Even though police teams are supposedly scouring the country for him, the monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara has not been arrested as this goes to press. He is supposed to appear in courts tomorrow but it seems unlikely that he will. He has evaded two court appearances already and if he was going to make an appearance tomorrow, he may not have evaded courts on the previous two occasions. Rumours are rife that Gnanasara is being protected by a prominent minister, and the name mentioned in this regard is that of Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe. The reason why speculation swirls around Rajapakshe is probably because he had facilitated meetings between the President and some radical monks including Gnanasara to sort out some issues. However, hiding fugitives and that kind of thing would be out of character for Minister Rajapakshe and it is unlikely that he would get involved in any such thing as the Minister of Justice.
The surprising thing is that nobody has yet suggested the possibility that Gnanasara could be hiding in Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s house. During the previous government, everything that Gnanasara did was ascribed to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and that was one of the reasons why the Muslims voted en masse against the Rajapaksa government. Given the propensity of the present powers that be to blame everything on the Rajapaksas, it is surprising indeed that nobody has tried to lay the blame for Gnanasara’s latest antics on the Rajapaksas. Even though the Rajapaksas are not in power, you can always blame the supposed pro-Rajapaksa ‘deep state’ for protecting Gnanasara. Instead they seem to have fixated on a different Rajapakshe. Be that as it may, to have a proper understanding of who is actually behind the Bodu Bala Sena, you have to trace its history.
The BBS first made its appearance on the scene in 2012 with the anti-halal campaign. This a few months after several monks including Gnanasara returned from a trip to Norway where he met Erik Solheim among others. From that time onwards, every step of the way, the Jathika Hela Urumaya made common cause with everything that was done by the BBS. The street action was taken by the monks of the BBS led by Galagodaatte Gnanasara while the JHU held press conferences, defending or encouraging the action taken by the BBS. Whether it was the anti-halal campaign, the anti-cattle slaughter campaign, and even the Aluthgama riots, the JHU was behind the BBS fully. In the wake of the Aluthgama riots, Champika Ranawaka distributed aid to the Sinhala victims of the riots. What ignited the Aluthgama riots was the accusation that a Buddhist monk had been assaulted by Muslims. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to take action against the BBS, it was Ranawaka who had opposed any such move in cabinet and said that the monks should not be touched and if any monk is arrested he would bring the entire monkhood onto the streets.
The missing link
The previous government allowed themselves to be blackmailed into inaction by such threats. Gnanasara was an activist of the JHU for many years. He contested in Colombo at the 2004 parliamentary elections on the JHU ticket and lost. After 2005, he is supposed to have ‘left’ the JHU and joined the UNP and he was active for a while in the UNP bhikku front. The JHU has always held that the majority of their vote base were disillusioned UNPers and it stood to reason that they would want to have their moles in the UNP. The fact is that Gnanasara never severed his link with the JHU. For irrefutable proof of the continuing link between the JHU and the BBS, one has to read the book ‘Yuga Peraliya’ written by JHU activist Asoka Abeygunasekera. This book explains how the BBS was formed and how the JHU ‘tactically’ got Ven. Hedigalle Wimalasara to sever his links with the JHU and join the BBS just as the earlier anti-Muslim campaign kicked off. Ven Wimalasara was thus sent into the BBS as Gnanasara’s immediate handler. That was Gnanasara’s debut as a public figure and he needed to have someone guiding him.
After the Rajapaksa government was toppled, Having achieved the immediate objective, Ven Wimalasara reverted to the JHU and is now its President. When the JHU was weighing its options at the tail end of the Rajapksa government as to what course of action it should take at the presidential elections in 2014, one of the options considered was for Champika Ranawaka to contest as the Buddhist candidate. In such an eventuality, Asoka Abeygunasekera stated that Champika would have got the support of the BBS as well. This mind you was to contest against Mahinda Rajapaksa who the Muslims still think was behind the BBS. Having sent the Muslims en masse onto the other side, the BBS then contested against Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 August Parliamentary elections to split the remaining Sinhala Buddhist vote. What people are seeing now is another attempt to split the Sinhala vote.
If the BBS appeared to have patronage from within the Rajapakasa government till the very end, it was because they did. It was only a few weeks before the Presidential elections that the JHU defected to the opposition. The Muslims were thrashed by the BBS to make them turn against the Rajapaksa government. Having sent the Muslim community to the other side, the main perpetrator also followed them! When the yahapalana government was formed, both the victims as well as the perpetrators were on the same side. Muslims may be asking themselves how it is that even after the defeat of the Rajapaksas who they thought was behind the BBS, that Gnansara has become active with the same impunity? The answer to that question is that the same elements that provided protection for the BBS under the Rajapaksa government, are providing protection for them under the yahapalana government as well.
The yahapalana project is unravelling and Gnanasara’s patrons have to carve out a political future for themselves. The JHU may not get anywhere next time by contesting from within the UNP. Since the JHU cannot rely on Muslims and Tamils to vote for them, they have to claw back a part of the Sinhala vote since they may have to contest separately or in alliance with the SLFP (Sirisena faction) at the next elections. Even when contesting under the UNP banner, the JHU managed to get only Champika Ranawaka elected to parliament. Athureliye Rathana thera was appointed on the UNP national list only due to the kind consideration of the UNP and not because the JHU brought a significant number of votes into the UNP. At the next parliamentary election, the JHU’s only objective would be to get Champika elected to parliament. If he contests on the UNP list next time, the chances are that he will lose because the UNP voters of the Colombo district have little or no reason to vote for him again.
Last time, Champika may have been able to get a preference vote from UNP voters because he played a leading role in the ‘game’ that ousted the Rajapaksas but the UNP voter will have no such reason to vote for him next time. On the contrary, the UNP voter in the Colombo district may have every reason to vote against Champika for the role he played in the ‘game’ to prevent President Sirisena from fulfilling his pledge to abolish the executive presidency. Furthermore, if the electoral system is changed he will have no chance at all of getting elected through the UNP. So this is a time when the JHU is looking for other options. The reactivation of the BBS to claw back a part of the Sinhala Buddhist vote is a part of this survival strategy. Quite apart from the local environment, the international situation is also propitious for an anti-Muslim campaign. Not a day goes by without some outrage being committed by Muslim extremists somewhere in the world. At times such outrages feature as the lead news story even in the local TV news bulletins. The action taken against Qatar by other Arab states has bolstered the allegation that Muslim extremists in Sri Lanka were being funded from overseas – Qatar in particular. Thus there is fertile ground for a Sinhala extremist force to carve out a niche entirely on the anti-Muslim card.
Akila’s admission of extremist activity
Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam making a special statement in Parliament last Wednesday, regarding his decision to remove the former Director General of Archeology from his position, made some admissions that were quite startling coming as it does from a Minister in the present government. Kariyawasam admitted that while Archeological conservation especially in the north and east had not been possible because of the war, in the years after the war, the destruction of archeological sites had worsened. He said that the main reason for the removal of the DG Archeology had been his inaction when illegal structures were put up on land coming under the purview of the Archeological authorities especially in the north and east. Kariyawasam pointedly stated that the activities a handful of ‘extremists’ had contributed to the destruction of archeological sites and he said that this was acting as an impediment to reconciliation as well.
He has thus admitted that there were extremists in the north and east who were either acquiring or putting up illegal structures on archeological sites. Since no one has heard of Hindu extremists in the north and east, these references are obviously to Muslim extremists. The last time we saw Gnanasara in action was in the east, trying to reclaim what was said to be an archaelogical site from its purported Muslim ‘owners’. So what Gnanarasa was shown saying during his most recent visit to the east has more or less been confirmed by the Minister in charge of the subject as well. There is thus fertile ground for a Sinhala force opposing Muslim extremism. The spiel of this new force will be that nobody – not Sirisena, or Ranil Wickremesinghe or Mahinda Rajapaksa or even Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will raise their voices against Muslim extremism and that it is only THEY who will take up the issue on behalf of the Sinhalese.
The BBS and indeed Gnanasara himself has been saying that if he is to be arrested for making extremist statements, Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and Sivajilingam have to be arrested before he is taken in. He has also said that Rishard Baithiudeen who has been creating new settlements in the Wilpattu forest reserve should also be arrested. This line has resonance among the public. It is not only Gnanasara who has been heard making extremist statements. The whole nation heard Sivajilingam telling the President not to visit the North. In Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu police arrests Tamil politicians for trying to commemorate Prabhakaran. But nobody gets arrested in Sri Lanka for doing so. None of this is lost on the public.
This latest round of anti-Muslim violence is destabilizing this government as it did the previous one. But the government is unstable even without Muslim-Sinhala tensions and things are now at a stage where no one is bothered about what happens to the government. It is now every conspirator for himself and may the devil take the hindmost. The government has been saying that they will bring the BBS to book. The President has said that they will deploy army intelligence to arrest Gnanasara if the police are unable to do the job. But nothing has happened up to the time of writing. After the yahapalana government came into power, Gnanasara had to lie low for a while but he is not the type who can remain out of the limelight for long. He made a scene at the Homagama courts and had to spend time in remand which he did not relish. This sojourn in remand appears to have been outside the script and his patrons in the government were placed in an embarrassing position. They could not get Gnanasara released and apparently he had been cursing his patrons while in jail. Gnanasara obviously likes his creature comforts and jail time is not to his liking.
Now once again he is being looked for by the law and is in hiding. He started a fast at the Malwatte Viharaya but then gave it up and vanished because he thought it might be easier for the police to arrest him if he remained in the Malwatte premises. Now he is hiding obviously with the help of his patrons in the government. The Muslims who voted en bloc for Sirisena and are a significant presence in this government, will have to get Gnanasara arrested and incarcerated under the ICCPR Act if they are to have any peace. Under the ICCPR Act, creating religious and ethnic disharmony is a non-bailable offence and those arrested are kept in remand until the conclusion of the court proceedings. If they fail in that, they would have voted in their own nemesis. Whether arresting Gnanarasa will stop the present trend is another question. The poison is spreading with a momentum of its own. Even as Gnanasara remains in hiding, attacks continue to take place on Muslim owned business establishments in a far more widespread manner than anything took place under the Rajapaksa government.
Muslim leadership at the crossroads
The arrest of one suspect in Maharagama has not stopped the spate of attacks. In 2014, the Muslim leaders knew only too well what the BBS was. All of them knew its relationship to Norway. In fact it was Azath Salley who made the most comprehensive public expose of the Western connections of BBS. Knowing only too well that the BBS was a creation of the Western powers to weaken the Rajapaksa government, they chose to put all the blame for it on the Rajapaksas saying that Gota was sponsoring the BBS. That is what they told the Muslim voting public and made them vote en mass for Sirisena. Instead of telling the Muslims that this was a classic divide and conquer tactic, the Muslim leaders chose to portray this as a creation of the Rajapaksas. They are now at a loss to explain how these attacks are taking place under a government that they had a major role in creating.
As things started going wrong and the economy deteriorated under the yahapalana regime, ordinary Muslims were heard to say that even if they don’t have food to eat, their physical security and the security of their businesses, homes and lives were assured by the yahapalana authorities, so the change of government was worth it. Today however they have neither economic prosperity nor security. While it is true that the Rajapaksa government did not take adequate action against the BBS, neither is the present government. What the Muslim community does not realize is that the very patrons who protected the BBS during the Rajapaksa government is also protecting it under the present government as well. The Colombo Telegraph posed the question “A strategy to drive the Muslims away from this Government is in full swing. Who is the architect of this strategy?” It does not take much to understand that whoever is giving succor to the BBS is within the government, not outside it.
Islamist terrorists may have caused mayhem in many countries, but there have been no instances of Islamic terrorism in this country. Islamic terrorism is just not feasible in Sri Lanka. Given what happened to the Sinhala terrorists and Tamil terrorists, any attempt at jihadi terrorism in this country would be a joke. Some Sri Lankan Muslims may have joined ISIS, but this is a negligible minority and all that needs to be done is to prevent them from coming back into this country. Some Muslims in Sri Lanka may be preaching extremist views, but this is meant simply to please themselves. What is mainly causing tensions between the Muslims and other communities in Sri Lanka are mainly expressions of radicalism such as wearing of skull caps and burquas and beards and especially the apparent bargaining power that Muslim leaders have with the two main political parties in the country.
Muslim leaders are believed to be able to get away with anything because of this bargaining power. The prime example of this is the Wilpattu settlements being made by Rishard Baithudeen. Unlike during the Rajapaksa era, the BBS is now tapping into a pool of resentment that is much wider than it ever was, and it is being fuelled by developments in the international arena as well. So the Muslim leadership should handle this situation carefully. In a way, this is the nemesis of ethnic and religion based politics. Gnanasara is doing on behalf of his patrons in the government only what the Muslim leaders did earlier. The difference however was that the Muslim leaders did not have to resort to violence or street action to promote tribalism among Muslims. Muslim leaders starting with Ashraff have been promoting exclusivism, talking about communal interests and teaching people to look upon other communities with mistrust. Gnanasara and his patrons are ethno-religious political entrepreneurs just like Rauff Hakeem, Rishard Baithiudeen, Azath Salley, C.V.Wigneswaran, R. Sampanthan and everyone else. Where these tendencies are going to take the country in the next few years is anybody’s guess.