Gnanasara’s disappearing act has cops spellbound!

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By 2017-06-19

BY SHIVANTHI RANASAINGHE

Monk Galagodaatta Gnanasara is up to his antics again. This time however, the police have been instructed to arrest him. The media for the past week has been carrying the latest updates of the absconding monk. The Police failure is attributed to a powerful minister's interference, alleged none other than the cabinet spokesman Rajitha Seneratne.

The Rajapaksa administration was toppled for its failure to contain this monk. As a result Gotabaya Rajapaksa stood accused of giving patronage to this monk and his organization, Bodu Bala Sena. Indeed, after the successful regime mchange, for a while Gnanasara Thera laid low, further giving credence to the notion that Rajapaksas backed him.

He did make sudden appearances when emotions were high and against the government. Despite his claims of patriotism, he only worsened the crisis. He is such an embarrassment to the Buddhists that they disappear when he appears.

The brouhaha he created during the Court hearing over the alleged disappearance of Eknaligoda is a case in point. Seven military intelligence personnel were detained over the matter, despite absence of evidence. On 26 January 2016, after months of failed investigations by the CID, there were indications that they would be granted bail. That day, Gnanasara Thera stormed into the Homagama Magistrate's Courts, demanding release of the war heroes, hurling insults at the Judge and the government lawyers for betraying our country and apparently was especially abusive towards Eknaligoda's wife.

Needless to say, the men did not get bail that day and remained in custody for many months more. The stunt however, landed Gnanasara Thera in Police custody.

An experience, according to CA Chandraprema, he did not relish. In his Sunday column, Political Watch, Chandraprema on 10 June traces the history of Gnanasara Thera and the BBS. Gnanasara Thera, he notes, likes his creature comforts. Indeed, if one does not go by appearances, Gnanasara Thera is no Buddhist monk.

Lately though, Gnanasara Thera is again becoming increasingly active. As Gotabaya is no longer in power, he obviously is not the BBS's patron. Whether it will exonerate him is another matter, as for us, first impressions are lasting irrespective of subsequent evidence to the contrary.

Halal angle...

The point is, Gnanasara Thera had immunity from the Rajapaksa administration and protection from the incumbent government. As Chandraprema notes, BBS came to our attention only in 2012 with an anti-Halal campaign. It started with a starkly simple poster protesting against halal products. Halal procedure is antithetical to Buddhist thinking, but Buddhists have opted to respect the practice of another religion than the animal's plight. This was the first time this issue was brought out into the open. During the ensuing debate, it was highlighted that other products, such as biscuits etcetera also had the halal symbol. It was alleged that certain parties were unethically earning money from using this symbol.

While the campaign affected neither the symbol nor the practice, BBS then garnered the support from the Sinhala Buddhist community, especially as it was projected that using the halal symbol, non-Muslims are duped into funding an extremist and devious Islamic project. With even tea packs having this symbol gave credibility to the accusation.

BBS increasingly became vociferous and boisterous. The anti-halal campaign was followed by an anti-cattle slaughter campaign and peaked into the Aluthgama riots. BBS accused Muslims in the area of harassing the Buddhist monks, which eventually ignited the Aluthgama riots.

Interestingly, around this time, two questionable incidents came to this writer's attention. One incident in 2014 was related by Udaya Gammanpila.

"Two nights before BBS's rally in Polgahawela, around 4:00 a.m., the householder living close to the mosque heard a noise. When he investigated, he saw someone trying to remove the mosque's name board. Quietly alerting the neighbours, they caught the culprit, who turned out to be a Muslim, who wanted to discredit BBS by damaging the board."

The other incident was while at a Muslim owned shop selling from sewing needs to cosmetics, this writer witnessed a saffron robed man, accompanied with an equally rough character, photographing cosmetic jewellery. As is the norm, this Muslim shop too is staffed with only Muslims. While the young staff members were getting agitated, a senior employee politely asked this duo to stop, which they refused. They claimed somewhat belligerently, their purpose was selecting jewellery to decorate deity statues and not to be reproducing the designs. It is that employee's maturity and patience that stopped the situation from becoming an incident.

Shadow guardian – Ranawaka?

Clearly, there is a group that is up to some terrible mischief. BBS happens to be one of its faces. The other faces Chandraprema identifies are as Norway and the Jathika Hela Urumaya. He writes the anti-halal campaign took places "a few months after several monks including Gnanasara Thera returned from a trip to Norway where he met Erik Solheim among others. From that time onwards, every step of the way, the JHU made common cause with everything that was done by the BBS. The street action was taken by the monks of the BBS led by Gnanasara Thera while the JHU held press conferences, defending or encouraging the action taken by the BBS. In the wake of the Aluthgama riots, Champika Ranawaka distributed aid to the Sinhala victims of the riots."

When the Aluthgama violence erupted, both President Rajapaksa and Gotabaya ordered Gnanasara Thera to be arrested.However, as Chandraprema notes, "it was Ranawaka who had opposed any such move in Cabinet and said that the monks should not be touched and if any monk is arrested he would bring the entire monkhood onto the streets."

The greatest irony is, having prevented the arrest, which pushed the Muslim votes towards the then Common Candidate, Ranawaka also followed.

This did not confuse the Muslims, as their anger was fixated on the Rajapaksas. In the Aluthgama fiasco, there is another hand that is still invisible to the public. This was exposed with a video footage of the Aluthgama incident, which was circulated in social media sometime ago. It clearly shows crowds peacefully dispersing after the BBS rally. Gnanasara had already left the premises.

Due to the crowds, a motorcyclist was pushing his cycle when he was hit with a rock from the upper floor of a building. This was followed with a rain of rocks from the top floors of other buildings, injuring the crowds below. The propaganda machines were already set to blame Gnanasara Thera for the fiasco, which it did with remarkable success. Clearly, a trap had been set.

When President Rajapaksa ordered Ven. Gnanasara's arrest, the MI exposed this sinister plan. If he was arrested, Ranawaka would have made good of his threat.

The other party was ready with forces to 'avenge' the Muslim community. Realizing that this was a turf war, the Rajapaksas backtracked.

The damage was however done. Our relationship with Arab was strongest during the Rajapaksa administration. Yet, the anti-Muslim label is still fast stuck on them.

For all appearances, Ranawaka too appear politically knocked out. His supporters are disenchanted that he is in the United National Party camp. However, Ranawaka is a man who made his career playing politically dead and seizing the issue of the day to make a sudden comeback.

During the late '80s, the Sinhala Buddhists felt voiceless with the two main parties - UNP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party - appeasing the minority political parties to gain a parliamentary majority. The answer was Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Bhoomiputra Pakshaya, founded by Harischandra Wijayatunga in 1990. In the 1994 presidential elections, he polled 32,651 votes, which six years later increased to 35,854.

Bhoomiputra was cannibalized soon after by the emergence of a new party along the same theme - the Sihala Urumaya. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, SU won one national seat. However, the party's President, SL Gunasekera was publicly fought off by a junior member, Ranawaka. Gunasekera was a fearless patriot and the supporters were deeply embarrassed by the way he was treated.

However, for the 2004 parliamentary elections, Ranawaka fielded prominent Buddhist monks and evolved the party as Jathika Hela Urumaya. Considering its late entrants, the result was satisfactory. However, hope was short lived as the party members' behaviour was most unsavoury. Again, it seemed Ranawaka and his party is history.

Yet, Ranawaka survived by supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidential campaign in 2005. In 2007 he was both the Environmental and Natural Resources Minister, and had somehow also become the JHU's leader. He clawed his support base again by making the closure of the Marvil Oya sluice gates by the LTTE, his cause.

Beginning of the end

In 2015, he had left the Rajapaksa administration clutching on good governance. Though he contested the 2015 Parliamentary elections on the UNP ticket, he acts as Maithripala Sirisena's man and distances himself from the UNP, perceived by many as a pro-west, anti-national party. Many think however he is finally over.

It is in this background, we again are back to the same scenario that marked the beginning of the Rajapaksa administration's end. Gnanasara Thera is engaging in racial disharmony and has earned a warrant for his arrest. If he was indeed arrested, would Ranawaka be back in the fighting ring? Or is it a plot by another hand to create unrest between the Buddhists and the Muslims to enforce the emergency law and thereby do away with elections? Interesting times ahead!

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