidents’, if one may call them that.

First, there were howls of protests when the leader of the Bodu Bala Sena organisation, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thero, was jailed for threatening Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.

A Sangha Council, no less, wrote to the authorities lamenting the fact that Gnanasara thero would have to wear the prison ‘jumper’ and that this could cost him his monkhood. There were protest marches calling for his release. Others wanted President Maithripala Sirisena to pardon him.

Clearly, in the eyes of Gnanasara thero’s supporters, he had done no wrong even though he had been through a process of law, had been given a fair trial, had his day in court and had been found guilty. There was even some leniency in the sentencing in that his two six-month sentences were allowed to run concurrently. For his acolytes, none of that mattered: he was Gnanasara thero, he was above the law and he could do no wrong.

Thankfully, none of those demands were met. Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale stood firm and stated that the rules for prisoners applied to all prisoners, be they clergy or otherwise. It was noted that there were more than a dozen monks and other clergy in prison and that they all wore the ‘jumper’, so no exception could be made for Gnanasara thero.

President Sirisena, who has the powers to pardon prisoners has had the courage to resist the demand for a pardon for Gnanasara thero. With elections not too far away, he too could have played to the gallery and pardoned the monk and become a ‘saviour of the Sinhala Buddhist cause’ and a ‘patriot’. Thankfully, he didn’t.

Ultimately, Gnanasara thero applied for bail and was granted bail, pending his appeal hearing. That is as it should be because he too has the right to follow legal procedures and appeal, as any other citizen of this country.

In the second ‘incident’ we saw the Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, Wendaruwe Upali thero delivering a sermon at an alms-giving at Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, advising Rajapaksa to become “like Hitler”, if he must and “repair this country”, using military rule if necessary.

The world knows who Hitler was: a genocidal egomaniac who used the concept of the purported superiority of the German race to slaughter five million Jews. Hitler was as racist as you could get. Today, even the Germans hide their heads in shame when Hitler’s name is mentioned. Yet, our Anunayakes want someone who they hope will be the next President of this country to emulate him!

Of course, after the comments were broadcast on television and went viral on social media, the Rajapaksas went into damage control mode. Upali thero issued a statement clarifying his comments. He stated that he did not mean that Rajapaksa should do everything that Hitler did. However, the thero did not apologise or retract his comments.

President Sirisena reacted to the comments and said that he was “saddened” by them although he had the greatest respect for the Buddhist clergy. He would not allow a dictatorship to be re-established in the country, he said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe went one step further. He said that he would have objected to the comments, had he been given such advice. The German Ambassador in Colombo perhaps put the issue in the best perspective: he said the comments were simply ‘stupid’.

Interestingly, Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself was asked about the ‘anusasana’ he received from Upali thero. Rajapaksa’s defence lets the cat out of the bag. His response was to say that he didn’t know why there was such great interest in a comment made to him at what was essentially a private function at his private residence!

Rajapaksa did not condemn the comments. He did not even so much as dissociate himself from the comments. Then, even though he believes he is the next presidential candidate from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), he is of the view that the public should have no interest in what leading Buddhist monks advise him to do, so long as it happens at his private residence!

Even though the comments were condemned by the President and the Prime Minister, we have had no reaction from the Joint Opposition or the SLPP leadership. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who loves to provide ‘voice cuts’ when attending public functions, has not said anything about this. No one from their camp is queuing up to decry the decree from the monk. Their silence is deafening.

So, let’s get the blinkers off and call these issues involving two Buddhist monks for what they are: unbridled racism. That racism is also being used as a political tool by a Sinhala Buddhist lobby which feels that it should hitch its wagon to a potential presidential candidate to push through their agenda of Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy.

The JO and the SLPP doesn’t mind that because they feel that it is a strategy that will win them the next elections. The arithmetic is simple. Nearly three fourths of the people in this country are Sinhalese and nearly two thirds of Sri Lankans are Buddhists. Woo them with visions of a Sinhalese Buddhist supremacist nation, appeal to their baser instincts and that will win them the next election.

We have had thirty years of war and earned a hard-fought peace. Ironically, the same Gotabaya Rajapaksa played an instrumental role in winning that war. To squander that war victory and the peace we now enjoy by being racist is being self-destructive as a nation.

Yet, it seems as if that is the chosen path that the SLPP, the JO and Gotabaya Rajapaksa have chosen- and the likes of Gnanasara thero will always be at hand to support them.

It is a dangerous trend but the silent majority- right thinking people of all communities- will have a chance to have their say. That is when they cast their votes at the next election. We must hope that sanity will then prevail. 

Comments

Coming from mouth of some who must support unity harmony etc is disgraceful. Whether he likes it or not racism will ruin the country morally economically psychologically financially morally. In fact his statement is will bring doepwn the dignity of noble and wonderful teachings of Buddha and others in this world. Vountry should not turn into pile of--------