The monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara who was serving a six month sentence handed down by the Homagama Magistrate’s court for threatening and intimidating a witness in the court premises has now been released on bail pending his appeal. The reason why he is in this sorry situation today is because of the inability of the bhikku Nikayas in this country to enforce discipline among their monks. In the recent past, there was an attempt to confer legal status on the Kathikawath or rules governing the various Nikayas so that a monk expelled by a nikaya could be made to disrobe through the intervention of the organs of the state including the judiciary. However this fell by the wayside because some senior monks opposed this proposed law on the grounds that when legal status is conferred on the Kathikawath of the various Nikayas, that will have the effect of solidifying and once again bringing to the fore the various differences among the various Nikayas.
They pointed out that in the decades since Independence, the differences between the various Nikayas had progressively diminished to the point where to outsiders such differences would almost be imperceptible. The end result of this is that there is no mechanism at all to expel and disrobe monks who behave in a manner unbecoming of a monk. Even if a bhikku had been expelled by his Nikaya and his name struck off the register of bhikkus maintained by the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, there was still no legal mechanism by which he could be disrobed. Senior monks have told this writer that there are several instances where monks who had been expelled by their Nikayas and whose names have been struck off the register of bhikkus have continued to wear robes.
One version of a proposed amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance had a Section numbered as 43(4)(a) which specified that if a person whose name has been struck off the register of bhikkus, continues to be in robes, the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs can bring it to the notice of the Magistrate’s court of the area and after due inquiries, the Magistrate has the power to order that individual to appear before him in the clothes of a layman. Such a system of giving practical effect to the disrobing of an expelled monk would have solved a major problem faced by the Buddhist dispensation in this country. Because no mechanism exists to expel and disrobe monks who behave in a manner unbecoming of a monk, Gnanasara who should long since have been expelled from bhikkuhood and disrobed, is now a convict who has been enlarged on bail.
If the bhikku oganizations in this country had the powers that they should be vested with, he would not be in jail or on the streets but at home, living as a layman. No other religious order in this country or the world would have tolerated the outrages committed by this monk. Yet the Buddhist dispensation in this country has remained paralysed. Sandya Ekneligoda is not the only person that Gnanasara has insulted or threatened, He has threatened this writer as well. Sandya Ekneligoda was intimidated, threatened or humiliated inside a court room. In my case, I was threatened at the funeral of the mother of Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa. So this is a monk who cares very little about what he does and where he does it. So far as I am aware, Gnanasara had not used any obscenities on Sandya Ekneligoda. In my case as well, the offensive words used was the term ‘thamuse’ and ‘kana palanawa’.
Senior monks worse off than Sandya
The senior bhikkus are far worse off. Some senior monks have lifted the phone only to find a familiar voice at the other end cursing and bellowing obscenities and unprintable adjectives in their ears. As the person at the other end is familiar with goings on within temples, these details are mentioned with many an imprecation laced with choice epithets. The bhikku community can cope with a threat coming from outside but in the 2500 year history of this country, the bhikku community never learnt how to deal with a peril coming from within because no such thing existed until just a few years ago. The former Magistrate and the present Magistrate of Homagama should know that by hearing the case against Gnanasara and sentencing him to jail, they have not only done justice to a witness and upheld the status of the court, but also done the entire Buddhist dispensation in this country a great service.
It has to be said that the Americans and the Norwegians who unleashed this destruction upon Sri Lanka have chosen well. The Americans granted Gnanasara thera a multiple reentry visa to the USA in 2011 and this was canceled later only after the Sunday Island questioned the connection between this monk and the American embassy. In 2012, it was a few months after a trip to Norway that bhikku Gnanasara first emerged as a public figure by spearheading an anti-Muslim campaign. Since then he has won the dubious distinction of being the only Buddhist monk to become a public figure entirely through thuggery. Before he first appeared on the streets, he was completely unknown. So far, the Bhikku establishment, governments, the police and even public opinion has not been able to stop the depredations of this monk.
It is only the Homagama Magistrate’s court that has at least implemented the law of the land in relation to this monk and for that the two Magistrates should be commended. Gnanasara thera was the monk that the JHU deployed to break up meetings of the Norwegian funded Anti-War front during the early days of the last phase of the war against the LTTE. The Bodu Bala Sena CEO Dilantha Vithanage said very openly at a press conference that it was Champika Ranawaka who directed Gnanasara to violence (prachandathwayata yomu kale). What the Norwegians did in 2012 was to co-opt this very monk who was used to disrupt their activities and to use him instead against the Sri Lankan national interest and Buddhism itself.
Dr Rajitha Senaratne has told this writer that Gnanasara thera should be given an award for the role he played in bringing the Rajapaksa government down. This was once again an operation of the JHU as explained by a founding member of the JHU Asoka Abeygoonesekera in his book ‘Yuga Peraliya’. The strategy was to use Gnansara to thrash the Muslims and Christians so that the Rajapaksa government becomes dependent only on the Sinhala-Buddhist vote and then at the last minute the JHU defected to the other side taking with them a crucial number of Sinhala votes so that the Rajapaksa government fell. This was a conspiracy more than two years in the making from 2012 onwards. After having come into national prominence through thuggery, Gnanasara is now stuck with that role. Monks who were parallel to him in seniority in the bhikku order are today well known academics and respected heads of institutions. They can reach presidents and prime ministers and opposition leaders over the phone any time they like. They can invite heads of state and political leaders to their functions and be assured of attendance.
But all political leaders avoid Gnanasara like the plague. Nobody wants to be seen or photographed in his company. Nobody invites him for important functions. Recently, when Gnanasara attended a meeting in Japan that was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena and photographs of this meeting were circulated widely over the internet, the President’s media division quickly issued a press release stating that he was not among the invitees but had attended that meeting uninvited and they took care to state that the only monk who had officially been a part of the President’s entourage was Ulapane Sumangala thera. Thus, while the latter who is a contemporary of Gnanasara thera, is welcomed and acknowledged officially, Gnanasara himself is shunned. This is a situation that Gnanasara will have to live with for the rest of his life. One could say that these are the consequences of seeking instant fame through thuggery and hooliganism.
The genius to turn everything into dust
For a while, student activists in the universities feel they are riding high with their faces being shown on the TV news bulletins every night, but after a while they realize that this fame was not doing them any good and they fade away to be replaced by someone else. In Gnanasara’s case, he has no way out of it even if he wants to. The only way that he can be seen on the TV channels is through his usual hooliganism. No TV channel will be interested in broadcasting a sermon by him. In fact he would look absurd trying to preach Buddhism – it would be like Mervyn Silva trying to deliver lectures on history in a university. Just as the media does not expect learned speeches from Mervyn Silva, what they expect from Gnansara is thuggery. Since this is the only way Gnansara can remain in the public eye, he readily supplies the media with what they expect.
Furthermore, it is only through this thuggery and hooliganism that he is able to have a small following of like minded individuals. There is always a lunatic fringe in society and Gnanasara thera has tapped into a segment of it. If fame cannot be achieved, even infamy is better than obscurity. There is also a cottage industry associated with this activism which seeks to milk expatriate Sri Lankans for funds to meet their expenses. There are videos of Gananasara speaking to expatriate Sinhalese about the expenses relating to the numerous cases against him. This lunatic fringe really does not bother about the results achieved by Gnanasara. The fact is that as far as the Sinhala nationalist cause is concerned, he has had the effect of turning everything he touches into dust. The small lunatic fringe following that Gnansara has may think it was a great act of heroism to have threatened Sandya Ekneligoda in courts, but the effect this had has is that everyone is talking about Sandya Ekneligoda and Gnanasara but nobody is talking about the armed forces personnel who were imprisoned.
In Kandy, the death of a Sinhala youth was caused by four drunken Muslims. Gnanasara visited the area and a riot ensued. Now everyone is talking about the Sinhala -Muslim riot but nobody is taking about the Sinhala youth who was killed or whether action is being taken against the four Muslims who started the whole thing. The same thing can be said about Beruwela. It all started off with reports of a monk being assaulted by a group of Muslims. Gnansara went to Beruwela and a riot ensued and now nobody knows what happened to the monk who is supposed to have been assaulted or the Muslims who are supposed to have carried out the assault. That is obviously not the way things are supposed to happen. Quite apart from what Gnanasara has done to the so called causes he has espoused through his pig headed approach, he has painted himself into a corner and is now unable to get out of it.
What takes the cake is that the yahapalana conspirators who came into power by deploying him to attack the Muslims and Christians, are now seeking to stay on in power with the help of the Muslim vote by showing the latter that unlike the Rajapaksa government, they have taken steps to deal with this monk that they remanded him once and have now convicted him and even made him wear prison garb instead of his robe! This is similar to ISIS using mentally retarded persons to wear suicide vests which can be exploded by an operator once he reaches the target. Little wonder that many in the social media circuits refer to him not as ‘Gnanasara’ but as ‘Nanasara’.
Gnansara will be used to split Sinhala Buddhist vote in 2019 – Major Ajith Prasanna
Last week, Attorney at Law and political activist Major Ajith Prasanna addressing a media conference in Colombo made a startling revelation. He stated that since the yahapalana government came into power, many members of the armed forces have been arrested and remanded or held in detention but that Galagodatte Gananasara had not attended any of the court hearings pertaining to those cases. He said that he was making that statement with authority because he himself had attended courts on every single occasion when anybody belonging to the armed forces had been arrested by this government and that no one even representing the Bodu Bala Sena had been present at those hearings but that Gnanasara had come for one hearing relating to the Prageeth Ekneligoda disappearance and made a scene in courts probably with the intention of courting action against himself. What Major Ajith Prasanna was implying was that Gnanasara had used this opportunity to bring himself back into the limelight and to win the sympathy of at least a section of the Sinhala Buddhist masses. He stated that an ordained monk cannot be unaware that nobody can shout at witnesses inside a court house and expect to get away Scot free.
At the 2015 parliamentary election, the Bodu Bala Sena fielded a list against the UPFA and when President Rajapaksa was asked about this during his interview on Derana TV, he said that they have been deployed by their masters to deprive the UPFA of at least a few Sinhala Buddhist votes. Major Ajith Prasanna also stated during his media briefing that the yahapalana government and their foreign patrons were preparing to use Gnanasara in yet another operation to deprive the Rajapaksa camp of some Sinhala Buddhist votes at the 2019 presidential election. If he was to contest as a candidate at a presidential election, Gnanasara would need a political ‘make over’ and that this was what was happening with this whole drama surrounding the jailing of Gnanasara.
In fact Gnanasara has never attended a hearing against any armed forces personnel even after this incident at the Homagama Magistrate’s court, which does seem to give credence to Major Ajith Prasanna’s argument. This in a way highlights the predicament that Ganansara now faces which we explained in the main body of this article. He rose to prominence through thuggery and has no way of maintaining that prominence by any other means, without constant street appearances to create trouble. Such appearances carry a risk because the state authorities would be compelled to take action against him as we saw in the episode last year, where he had to be in hiding for some time and then to come out only after arriving at an understanding with the government where he was granted bail by three different courts on the same day. For one such bail hearing, Gnanasara had come with a DIG who had told courts that the police will not object to bail. Major Ajith Prasanna said that on this occasion the Magistrate had sarcastically asked the DIG whether they accorded the same privileges to other suspects as well.
So what we have here is a monk having to resort to extreme measures to stay in the spotlight. Getting himself jailed for six months to gain prominence is all a part of the game. Besides, there is not much risk in getting arrested for a relatively minor offence because the actual time he will have to spend behind bars will be minimal. When the Magistrate handed down the sentence, he was taken to jail but when he files an appeal, he will be out again on bail. And the appeal will be heard over a long period of time. The end result of all this is that after 2015, Galagodaatte Gnansara is once again in the limelight and Major Ajith Prasanna may be right when he says that Gnanasara’s next contract may be contesting the next presidential election to take some Sinhala Buddhist votes away from Gota. Which brings us again to the unenviable position that Gnanasara finds himself in of being a hit man in robes. He has still not been able to break away from the role that Champika Ranawaka assigned to him many years ago, according to Dilantha Vitanage’s testimony.