By C. A. Chandraprema
The scenes outside the Homagama Magistrate’s court highlights more than ever the need for the speedy passage of the Kathikawath Bill that is before parliament. Registered bhikku Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thera was arrested and remanded in relation to several charges including contempt of court amidst chaotic scenes outside the courthouse with unruly monks staging a sit down protest and one even threatening to set himself on fire unless Ven. Gnanasara was released. Not that the scene outside the Homagama magistrate’s court was totally out of the ordinary.
We have been seeing such scenes over the past four years and in contrast to what preceded it, the Homagama episode was quite mild. Bhikku Gnanasara was the monk who singlehandedly destabilised the Rajapaksa government with his anti-Muslim campaign which was orchestrated after a trip to Norway.
Norway was the Western nation that first realised the need to obtain the involvement of Buddhist monks, if the Sinhalese were to be destroyed from within. They started making friends among the monks by helping rebuild temples in the South in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami. This may have given certain conspiratorial powers an insight into how easy it is to buy over monks and to get them to do what external powers can never hope to do.
When registered bhikku Galagodaatte Gnanasara first burst in upon the scene in 2012, nobody had heard his name. He had reached middle age and become the nayaka monk in his temple without his name being known to anybody. When his name first began appearing in the newspapers, journalists were confusing his name with that of Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara – so unknown was this monk who has now become a household name for the wrong reasons.
Before he rose to fame in 2012, Ven. Gnanasara had the dubious distinction of being the only monk who had pleaded guilty in courts to a charge of driving a vehicle under the influence of liquor (and several other charges besides). For a monk to be found driving a vehicle is very unusual and for one to be caught driving while drunk was even more unusual. The fact that even this very unusual charge did not make his name known to the public is an indication of what an absolute non-entity he was until thuggery in robes won him the infamy he enjoys today.
The rise of the Bodu Bala Sena in 2012 saw at least two other organisations coming into being to emulate them and during the final years of the Rajapaksa regime the streets were full of marauding monks each trying to outdo the other. The one thing they all had in common was that the monks leading those organisations were completely unknown to the public until they came onto the streets. We saw ministries invaded and government institutions surrounded by monks who were breaking the law of the land with impunity. The highpoint in this madness were the riots in Aluthgama – the single most important factor that destabilised the Rajapaksa government. The hate rhetoric of the BBS was not just limited to Muslims but against Christians as well. These were the few well aimed blows that broke the back of the Rajapaksa government. After the Rajapaksa regime fell, the BBS suddenly became redundant.
The other Bhikku organisations that emerged as carbon copies of the BBS also disappeared. Asked what he makes of this, Eastern province politician A.L.M. Hisbulla said the aim of the Western powers was to topple the Rajapaksas, now that that aim has been achieved, perhaps they had no more use for these monks. The BBS however did not take their redundancy lying down. With the yahapalana government falling over itself to do the bidding of foreign powers, and betraying the military, a new political space was opening up for Sinhala extremism. The BBS held regular press conferences, but what they said did not gain traction because of the widespread belief that they are a Trojan horse of the Western powers tasked with destroying the Sinhalese from within. In the meantime, another organisation by the name of Sinhale had come into being and they held their first press conference and a march to Kandy which was fairly successful. The BBS is today in no position to organise something like that. From last year, the BBS has been trying to worm its way into the patriotic movement that is taking shape around former president Mahinda Rajapaksa but they have been consistently cold shouldered by the MR camp.
Ven. Gnanasara turned up for the Nugegoda rally last February 2015, but he was not allowed onto the stage. During the parliamentary election last year, the BBS tried their best to get close to the MR camp but failed and they contested separately leading MR himself to tell Derana TV in an interview that the BBS first deprived the UPFA of Muslim and Christian votes and that by now contesting against the UPFA, they were trying to take away whatever Sinhala votes they can, away from the UPFA. Either way, the BBS was working to the detriment of the patriotic camp. It is only obvious that this Homagama show is designed to try and get Ven. Gnanasara back into the limelight and identified with the patriotic camp. Many pro-MR politicians have taken the side of the Army intelligence personnel who are now being tried in the Homagama magistrate’s court. So by making a scene in courts ostensibly on behalf of the remanded war heroes, Ven. Gnanasara can be publicly seen to be on Mahinda’s side once again.
That was always the strategy and the sole purpose of the BBS – to make it appear as if they are being backed by the Rajapaksas and then engage in activities that turn people against the Rajapaksa government. They were not able to play this role over the past one year because they were sidelined by the forces that have gravitated around MR. But now there is a grave urgency for them to resume their earlier role. With the yahapalana government becoming unpopular by the day, the only hope they have to shore up their flagging fortunes is making sure that the Christian and the Muslim vote that turned away from the Rajapaksas remains that way. The calculation obviously is that the UNP vote, combined with almost the entirety of the Tamil, Muslim and Christian vote will keep the yahapalana government afloat. This is also the reason why the word ‘Sinhale’ was painted on the gates of several Muslim owned houses in Nugegoda.
It’s not just the Sinhalese Buddhists who have been placed at a disadvantage by the failures of the present government. People of all ethnicities and religions feel the pinch and the problems will only multiply and exacerbate in the next 18 months. In such a situation, there is the distinct possibility that a section of the Muslim and Christian voters may start looking towards the Rajapaksas again. Obviously someone wants to put a stop to that at all costs. Hence this show in Homagama.
By getting himself remanded after making a scene in the Homagama courts, registered bhikku Gnanasara obviously hopes he will become a hero among the constituency that looks to MR for leadership. After the Rajapaksa government fell in January last year, Minister Rajitha Senaratne told this writer that the yahapalana government should give Ven. Gnanasara an award for the services he rendered in toppling the Rajapaksa regime.
One may ask whether anybody, least of all a monk would make it his life’s work to be a spoiler. We have to remember that before he became a household name as a spoiler, he was nothing. So there is an incentive to rather be a spoiler than a nobody. Besides, unless Ven. Gnanasara did what he does, there would be no patronage from overseas like trips to Norway, meetings with Eric Solheim and five year multiple re-entry visas to the USA. He got a multiple re-entry visa to the USA in 2011 when he was a complete non entity. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that registered bhikku Gnanasara is part of a campaign to destroy Buddhism from within.
The Homagama incident which took place when the Kathikawath Bill was before parliament, has added a new urgency to the process of getting that piece of legislation passed. After some hesitation, the Ven Mahanayake Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters have said that it was they who had called on the government to give legal sanction to the Kathkawathas of the various Buddhist nikayas by providing for the registration of the Kathikawathas under an Act of parliament. The Homagama incident should have impressed upon the Ven. Mahanayakes the urgency of the Kathikawath Bill. The courage of the Homagama Magistrate is to be commended. He has done something that should have been done years ago.
It should however be realised that the Kathikawath Bill is by itself a toothless piece of legislation. As of now, even if a bhikku is expelled from his nikaya and the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs strikes his name off the register of bhikkus there is no legal mechanism to take the saffron robe off the back of the expelled monk. The Kathikawath (Registrations) Bill provides legal effect to acts done under the Kathikawathas including the expulsion of monks. But it still does not have a mechanism to disrobe expelled monks. An earlier version of the Amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance that is also now before parliament had a provision whereby when a monk is expelled by his nikaya and his name struck off the register of bhikkus, the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs can inform the Magistrate of the area and the Magistrate can order the expelled bhikku to appear before him in the clothes of a layman. This all-important provision has been omitted from the present Buddhist Temporalities Amendment Bill which is now before parliament. This writer suggests that this provision be either reintroduced to the Buddhist Temporalities Amendment Bill or brought in as a separate piece of legislation in order to give proper legal effect to the power of the Mahanayaka Theras and the karaka sangha sabhas of the various nikayas to maintain discipline among their monks.