As we enter into the election year and matters get serious we can see a battle being waged for the Sinhala Right-Wing vote.
Why this battle has been launched needs to be looked at.
As it stands the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) looks like the party to beat at the Presidential poll because under Mahinda Rajapaksa it is the inheritor of the ultra-Nationalist mantle.
After all, Mahinda slew the Prabhakaran Dragon.
Rajapaksa, and whomever he anoints as the Presidential candidate will bear the banner of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.
That candidate will work on the theory that by consolidating the majority vote the SLPP nominee will get the magic 50+1 to become the next President of the Republic come January 8, 2020.
To consolidate the majority vote, it is necessary to unite the divided majority and what better way to do that than build a bogey for them to fear.
Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists built this fear among the Germans towards the Jews.
The Jews were painted as usurious hoarders, getting rich at the expense of the hardworking Germans.
The Nazis built a mythical “Aryan” identity for themselves, complete with Blonde hair and Blue eyes.
Hitler himself did not have those characteristics.
The Nazis started by boycotting Jewish businesses, eventually confiscating their wealth and slaughtering more than six million men, women and children.
Monks want Buddhist leaders to be like Nazis
Some of the SLPP supporters are happy with this link to the Nazis.
Some months ago a leading Buddhist Monk, an Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter called on the presumptive SLPP Presidential candidate and Rajapaksa’s feared younger brother Gotabaya to “be a Hitler.”
Ven Vendaruwe Upali Thero, saying that some people call Gotabaya a Hitler, suggested that if that is the case he should be one and build the nation. ‘What we need is a leadership that has the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa and is linked with Buddhism, the Buddhist Order and the Sinhalese.”
In the past week, we have seen the emergence of three different groups with a similar agenda to paint the Muslims as a threatening “other” and rally Sinhala Buddhists behind them.
They are the National Freedom Front a key component of the SLPP which is led by the openly racist Wimal Weerawansha, a keen promoter of Gotabaya Rajapaksa; the Right-Wing Buddhist group the Bodu Bala Sena led by Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero; and the group led by the Independent Member of Parliament, another demagogue Athureliye Rathana Thero.
Weerawansha’s group held a rally at Nugegoda on July 4, which they billed as an “Anti-Wahabi rally,” but was rabidly anti-Muslim.
Weerawansha began by saying that his party was in solidarity with “mainstream Muslims who are being attacked by Wahabi extremism.”
He described Wahabism as a cult that goes against the cultural norms of Sri Lanka. He said his party was in solidarity with those Muslims who are against child-brides and the young Muslim UNP worker shot by extremists and is now paralyzed.
He pointed out correctly that these extremists had threatened the Muslims who prayed at shrines to Sufi Saints. This is a phenomenon seen in all of South Asia.
But he presented a thesis filled with half-truths which ended with an absurd conclusion.
He started with the truth that Zaharan Hashim the extremist who led the Easter Sunday bombings supported the candidacy of Maithripala Sirisena in 2015.
Then he veered off into dubious territory saying that the government allowed Zaharan to bring arms into the country.
In rushing to his conclusion Weerawansha said that he was certain the current government signed the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the United States giving that country’s Security Forces access to Sri Lankan territory as part of a grand plan.
He said the Easter attacks were aimed at creating civil unrest in Sri Lanka. “They were expecting the Sinhalese and the Muslims to kill each other. Then they could bring in their armies and take over the country. Unfortunately for them, that did not happen.”
The truth is far from this. The ACSA deal was signed by the previous regime in 2007 by the then Secretary to the Ministry of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa and then US Ambassador Robert Blake in 2007.
But we can be certain that this lie will be “repeated a thousand times,” like Joseph Goebbels the Nazi propaganda minister did to make it a truth.
If there is some space for minorities in Weerawansha’s dispensation, in the Bodu Bala Sena’s vision there’s none.
A few weeks ago at a press conference held in Rajagiriya, Gnanasara had promised to bring “ten thousand Monks to Kandy and begin a Sinhala movement that will be bigger than 1956,” referring to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s electoral victory that for the first time brought in a Sinhala Nationalist government into power under S W R D Bandaranaike.
In Kandy last Sunday the BBS filled the capacious Bogambara stadium with nearly ten thousand people, but there were half as much Monks as promised.
Still, it was an impressive show and would have cost his sponsors many millions of rupees for stadium costs, bussing people in from all corners of the country and processions and such.
Gnanasara told the gathering that he would “build a Sinhala Parliament that would enable the Sinhala people to decide policy and laws as they wished” which he said was important to take the country forward.
He insisted that Parliaments where “minority political parties typically have some bargaining power was detrimental to taking forward national plans.”
The Thero expressed confidence that by harnessing the power of at least seven thousand of the ten thousand temples in the country he could bring together the Sinhala population into one voting bloc, to elect a party with a clear majority in Parliament which did not have to depend on minority voters.
The Third player in the fight for the Sinhala Right, Athureliye Rathana is now an independent Member of Parliament and does not appear to have the following or the resources at the command of Gnanasara and Weerawansha.
But he has nuisance value.
For instance, he has been vociferous in the case of the Muslim House Officer in the Kurunegala Hospital who some Sinhala Buddhist women accuse of rendering them infertile during surgery he was performing on them.
He has been the most stridently racist of the three, accusing Muslims of killing people who left their faith and harassing a young woman who had married a non-Muslim.
Gnanasara who was serving a lengthy sentence for contempt of court was pardoned and released by President Sirisena several months ago. It came at a time when tension between the Muslim and Sinhala communities was high in the wake of the Easter bombings.
It is no secret that Sirisena released Gnanasara into a volatile situation to counter Rathana. But up to now, Gnanasara has not given any indication that he is backing Sirisena for a second term in office or supporting any particular political formation.
Watareka Vijitha Thero is seen by the Right-Wingers as a “friend of Muslims.” Gnanasara has dismissed him as “Mohamed” Vijitha and was once accused of actually assaulting his fellow Monk.
Vijitha Thero says that it is not possible to form a government that is made up solely of Sinhalese. “Even if it is possible setting up a government of that nature is dangerous to the country,” he warns.
The moderate Monk also challenges the three groups to come together on one platform. “At a time when these people who are saying that Sinhala Buddhists are divided, demoralized, and facing danger, without bringing them together, they are trying to create a huge wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country.”
“I challenge these people, those who staged the anti-Wahabist rally in Nugegoda, the Bodu Bala Sena group which staged their rally in Kandy and Rathana Thero to come together on one stage.”
In a recent interview released on YouTube, Vijitha says he hopes “in 2020 the government that will be established will be one that will bring Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all communities together.”
He called these Right-Wing groups destructive and dangerous and warned Buddhists against supporting them.
“Don’t desecrate the White clothes that you are wearing to these meetings. They are not Buddhists, they are trying to set fire to the country.”
As the polls draw nearer will these groups come together or continue to compete, becoming more and more racist deepening the divisions in our society?
It is up to the voter to take a rational look at the rhetoric coming from the parties and make informed choices to preserve the unity and integrity of our society.