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Sunday, June 25, 2017
* Gnansara Thera breaks Hirunika’s record
* Yahapalana stalwart Ulapane Sumangala Thera roots for BBS
* The risk taken by the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera
Gnanasara Thera near a courthouse
by C.A.Chandraprema-June 24, 2017, 12:00 pm
The events that people saw unfolding last Wednesday proved beyond a shadow of doubt what this writer said in the last two columns – that the latest spate of anti-Muslim violence unleashed by the Bodu Bala Sena has been orchestrated by elements within the yahapalana government that are trying to win over a section of the Sinhala Buddhist vote which has been gravitating heavily to the Joint Opposition. We pointed out that both Champika Ranawaka and President Maithripala Sirisena had an interest in using the Bodu Bala Sena to split the Sinhala Buddhist vote and that the impunity enjoyed by the BBS in the past several weeks is due to patronage at the highest levels of the government. Last Wednesday Gnansara Thera created legal history by obtaining bail on three occasions in the course of a single day. In one case he was formally arrested and a statement was recorded from him and he was presented before a Magistrate and released on bail all within minutes.
Thus Gnanasara Thera broke the record set earlier by Hirunika Premachandra in the abduction case against her. Some people may be under the impression that all that was because of the broadside fired by the Ven. Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter against the government last Tuesday. Gnansara Thera came out of hiding the very next day. However there was no causal link between the statement made by the Ven Mahanayake Thera and Karaka Sanga Sabha of the Asgiriya Chapter and Gnanasara Thera’s release. His surrender to courts had been under discussion for days. This week’s Ravaya has in fact revealed that the police had through a hurriedly filed motion, amended their B report so that the offence for which he was to be arrested would be made bailable. Earlier it had been the ICCPR Act that had been cited which makes the incitement of ethnic or religious tensions a non-bailable offence. With the amendment of the B-report a different law had been invoked and it had been made possible to grant bail to Gnanasara Thera.
In fact the Bodu Bala Sena said at a press conference held on 16 June that Gnanasara Thera may surrender to courts in due course. Then at the press conference held by the BBS on 20 June, they stated more definitely that he would be present in courts the next day. It would have been inconceivable for the yahapalana government to put him behind bars. As we said last week, Ganansara Thera did spend some time behind bars under this government, but that was an unscheduled event which took place not due to any action taken by this government but due to steps taken by the Homagama Magistrate.
The reason why he has the same immunity under this government that he enjoyed under the Rajapaksa government is because the same elements under whose patronage he functioned under the previous government are protecting him under the present government as well. The missing or invisible link is the Jathika Hela Urumaya. Last Wednesday, a yahapalana stalwart, Ven. Ulapane Sumangala was present at the Fort Magistrate’s court when bail was granted to Gnanasara Thera. Some days earlier, speaking as a member of the Anti-Corruption Front, he had criticized the attempt that was being made at that time to arrest Gnanasara Thera without arresting members of other communities who also had made statements that were plainly inimical to harmony between the ethnic and religious communities living in this country.
That was taken a step further when Sumangala Thera turned up at The Fort Magistrate’s court when Gnanasara Thera surrendered. Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon has resigned from the Anti-Corruption Front in protest at the stand taken by Sumangala Thera. All this while, the live wire behind the Anti-Corruption Front was Tennakoon. We were not able to contact Tennakoon for his comments. So we see that the exposure of the yahapalana link to the BBS is causing angst in some quarters.
Asgiriya initiative to save Maha Sangha
The statement made by the Ven Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter is one of the most important political interventions made by the Bhikku community in recent times. This lead was soon followed by the Ramanna Nikaya also making a statement on similar terms. While the Asgiriya Chapter statement dealt with many matters of national importance, the riskiest part of that statement was the part that pertained to Gnansara Thera. Basically, what the Asgiriya Chapter statement said about Gnansara Thera is that they do not approve or condone his behaviour but that they will not dismiss the issues that he has been raising and that the government should find out whether there is any truth in what that monk has been saying. The statement also took exception to Gnanasara Thera being singled out while inflammatory statements had been made by members of other communities who had got off Scot free. The statement also took exception to people referring to Ganansara Thera only by name.
Out of respect to the Ven Mahanayake and Karaka Sangha Sabha of the Asgiriya Chapter I too will refer to him not simply as ‘Gnanasara’ but as Gnanasara Thera or Ven. Gnanasara not because I have suddenly evinced any respect for this monk but because of the importance of what the Asgiriya Chapter has tried to do. Admittedly, the Asgiriya Chapter has taken the initiative to handle a difficult situation and we all need to cooperate. The respect of the Buddhist dispensation is at stake. Some may say that the action that the Buddhist establishment should have taken would be to remove Ganansara Thera from the monkhood instead of asking the world to show respect to a monk who behaves like a hooligan. Expelling a monk from the Sangha is next to impossible under the present laws and internal rules of the various Nikayas. So the Asgiriya Chapter has started at the other end. Usually, no one is ordained as a monk without a reading of his horoscope to see whether it would be possible for the person concerned to fulfill the vows of a monk. The system has worked fairly well except in the case of rare instances like that of Gnansara Thera when the reading of the horoscope has gone horribly wrong.
The Asgiriya Chapter has also in a statement that represents not just the Mahanayke Thera but the entire Nikaya said that they do not approve of the way Ganansara Thera behaves. The point that this writer too has always made about Gnanasara Thera is not any issues that he may raise but his behaviour which is that of a thug, not a monk. Even the most boorish and uncivilized politician would baulk at behaving the way Gnanasara Thera does in public. He uses the saffron robe to get away with any outrage he may commit and he claims to be doing it on behalf of the Sinhalese. By calling upon the public not to refer to Gnanasara thera in disrespectful terms, the Asgiriya Chapter has gone out on a limb in an attempt to safeguard the respect of the Maha Sangha. If Gnanasara Thera engages in violence and the uttering of obscenities in public again, that would be a direct affront and a case of treating the entire Asgiriya Chapter with contempt.
If Gnanasara Thera gets up to his usual antics again, the Asgiriya Chapter will have no option but to issue a ‘sanghaagnawa’ against him. After obtaining bail, Gnanasara Thera went to see the Asgiriya Mahanayke Thera and later said that he will henceforth do as instructed by the Ven Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera. We sincerely hope that he will stick to his word without bringing any further disrepute upon the Maha Sangha. Gnanasara Thera became known to the world only because of his uncouth manner of speech and thuggish behaviour. He has nothing else to distinguish him other than his notoriety as a thug-monk. If he stops behaving in that manner he will not get the media attention that he usually gains. So we have to wait and see whether he is willing to become a nonentity again in order to uphold the respect and authority of the Asgiriya Chapter.
Other than Gnanasara Thera’s matter, the Asgiriya Chapter statement dealt with several other matters, such as the inflammatory statements made by certain minority community politicians with complete impunity, the various new laws that the government has been introducing that seem to be targeting the Sinhala Buddhist community, the systematic encroachment on state land and forest reserves by certain minority communities, the government’s attempt to assume control over certain key Buddhist sites to promote tourism, and even reported attempts on the part of certain elements to eliminate the Sinhala race. The statement also contained an unequivocal warning to followers of other religions that the Buddhist way of life should not be disrespected. It is rarely indeed that one sees such a broadside against a government by such an important section of the Buddhist establishment. It’s not just Gnanasara Thera who has been put on notice but the government that is using him as well.