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Government Gazette

The JHU, from pressure group to Cabinet



JHU Parliamentary
Group leader Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera
Environment Minister
Patali Champika Ranawaka

COMMENT: “A horrible scenario” was how the then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge described the emergence of the political affiliation of a group of Buddhist monks to contest the Sri Lankan General Election held in April 2003.

She had these comments published during a course of press interview she held in India on the announcement made by the monks, albeit on the day of nominations to the election.

In order to overcome the electioneering requirements, the new political affiliation adopted the registration of the Sihala Urumaya, a party registered three years ago, changing its name to Jathiika Hela Urumaya.

Even though the leaders of the new party had some sense of environmentally sustainable economic policies and social justice based on Buddhist teachings, the party essentially campaigned as pressure group impressing the voters of ‘the need to rescue the country from the clutches of terrorism’ to restore its territorial integrity and the people’s sovereignty.

‘At least once in your lifetime cast your vote to save your country’ was the main campaign theme of the JHU in April 2003.

The rag tag party finally ended up in polling 10 per cent of the polity electing eight members to the State assembly in a matter of days. This was phenomenal when compared against the 35 per cent polled by the UNP, the oldest political party with a record of a 32 year reign.

Further when analyzed against the Sri Lankan voting pattern since independence, this was a feat unmatched in the history of democratic politics in the country where an impregnable two party system hitherto appealed to the political consciousness of the people, alternatively, often leaving no room for a third political force.

What is more significant is that the majority of the JHU vote came from urban areas where the voters were politically more educated on contemporary issues than from the rural areas where they vote more on lines of loyalty to traditional parties.

The impact of JHU would have been far greater if not for the bashing it received from prominent journalist identifying themselves as Sinhalese Buddhist, oscillating the whole issue of priest contesting, from controversial to a conspiracy against Buddhism.

The fact that JHU polled so many votes with a very modest campaign trail is a pointer to the existence of a political cause among the majority Sinhalese that can no longer be accommodated by the existing Government/Opposition political polarisation at the time.

In other words the voters had recognised that the 10 year dilly dallying between Ranil and Chandrika, the most internationally bound two leaders of post independent Sri Lanka, has pushed the country to a point where it has to fight to save itself from the national denigration and the mire of international interference.

For two decades the discerning majority of the country watched with dismay the interest and the very position of the majority being betrayed, rock stock and barrel, by the very leaders they entrusted political power with, before the altar of peace for the satisfaction of that ‘sacrosanct’ international community.

Ironically enough this sacrilege had been carried on, for far too long, despite the exposure of the dubious intentions of this ‘International community’, to the detriment of all Sri Lankan be they majority or the minority. It was Chandrika who started the rot by announcing , nationally and internationally that the Tamil community has been persecuted since independence and she would soon put things right.

That way she not only justified a questionable Tamil cause but also approved the violent means used by Tamil terrorists in their quest which had claimed around 30,000 lives up to that time. The NGO lobby was behind her in one voice eulogizing her facile liberal political philosophy. Her knowledge of the Sri Lankan history only stretched up to 1983 July.

She either did not know or did not want to know that the Sinhalese have been subjected to the most unjust governance by three colonial powers, i.e. the Portuguese, Dutch and the British for 400 years and in the context of historical grievances the Sinhalese had a much longer lists than the Tamils.

The NGO lobby too kept on reminding of the July 83 events and used them as blanket cover to justify all the organised human killings and other heinous crimes perpetrated by the LTTE on the Sri Lankan society. It was also politically expedient for Chandrika to keep the UNP out of power as July 83 took place under the UNP regime.

Hence the political opportunism of Chandrika and the dubious agendas of the NGO’s complimented each other, giving Prabhakaran license to kill in the process. In order to entice the NGO publicity and funds Ranil too changed his position vis a vis the LTTE.

Consequently Ranil and Chandrika were so obsessed with ‘internationalism’ to an extent where they were blind even to the reality that they could not be international leaders without having a nation to lead.

The Sinhalese stood accused in the International forums sans counsel and even those who were duty bound to defend them choosing to remain silent for their own personal agendas.

The political equation of the country then was that there was a racial party to represent the parochial interest of every significant minority in the country with two other parties that claimed to represent ‘no single community’ but thrived on the Sinhala vote but patronised the racial parties, against the interest of the majority, when it was in the party’s advantage to do so.

The thinking of the UNP and the SLFP leadership appeared to be that, since the Sinhalese had no other party to vote they are compelled to split the Sinhala vote on party loyalty lines among the two parties and then the minority vote will decide who would gain even a slender lead at election time.

In a political milieu where capturing state power was the sole criterion no values and principles were too sacred not to be compromised.

In Sri Lanka the Buddhist priest have had influence the course of the country’s governance from the times of the Sinhala kings. This tradition was broken with advent of the colonialist but revived with the peoples renaissance in 1956.

Yet with the proclivity of the ‘post independence’ politicians to patronise the more familiar and convenient Anglicized socio economic thinking, the indigenous Buddhist monks eventually became ‘rubber stamps’ in the hands of the organised party politics.

If not for the convictions and the sense of foreboding of the JHU priest, an easier course of action for them would have been to become an ornament on the political platform of one party or the other.

Given the antipathy with which the organised and the more established political parties treated the JHU during the campaign and on the aftermath, it was obvious that they perceived the JHU philosophy to be a serious threat to their traditional vote banks..

While the murderous LTTE was molly coddled as the liberators with a worthy cause the democratically elected JHU was labeled as ‘extremists’ and denigrated at the drop of a hat and then considered as the main obstacle to much eulogized peace process.

The members of the CBK Government did not spare even physical assault in an attempt to get the ‘horrible scenario’ out of the political way. Even though CBK described the monks entering party politics as a horrible scenario, her alliance that was in power already had a monk elected to the Parliament through popular vote. Such was the skewed logic that characterised her entire tenure of mis-governance.

In fact the political philosophy propounded by the JHU was nothing new to the Sri Lankan polity. It was SWRD Bandaranaike, the founder of the SLFP who rendered political leadership to pent up indigenous aspirations in 1956.

Unleashing of these forces proved too much to bear, first for the anglicised elite who ruled the country up to then , for the Church that wanted to preserve the status quo, and for the left politics that became superfluous in the light of Bandaranaike’s center left policies.

Their revulsion to the Bandaranaike policies found a new ally in the disgruntled Tamil minority who up to 1948 considered themselves to be the ‘heir apparent’ to the British Raj.

It was these elements of vested interest that worked to reverse the Bandaranaike’s renaissance of the under privileged indigenous forces. After SWRD, Mrs. Bandaranaike not only carried forward his policies but also meteoroid Sri Lanka to an impregnable position in foreign relations.

Chandrika, after winning the election on the SLFP ticket disowned the policies of the founders of the party. She superimposed on the SLFP her ex-husband’s SLMP policies and her own politically expedient theories.

The very forces that attempted to distract the Bandaranaike policies became her staunchest allies. It was ultra liberalism and anti nationalism that ruled the toast during her tenure.

She however, derived her strength to survive in politics for 11 years mainly from the weaknesses of her pusillanimous political enemy Ranil. It was to this national political vacuum that the SLFP abdicated under Chandrika’s leadership that the JHU walked in.

The P-TOMs, brought forward in the guise of rehabilitating the tsunami victims, was Chandrika’s last attempt to circumvent the establishment to appease the LTTE. At the Development forum of donors convened to address the tsunami devastation Ven. Rathana Thera of the JHU made himself an intruder to tell the International Community, the dangers of appeasing the armed terror while marginalising the democratic forces in a country.

After the Supreme Court of the country declared the P-TOMS illegal, even the donor countries realised that in any case the laws in their own countries would have precluded them from contributing to a mechanism where a banned terror organisation was a partner.

Chandrika was elected to a two Presidential tenure which would have been 12 years in time duration. But because she advanced the election and the swearing in ceremony by an year after her first term there was an element of doubt as to the commencement of her second Presidential term. However, Chandrika and her cronies were confident that she could be in power till the end of 2006.

The JHU however realised that every year under Chandrika means economic, social and moral degradation for the country and took the initiative to petition the Supreme Court demanding a clarification on the period of completion of her term. The historic judgment delivered on the JHU petition unnerved her more than anything her political rivals could have contemplated against her.

She hadn’t thought of ending the best enterprise of her life, politics, just like that. She wanted to change the constitution to revert back to the Westminster system, so that she could reign as the Premier for the rest of her life. The unexpected judgment changed all that and exited her from politics. The ‘horrible scenario’ had dealt the most devastating blow on her political career.

Mahinda Rajapaksa had been a somewhat uncomfortable passenger in Chadrika’s ship. His political ideology was that of the old Bandaranaike’s. Although Mahinda was the senior most party stalwart he was not in the limelight of Chandrika’s rule and he only survived the 11 years without earning her wrath.

Chandrika had no alternative but to name him the Presidential candidate because of the backing he had in the party and also because he happened to be the Prime Minister under her during that insignificant two year period from April 2003.

He became the Prime Minister because he happened to be the Leader of the Opposition, a post he was compelled to accept, when the SLFP went in to opposition in 2001. It was always Mahinda who shielded the party when in defeat. Hence it was a chance of circumstances and not the choice of the leader that made Mahinda the Presidential candidate.

Accepting the nationalist JHU and the pro worker JVP to the party fold was not a compromise for the SLFP or for Mahinda as he too believed in national renaissance and the welfare of the workers. He was not interested in bargaining for the support of the CWC and the Muslim Congress and hence Ranil wooed them with better concessionary promises.

Mahinda went to Jaffna during the course of his campaign and stood in the heart of the town and declared that he will not allow the country to be decimated. That is a far cry from Chandrika’s westernised suave political chicanery.

True to her form, Chandrika entered in to a secret pact with her hitherto arch political rival Ranil, only to ensure the defeat of the SLFP at the Presidential elections. As a result Mahinda’s campaign in 2005 was spear-headed by the JVP and the JHU and not the SLFP. Considering the fact that Mahinda’s margin of victory was marginal, the JHU support would have been all the more crucial in ensuring his victory.

Since the assumption of office by the new President, the country has been put on a course in line with the JHU thinking.

True, the new President needs time to pull it out from the cog mire it had been allowed to slide in to by the leaders with a better appeal to the west.

The JHU is aware of the vicissitudes of Sri Lankan politics and how arduous it would be to capture state power on its own. Moreover, the way things were happening it appeared as if the days of the Sri Lankan nation were numbered in the hands of leaders like Ranil and Chandrika.

Hence in a political climate where the UNP is trying to salvage itself and the JVP eclipsed in its own ideology, the JHU should have no compunction in accepting a cabinet portfolio and co-operating with the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government.

May be because the JHU had been able to influence the course of events that determined the future of this country to its own satisfaction and see no other option in the interest of the country right at this moment.

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