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Should the leader of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka not have the right to make statements that relate to the politics in the country, which will affect voting by Catholics?

By

Lucien Rajakarunanayake

The restrictions of Covid-19 have not removed the enthusiasm of the General Election, with statements by non-leader candidates drawing more attention than huge crowds at meetings or the distribution of goodies among voters. Karuna Amman and Harin Fernando are the main players in the current political drama.

The Elections Commission has controlled the crowd size at meetings, and certainly moved to stop the goodie spread, with its move to stop former president and present SLPP candidate Sirisena, distributing scholarships to students and having tea with older supporters in Polonnaruwa.

Karuna Amman, alias Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, was a Tamil Tiger fighter for over 20 years and a regional LTTE leader as well. Later, he was the leader of a breakaway faction of the LTTE – the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pukkal – and mind you, also a National List MP of the Mahinda Rajapaksa UPFA government, Minister of National Integration and a Vice President of the SLFP. That is his great spread of politics in Sri Lanka, after the years in terrorist combat and leadership.

He has taken pride in being more dangerous than the Covid-19, and greater pride in telling that he killed more than 3000 army soldiers at Elephant Pass and other battlegrounds of the LTTE. The CID has now recorded a statement from him on this soldier-killing saga. But, why did the CID have to bother about this at all. Does the Police not know that loud, screaming or even shrieking boasts are part of the electoral politics of Sri Lanka?

Oh yes, the boast here was about 3000 soldiers killed. There are louder calls now for the death sentence to be imposed on this brutal killer, even though that sentence is suspended in the country.

Would the CID, or any other relevant police authority, carry on some inquiries or questioning of the political leaders who brought this man into the national politics of this country? Mahinda Rajapaksa himself would be a good starter for such questioning. Was the leadership of the UPFA government of that day unaware of any killings by Karuna Amman, or were they only too happy about the terrorist and post-terrorist record of this Tamil Karuna?

Did the CID of that day not know anything about the killing of more than 600 policemen who had surrendered to the LTTE in the East? Those who surrendered under President Premadasa’s orders!

What was the qualification that Karuna Amman had to enter southern and national politics than his record in LTTE terror, and what was seen as the abandonment of such terror? Would some simple, not violent, non-LTTE active, never fighting Tamil, have any place in a government of that day, with no record of involvement in the terrorism of the LTTE? Was the fighting background of Karuna Amman not the main cause of political pride in his cross-over to the Sinhala Rajapaksa government?

He was not kept as a backbench MP of the UPFA. His record of terror with the LTTE gave him the qualification to be the Minister of National Integration. His task was to bring the Sri Lankan people together – integrate and unite. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA leadership of that day saw in his record of LTTE terror, before moving away from it, as the showpiece of this Tamil activist politician, who would help bring the country together. It is possible the Rajapaksa Team of that day did not know about his killing 2000 or 3000 Sri Lankan troops. Is that the problem today – the thousands killed, and not hundreds or decimals of 10, 20 or 30? Let’s not forget that killing is killing, and this Minister of National Integration was a killer with the LTTE, and later moved to the greater success of national politics in a huge coalition government of the Sinhala people.

What else must we remember about this piece of cross-over glory. He was elected Vice President of the SLFP! Not after many years of membership, not with any record of support for the democratic process through his earlier years with the forces of terror, and not with any pledge to support the Sangha-Veda-Guru-Govi-Kamkaru alliance of Bandaranaike Politics of 1956.

The task for the CID today, having recorded his statements, and even calling him for more statements, is not to unwind, unravel or unfurl his record of violence and terror, which involved the killing of opponents, both in or out or uniforms. It is the need to clearly explain the Sinhala Politics of 2008 and after, under the Rajapaksa leadership, which saw in this man the promise of National Integration, the building of greater national unity, and giving a new Tamil link to the politics of the SLFP.

Those who are calling for the biggest ever punishment, including the hangman’s noose, for this Terrorist/Politician/Minister/SLFP leader, must keep thinking about the harsh realities of Sinhala politics of today.

The Catholic Church has been hugely hurt by what Harin Fermando said at a recent public rally. He saw the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith playing a role in depriving Sajith Premadasa of the Cathlic vote at the last presidential election. Harin Fernando should have thought twice about the freedom of expression in the Catholic Church, even under the leadership of Pope Francis today.

It is a point of view, expressed in electoral politics, which every Catholic must have the freedom to enjoy. Is it wrong to give a point of view that could be unfavourable to the leader of the Church in this country? Could a response not have come from the Cardinal himself, and not necessarily the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops Conference and the Catholic Council? Was what Harin Fernando said so damaging to the Church, and how?

The Catholic Church has undergone much changes that are in favour and supportive of democracy, than it was in the past – not so long ago; and a political observation by a politician, whether Catholic or not, should not arouse such clear anger – which is not the substance of Christianity.

Could the Church provide any proof that the moves of the Cardinal in the Easter Sunday attack situation – which were largely helpful in preventing more violence, especially in Catholic areas – did not lead to a fall in the Catholic vote for Sajith Premadasa? That is the stuff. Was there a drop in the Catholic vote for Sajith Premadasa, and if so, why? The vote is an act of secrecy. The Catholic voters may have been motivated by much thinking, other than that of the Cardinal. They could also have been influenced by what they understood to be the Cardinal’s thinking, right or wrong, which is the reality of democracy.

I remember the time, many decades ago, when churchgoers on election-time Sundays, were clearly told who they should vote for. I recall red shirts being prohibited in churches. We have certainly moved away from all that. Father and later Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, did learn much of that Church progress in Rome, before he was given the position of Cardinal. That terrible post-Easter Violence period was a reminder of the need for a stronger and richer democracy in this country, for Catholics and all. A democracy where the Freedom of Speech, of all, including Catholics, is not curbed or threatened by the norms of the old Vatican.

Should the leader of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka not have the right to make statements that relate to the politics in the country, which will affect voting by Catholics? Should the Church, and its leaders, not make clear statements against racism, casteism, and, religionism, when necessary? Is that not the stuff of politics that should be part of Christian teaching?

Let’s move to a wider and richer democracy – with the boastful words of Karuna Amman and the political realities of Harim Fernando.

Courtesy:The Island