ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s controversial Buddhist monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero said on Monday (01) that recommendations by his ultranationalist outfit the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) will make it to the proposals to be made by the recently appointed presidential task force titled ‘One Country, One Law’.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the firebrand monk to lead the 13-member task force last week to come up with proposals to implement one law for all Sri Lankans abolishing all other personal laws including Muslim marriage law and some other regional laws that had existed for centuries in Sri Lanka.
Gnanasara’s appointment comes as the administration is facing rising protests over a ban on agrochemicals and rising inflation with money printing worsening the fallout from a Coronavirus pandemic.
In his first press conference as the head of the task force, Gnanasara thero said the BBS had spoken about unethical conversions, destruction of archaeological monuments and cultural invasion.
“Today we have got a result of all our hard work. The president’s attention has been drawn to speak about these issues emphatically,” he told a news briefing organised by the Presidential Media Centre for handpicked journalists.
“We will have to discuss the same things we spoke about as the BBS within this gazette as well and include them in the bill,” the monk said.
For many speculative questions posed to him by journalists, the monk said he will answer after February 28, 2022, when the task force submits its report to the president. He will be fair by all, he said.
In 2012, Gnanasara thero was allegedly at the forefront of an anti-Muslim campaign which called on the majority Sinhalese to boycott Muslim-owned businesses.
The United States in 2014 cancelled a visa issued to the monk while social media platform Facebook blocked his account after his group’s alleged involvement in violence against Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims in the Western coastal town of Aluthgama.
He was later arrested for contempt of court in 2018 during the previous administration but was later pardoned by President Maithripala Sirisnena.
Critics have said Gnanasara Thero has been used to create a rift between the Sinhala majority and Muslim minority for political reasons. But the monk has denied the allegation and has said Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority has issues that have been ignored by politicians, issues that he had tried to address.
Gnanasara said not all court cases against him were individual acts carried out by his person, but rather due to his intervention on behalf of people who did not have a voice.
“All those court cases are politically motivated,” he said.
“Politicians want the issues to remain the same,” said the monk who in 2019 said the Buddhist clergy should decide Sri Lanka’s parliament.
“We have been talking about tourism development and economic development. If you want to do that, national security should be secured and the bond among all ethnicities must be ensured.
“We have a number of suggestions. If we can put all these together and stand up, that will be the day we will rise as a nation. That is why we struggled,” he said.
The Presidential Task Force led by him has come under severe criticism for not including ethnic minority Tamil representation. President Rajapaksa has agreed to include Tamil representation though Gnanasara said the priority is not that.
“We are trying to create a framework at the moment. We can discuss and agree later,” he said.
Gnanasara thero was praised by some quarters after the Easter Sunday attack in 2019 as he had purportedly warned strongly against rising Islamic extremism said to be linked with foreign Islamist military groups such as ISIS.
President Rajapaksa had promised One Country, One Law in his election manifesto, which laid much emphasis on national security, particularly in the wake of the Easter bombings.
The monk also blamed the country’s public officials for the current situation of not passing the required laws that could help the country prevent another ethnic riot.
“We always blame politicians, but public administrative officials should be responsible for 70-80 percent of the current issues,” he said.
The monk said a request for a law on publications to ensure no wrong opinions are created has not been done because of public officials’ dragging their feet on the issue.
“So, it is not the sir who has failed. It is the public officials who have failed,” he said, ostensibly referring to President Rajapaksa who has come to be referred to as ‘sir’ on social media. (Colombo/Nov01/2021)