Sri Lanka’s former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Monday announced heeding the counsel of a top Asgiriya chapter monk who urged him to be like a Hitler and form a military dictatorship in the country.
Speaking to reporters after making a statement to the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), Rajapaksa said he was surprised by the media attention to Venerable Vendaruwe Upali thera’s sermon and said it was a “private” matter at his home.
“It is a private sermon…It is a counsel of the monk to me , why should others make such statements (critical of the Hitler comparison),” Rajapaksa asked.
“As far as I know, the Buddha said ‘preach to people who have the wisdom to understand’. I have understood everything in that sermon. Those who issue statements are those who don’t understand what the monk said.”
The second in command at the Asgiriya chapter of Buddhism, Venerable Upali, blessed Rajapaksa on his 69th birthday Wednesday by encouraging him to return to power and “rebuild the country” even if it means establishing military rule and becoming a Hitler.
“As the clergy, we feel the country needs a religious leader… Some people have described you as a Hitler,” the venerable monk said referring to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. “Be a Hitler. Go with the military and take the leadership of this country.”
After an avalanche of criticism over social media as well as strongly-worded statements from President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and several others, the monk has attempted to walk back from his sermon, saying he meant only the good part of Hitler.
It was not clear in the monk’s two-page “clarification” what he meant by the positive examples of the German dictator who is universally acknowledged as having slaughtered six million Jews as well as millions of his political opponents.
The monk said he strongly felt that Sri Lanka needed a new leadership of a Sinhala-Buddhist individual. He was happy that Gotabhaya has thrown himself into contention to be the next president of Sri Lanka.
However, on Monday, Gotabhaya told reporters that he had not thought about contesting, and he had not been invited by his elder brother, former president Mahinda, to do so either.
Asked if he had renounced his US citizenship which will be an obstacle to be a candidate at the 2019 election, Rajapaksa said just two months would be enough to give up his US nationality which he had acquired after prematurely retiring from the Sri Lanka army in 1991.
Political observers have noted that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 2015 defeat was partly due to Gotabhaya’s attempt to project a strong nationalist image and his dalliance with the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which was accused of instigating hate attacks against minority Muslims.