By Gagani Weerakoon
Following repeated assurance by President Maithripala Sirisena, the perspective of Mahanayake Theras’- at least, that of Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter- on the proposed constitutional reforms seems to have changed drastically. This was evident, when Leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and Joint Opposition Dinesh Gunawardena – who his colleagues identify as de facto Opposition Leader of the country – called on Most Venerable Thibbotuwawe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera earlier this week.
In keeping with the practice of ancient kings, politicians and rulers of the country go seeking blessings, advice and backing of the Maha Sangha, especially of Mahanayake Theras of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters, at crucial times. Few months ago the chief prelates expressed their concerns about the process of constitutional reforms and ruled out the need for a new Constitution.
Soon after that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by President Maithripala Sirisena was seen distancing themselves, from Constitution-making process and said they will not entertain any amendment that would lead to a referendum or that would change the higher status given to Buddhism above other religions.
There were several visits by rulers, including President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and many other political leaders to explain the whole process to the Maha Sangha. This effort went to the extent where Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran calling on the two chief prelates in Kandy.
A lot seems to have changed since then as Gunawardena visited the Malwatte Mahanayake Thera to grieve about an alleged attempt to violate the unitary status of the country and the place given to Buddhism.
However, what Gunawardena or many others would not have expected was the manner in which the Most Ven. Sumangala Thera defended the interim report or the proposed amendments, keeping hundred percent faith, in the words of the President and the Prime Minister.
Those who were present could witness that Gunewardena either having to swallow his words or stop abruptly with Mahanayaka Thera cutting most of his explanations in mid-sentence.
“When the two leaders ruling the country have given such an assurance that the proposed new Constitution would safeguard the country’s unitary status and the pre-eminent place afforded to Buddhism, there is no point in questioning about its validity,” the Chief Prelate stated.
The Mahanayake Thera who reminded Dinesh Gunawardena that he (Gunawardena) and several other Joint Opposition members had participated in various committees including the steering committee on Constitutional Reforms added that they had the discretion to oppose if any harmful decisions were taken at that stage.
The Malwatte Mahanayake Thera said it was better to submit ideas and news for the formulation of a good Constitution beneficial to the country without taking a firm stand saying a Constitution was not needed. He said he would always raise objections if any decisions inimical to the country and religion were taken. The prelate who noted that there was a group who stood up to oppose anything and everything said during the signing of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which took the country towards a setback.
Gunawardena said the interim report included clauses which threatened the Unitary Status of the country and the protection of Buddhism. He also said that the Sinhala copy and the English copy of the interim report differed as regards the historical status of the country.
A few weeks after presenting the Interim Report of the Steering Committee was presented to the Constitutional Assembly, it is now clear political party leaders are now engaged in a battle of words describing and interpreting the report and proposed amendments according to their political understandings and their political agendas, which at the end would confuse the general public.
However, it is clear while the opposition parties have undertaken a campaign against the proposed constitutional amendments, accusing the final draft will make Sri Lanka a federal and secular state, the Yahapalana Government and its allies led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe vouched otherwise.
The Mahanayake Thera said whom to believe is the question baffling him today. He had to ask the question as to who uttered more lies.