End monkey business now and get serious for once!
Posted on November 5th, 2021

By Rohana R. Wasala 

(Continuation of ‘Don’t forget people who elected you, Mr President!’/November 2, 2021)

My gut feeling is that the Presidential Task Force, if it is what I think it is, i.e., a brilliantly thought out ploy with an ulterior motive, is meant to abort the new constitution making project. It was probably designed to divide Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils, also create suspicion between the former and Christians, while pacifying radicalized Muslims. This will help …………

The PTF has been established, according to the gazette notification, Focusing on the fact that administration of justice, its implementation and protection under the law should be fair by all as set out in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Whereas, it is indicated under fundamental rights therein that no citizen should be discriminated against in the eye of law on meted out special treatment on ground of nationality, religion, caste or any other grounds; And whereas, the implementation of the concept; one country, one law within Sri Lanka is reflected as a methodology of ensuring nationally and internationally recognized humanitarian values, And whereas, the fact that all citizens are treated alike in the eye of the law should be further ensure, ….”. This provides an idea of the brief that the PTF received. 

In implicit response to the mostly negative reception of the news of its establishment among the people, Ven. Gnanasara has repeatedly tried to rationalize the One Country One Law concept; but that is unnecessary for there is no quarrel about the cogent reasons that led to the call for the One Country One Law idea; the need for a single legal system has been correctly identified by the majority of the general public, with the negligible exception of a few religious extremists whose established religious traditions come into conflict with the country’s secular laws. The question is about the rationale of the establishment of the PTF.

Through the extraordinary gazette notification the president authorizes the task force  to make such inquiries and issue such instructions as are required for the purpose of executing the tasks so entrusted”.  The President appoints, as secretary to the PTF, his Senior Assistant Secretary Ms Jeevanthie Senanayake.  He further requires and directs all public officers and other persons to whom the said Task Force may issue instructions or from whom assistance for provision of services may be requested, to comply with all such instructions, render all such assistance and furnish all such information as may be properly complied with, rendered and furnished on that behalf”.  The President demands that the PTF report to him all instances where any Government employee or an officer in any ministry, government department, state corporation or any such institution who delay the performance of duties and fulfillment of responsibilities or fail to perform such duties and responsibilities to be entrusted by the said Task Force”. Surely, the President did not draft this legal document. President Gotabaya has been known for his spartan discipline and blemishless moral character as a person, and his strict disciplinarianism as a civil administrator. The last instruction to the PTF (to report to him instances, if any, of insubordination or non-cooperation) smacks of coercion and authoritarianism, for which no need should arise in this context. Why did the drafter include that sort of phraseology? It does not reflect favourably on the President. Food for thought. He directs the members  to submit reports to me at least once a month and submit the final report on or before 28th February, 2022”.

Getting a Buddhist monk involved in governance matters (in the form of virtual nationalistic legal framing) is the last thing I would have expected from a president who the people hoped would bring about a systemic change in the mode of government. In Sri Lanka’s long history, the kings maintained a close relationship with the monks, only as religious advisers, not as partners in making laws or ruling. As a whistleblower, Ven. Gnanasara Thera exposed the existence of burgeoning religious extremism years ago, but his exposures did not get enough recognition by the authorities for some reason. Instead, he was unfairly condemned as an irresponsible rabble-rouser intent on troublemaking for some political advantage. Ven. Gnanasara is trying to provide the initiative that only politicians and the Mahanayakes could and should provide in resolving the single issue that has caused him to deviate from his religious vows and engage in the rough and tumble of mundane agitational activism . But he is not equipped to play that role in any way. His berserk behaviour finally landed him in jail for contempt of court. Had he been more disciplined in his protests, he wouldn’t have been thus treated, in spite of his intentions having been genuinely benign as well as patriotic. His personality defect has damaged not only his personal reputation and his cause, and his credibility as a defender of the Buddha Sasanaya, the people and the country.

The Thera  has been led astray by the cynical opportunism of politicians who exploit the sensitive perennial issue of the threat posed to the country’s age-old Buddha Sasanaya/the Buddhist religious-cultural establishment and to its historic archaeological heritage in the form of ruins scattered, particularly, in the north and east. The threat comes from the local representatives of forms of the religious fundamentalism that is sweeping across the whole world, especially by different sects of potentially violent Islamic/Íslamist extremists, sponsored by moneyed foreign agents. Treasure hunters cause probably more damage to this heritage. Behind the religious extremists seems to stand the Western imperialist juggernaut that uses religious fundamentalism and other forms of extremism to destabilise nation states that it wants to control to achieve varied geopolitical ends at the latter’s expense. 

What the monks are demanding is protection for the Buddhist establishment from this threat. Theirs is not a political struggle; they are not fighting for political ends. What they say is: Stop unfair proselytisation of poverty stricken Buddhists and Hindus who are equally subject to subversion by numerous foreign funded, politicized fundamentalist Christian and Islamic sects. The problem can be easily sorted out if the politicians have the political will to do so, and if the politicians in power at any time get the government servants working in the vulnerable areas to implement the available archaeological conservation  and protection laws without abandoning their responsibilities for illicit monetary gains. The indifference and inaction of the traditional Mahanayakes (their culpable innocence and ignorance are inexcusable) form the other strong factor that betrays Buddhist interests. 

My criticism of the establishment of a Presidential Task Force for the implementation of the One Country One Law headed by a Buddhist monk does not mean a rejection of that important objective. It must be achieved during the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. For that, a proper strategy must be adopted. However, as the Bar Council of Sri Lanka, has pointed out, the PTF has no role to play in implementing the stated concept, because the functions assigned to it are already being performed by the available constitutionally established institutions including the Parliament and the Ministry of Justice (The Island/November 3); so, it is a redundant body. The only ‘benefit’ that has accrued from the controversial move is that it has given the opportunistic minority politicians who hide behind extremists, without supporting them openly, extra ammunition for their blasts of criticism against the nationalist government. 

Incidentally, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), created by Basil Rajapaksa and led by Mahinda Rajapaksa (the current Finance Minister, and Prime Minister, respectively) held its 5th National Convention at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre, Colombo on November 2, 2021. Minister Basil Rajapaksa emphasized the importance of MR’s leadership. President Gotabaya congratulated the party, in a message, on its great success within a short time of its inauguration, reflected in its winning of a near two thirds of parliamentary seats (in August 2020). PM Mahinda Rajapaksa said, among other things, that the teacher strike and the farmer agitations would not have dragged on so long if they had maintained more political engagement with them (Did he mean showering cajolery on them?). He also made special mention of the young people who voluntarily beautified towns and cities across the country with beautiful wall paintings (when the new government came into being in 2019 with the election of the current president, whose advent generated in them the new spirit of hope that inspired them to engage in that voluntary exercise without any expectation of a reward); those youths, the PM remembered, by doing that, indicated their wish that politicians should not spoil the street walls with their ugly political posters. Where are those young people now? He asked, and provided his own answer: If they have joined the queue of passport applicants (who want to acquire a passport with the intention of leaving the country looking for greener pastures abroad), we should engage in the kind of politics that will encourage them to return”. If the PM is genuine about what he is saying here, we may expect him to stop monkeying around with monks and to change his attitude towards patriotic young politicians of all parties and communities vis a vis his own son. 

The PM must have meant what he said. If he really does, he will not relapse into the the 73 year long monkey business of taking the monks for rides or flights. It is disgraceful how political monks are conducting themselves at this critical time, especially that sneaky Ratana Thera, who stole the national list MP post from Gnanasara Thera, who actually earned it for their party, is causing embarrassment to Gotabaya and the government through his hasty implementation (for expected personal political reputation) of the organic fertilizer initiative. Ven. Gnanasara said, to his credit, talking about the PTF, that in the future the youth of the country must come forward to save the nation. The country is not short of of young men and women who are capable of providing a sound modern leadership to the country if only their way is not obstructed by ambitious oldies whose ‘Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself, And falls on th’other… ‘ (i.e., excess of ambition lands them somewhere else than where they want to reach, lands them in trouble, as happened to Macbeth in the Shakespeare play).

It should be hoped that this occasion (the 5th anniversary of the SLPP) be utilised as an opportune moment to reflect on past errors, and resolve not to repeat them, and introduce a course correction, starting with rethinking a new approach to the implementation of the One Country One Law idea, that ensures the participation of all Sri Lankans, especially the young from all the communities, something that can be done through the existing agencies. 

Conclusion

My gut feeling is that the Presidential Task Force, if it is what I think it is, i.e., a brilliantly thought out ploy with an ulterior motive, is meant to abort the new constitution making project. (I have no idea of whose brainchild this could be.) It was probably designed to divide Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils, also create suspicion between the former and Christians, while pacifying radicalized Muslims for some unspecified reason. This might help revive the defeated separatist project, and breathe new life into secretly growing Islamism, and together help foreign designs on Sri Lanka, provoked purely by big power geopolitics due to its strategically important location in the Indo-Pacific region. Pitting guilless Islamist critic Gnanasara Thera against an Ulama Council maulavi by putting them in the same panel of advisors is like putting a dove and a cat in the same cage; for when it comes to religion, a believing Muslim will not compromise their religious principles to accommodate human reason. The government’s failure to achieve its key objective of introducing a new constitution  will delight the still operative forces which were behind the 2015 regime change (they may even have acquired new allies by now). It is good to remember that Mahinda Rajapaksa was betrayed by his lieutenant three times in a row between 2015 and 2019, which does not reflect well on his sense of judgement; it could be a different traitor this time.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is probably the most ethically and morally honest person ever to hold that post. The frustrated regime changers are now propagating the faint fictitious notion that he benefited from the April 2019 Easter Sunday Islamist bombings and that the intelligence services that had reached the highest professional efficiency levels under him as Defence Secretary during MR’s time had some connection with them. The charge that the government is deliberately slow in meting out justice to those responsible for the Easter bombings is, I think, 100% false. All peace- and justice-loving Sri Lankans including me want to see the Easter attacks perpetrators receive condign punishment at the earliest possible; the highest involved (be it president Maithripala Sirisena, prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, during whose watch the suicide bomb attacks happened or any other individuals accountable) shouldn’t be spared. I, for one, believe that President Gotabaya, PM Mahinda, and others in the government will be satisfied with no less.

However, even the Cardinal seems to have accepted that false allegation, in spite of repeated assurances given him by the President to the contrary. Two reasons for the Cardinal’s misgivings that occur to me are: potentially guilty former president Sirisena seems to be looking for refuge under his erstwhile boss that he betrayed three times, now PM; the other reason could be Gnanasara Thera’s arrogant, totally frivolous and uncalled for remarks about the Cardinal’s activism regarding the Muturajawela environmental issue. Gnanasara Thera was reported as having said about the Cardinal in this connection: I warn the Cardinal that he should not overstep his boundaries!” That alone should have disqualified the monk for the post that he has been appointed. I personally believe that the President, as a practising Buddhist, can receive much more constructive advice from the Cardinal than from Gnanasara Thera. 

The paragraph quoted below is about one of the academics that I find mentioned as a panel member of the PTF. It happens to be the concluding paragraph of an article of mine that was carried in the Lankaweb online journal on May 1, 2020 (Interested readers may look it up there: http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2020/05/01/academic-adolescents-against-the-nationalist-cause/): 

It is strange that this academic was not informed enough about the existing local realities (not exclusively those uncovered with evidence by the BBS – Bodu Bala Sena) relating to the problem of the menace posed to Sri Lankans of all races and religions and worldviews, especially to Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus who together form over 80% of the population,  from Abrahamic religious fundamentalists (not from the mainstream adherents of those religions), when he wrote to that international journal. These monks do ‘deliberate on their views and stances before involving the public…’; there is nothing wrong with their actions, but whatever can they do if they are misreported to the world by indifferent media, and immature ill-informed academics? (A personal opinion)”

Finally, when the disciplined voters of the country (unfortunately, they don’t have enough disciplined politicians to serve them) voted for a new president and a new parliament about two years ago, they never expected a yahapalanaya type of government to come to power again, whatever happens later. Apparently, the country hasn’t  still emerged from its evil legacy. Gotabaya Rajapaksa started off with the purest intentions. Buddhists believe in the truth of the saying: dhammo have rakkhati dhammacari” the dhamma protects the faithful follower of the dhamma”. He need not fear. But whatever he is intent on doing, he should first win the agreement and support of the common people before trying it. 

Anyone with an average familiarity with the recent political history of the world know that patriotic leaders of independent countries who don’t serve the interests of more powerful nations at the expense of the welfare and wellbeing of their own people are not safe. Their safety depends on the people’s goodwill, provided democracy is allowed to rule. But as we know today, countries find themselves ruled from outside. That is an unpleasant reality, we can hardly overcome. In Sri Lanka, the two traditional parties or alliances have two different attitudes to this predicament. One favours it, the other opposes it. These are respectively the UNP/SJB and the SLFP/SLPP. The second, the nationalistic party/alliance, has a problem managing foreign interference, with which the UNP/SJB seem comfortable with. Nationalists support forces that protect the country’s democracy, independence, and sovereignty. Gotabaya is a nationalist leader. Nationalists need not be demoralised when they are falsely attacked as ethno-nationalist extremists by NGO mercenaries.

If Gotabaya Rajapaksa is able to bring in a new constitution as a non-party product that is fashioned according to the common consensus of all parliamentarians (including essentially all young ones, that is, those under 40, for example) who do not have to vote for it under duress, let that be the greatest achievement he will be remembered for. Such a constitution should be one that does not divide the nation on language, religion, or race bases. It will eliminate the influence of extremists, and definitely incorporate the One Country One Law principle. Giving anything a special place or special protection, as experience shows, invariably turns out to be counter-productive. So, this has to be avoided. This is a controversial suggestion, but it will be achievable, if the gerontocrats make way for the brilliant youth of the country to take centre stage in the political arena.

One Response to “End monkey business now and get serious for once!”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රී ධුරයෙන් සහ කැබිනට් ඇමති ධුරයෙන් ඉල්ලා අස්වීම සඳහා අධිකරණ ඇමති අලි සබ්‍රි විසින් ජනාධිපතිවරයාට යොමු කළ ලිපිය බාරගෙන නොමැති බවත් එසම්බන්ධයෙන් ඇමතිවරයා සහ ජනාධිපතිවරයා අතර විශේෂ සාකච්ඡාවක් පවත්වා ඇති බවත් වාර්තා වේ.
    ඒ අනුව එක රටක් එක නීතියක් ජනාධිපති කාර්ය සාධක බලකාය සම්බන්ධයෙන් පැහැදිලි කිරීමක් සිදු කිරීමට ජනාධිපති ගෝටාබව රාජපක්ෂ කටයුතු කර ඇත. එහිදී අදහස් දක්වා ඇති ජනාධිපතිවරයා, මෙම ජනාධිපති කාර්ය සාධක බලකාය තමා පත්කළේ තමාට එම කාරණයට අදාළව උපදෙස් ගැනීමට විනා අන් දෙයකට නොවන බවත් එසේම නීති සකස් කිරීමේ කටයුතුවලදී අනිවාර්යෙන්ම අධිකරණ ඇමැතිවරයාගේ දායකත්වය ලබා ගන්නා බවත් දැනුම් දී ඇත.
    අධිකරණ ඇමැති අලි සබ්රිගේ කාර්ය සාධනය ජනාධිපතිවරයා මෙහිදී ඉහළින්ම අගය කර ඇතැයිද වාර්තා වේ.
    ඉහත පත් කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් සමහරුන් තුළ පවතින්නේ වැරදි අවබෝධයක් බවත් වහාම එය නිවැරදි කිරීමට පියවර ගන්නා බවත් ජනාධිපතිවරයා මෙහිදී වැඩිදුරටත් පවසා ඇතැයිද වාර්තා වේ.

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