Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 17 June 2012





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Government Gazette

Bhikkhus always represent national interest - Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera

At a time when the bhikkhus’ Parliamentary representation has become a very controversial issue in the country, the Sunday Observer interviewed JHU Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera for his views.

Forthright and composed, but very much alive to the changing dynamics of the situation Ven. Rathana Thera said since colonial era up to date, Sri Lanka could be proud of the bhikkhus who had fearlessly raised their voice and stood for national freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The JHU represents such bhikkhus.

Therefore, UNP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe through a mere Parliamentary bill cannot deprive this historical and national heritage jealously guarded by the bhikkhus. The bhikkhus under the JHU banner contested at the 2004 General Election and ventured into active politics in the national interest.

The Thera said that prominent bhikkhus such as Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera sought no permission from the Mahanayakes to engage in the five public religious debates while Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera pulled down and trampled the Union Jack without consulting Mahanayakes. As bhikkhus they represented the national interest. Actually the JHU also belongs to the bhikkhus of such disposition. It is a downright lie that the JHU politics have promoted communalism. There is no communal basis whatsoever for the JHU policies. It is only Buddhism that could lay the foundation for a harmonious and peaceful co-existence for all communities in Sri Lanka. The JHU is fully committed to unite all communities.

Ven. Rathana Thera said that the JHU described the Budget 2007 as the one meant to protect the country from terrorism. Even the media reported the attempts by some foreign embassies to buy over both the Government and the Opposition MPs. They also tried similar tactics to buy over the JHU Parliamentarians.

Q: What are your views on the private members motion by UNP Parliamentarian and BASL President Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe on banning the clergy from representing the Parliament?

A: If one looks at history, one could see there were Bhikkus who fought to protect the Buddha Sasana and safeguard the motherland from the time of the advent of colonialism in the country. For example prominent Bhikkus such as Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera, Ven. Giranegama Chandrajothi Thera, Ven. Udakendawala Saranankara Thera, Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera and Ven. Yakkaduwe Pannarama Thera, were not Maha Nayakes. Ven. Chandrajothi Thera gave leadership to the 1848 rebellion. None of these bhikkhus were Mahanayakes. Therefore, since colonial era up to date, we have bhikkhus who fearlessly raised their voice and stood up for national freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Today we represent that Bhikkhu generation. Wijedasa Rajapaksha through a mere Parliamentary bill cannot deprive us of our historical and national heritage. We contested the election without the concurrence of Mahanayakes. Some of the Mahanayakes invoked blessings on us while the other remained silent. That is why we contested the election which was a national requirement.

If I am to comment on what made MP Rajapakshe move this motion, I would say that he speaks about the JHU bhikkhus with much hatred. He has said that we have built temples like palatial mansions. Now you are doing this interview in my temple. Therefore you can see whether this is a temple or palace as claimed by the MP. I hope you can witness our simple lifestyle in the temple. As a parliamentarian, I used an old car for over six years bought for Rs. 1.35 million.

Wijedasa Rajapaksa says he moved this motion with the objective of safeguarding “Sambuddha Sasana”. If the JHU bhikkhus resign from their Parliamentary seats, will the “Sambuddha Sasana” be safe? The country was rescued from the clutches of the LTTE terrorism because of the JHU. It is true that President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the leadership to win the war against terrorism. Had there been a deficit of 85,000 votes, the President would not have been voted to power in 2005.

The JHU helped the President to come to power. It was the JHU which gave the leadership to elect a dynamic leader needed by the country to defeat terrorism. We described the budget 2007 as the one which rescued the country from terrorism. Even the media reported the attempts by some foreign embassies to buy over both the Government and the Opposition MPs. They used similar tactics to buy over the JHU Parliamentarians as well.

If the JHU also did the same, this Government would have been toppled in 2007. The budget was passed by a majority of mere one vote. However, the newspapers during the month of the budget debate revealed a conspiracy being hatched by some Western embassies here to topple the Government. Today the people have forgotten these things. It was Wijedasa Rajapaksha who gave leadership to that conspiracy.

Q: What is the advantages of having Bhikkhu MPs in Parliament?

A: Bhikkhus in large numbers entered politics in 2004 as it had been a national requirement due to the situation in the country at that time. Today we have forgotten it. Terrorism was completely defeated on May 19, 2009. We could witness the number of bombs exploded countrywide and other atrocities committed by LTTE terrorists causing the loss of lives of thousands of innocent civilians and many intellectuals and politicians during the initial stages of operation against terrorists. It looked like as if we were enacting a horror drama during those years.

Everybody had been affected by the Tamil communalist opinion which promoted the concepts such as Tamil homeland in the North and the East, self-determination and the federal structure. Even former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had also agreed to certain conditions.

This was also a time during which attempts had been made to convert the Buddhists to other religions. Specially Buddhist monks were forced to enter politics by the LTTE terrorism. As a result, we had to enter politics. Some people question as to what we have done in politics? In our efforts to defeat terrorism, we had to face many hardships and obstacles. As bhikkhus we played a leading role in overcoming such challenges.

Q: Has the JHU been able to guide or influence the Government when it took certain steps that could have been perhaps detrimental to the society or our social values?

A:During the period from 2005 to 2009, we had become a key force which could even guide the Government. It is however questionable whether the JHU has the same strength to today. As in the case of many national movements, this can be explained as a transitory stage. However, we have been able to influence the Government. We think we should exert more influence on Government. Instead of toppling the Government, the public opinion could guide it on the proper direction.

Q: One Minister had said recently that taverns should be opened in every village. What is your view on this and such other matters?

A: If a Cabinet Minister had said so his statement has its impact not only to his own electorate but also to the whole country. Therefore, he has spoken against the Government’s policy. This may not be a problem for him alone at the level of national politics. But this is a very damaging statement which affects the Government policies and its national interest.

Q: Several prominent bhikkhus have stressed the need for a Sangayana to safeguard the future of the Theravada Buddhism. Your comments?

A: This is high time to herald a religious renaissance in the country rather than conduct only a Sangayana. The word, Sangayana implies a different meaning covering a series of issues pertaining to Buddhism. Sambuddha Sasana should be converted into one Sangha Sabha for the future survival of Buddha Sasana by meeting the current challenges. At present there are more than 30 nikayas and some nikayas have been formed on various castes. This is an absurd situation and time is opportune to change this.

As bhikkhus it should be our responsibility to address this issue within the next 10 years or so. I think my age may not be still mature enough to fulfil such a task. We are all Buddha’s disciples without going by nikaya traditions. It is true that the nikaya tradition has a historical background.

It is time to rectify these shortcomings. I am ashamed to call as one belonging to Siyam or Ramanna or Amarapura nikaya. It should be called, Sri Lanka Sangha Sabha. Unfortunately there is no proper Bhikkhu leadership for the Sasana. Initiatives have to be taken to create such leadership within the next 10 years or so.

Q: Dharma Rajjaya, was the main political objective of the JHU when it ventured into politics. How far you have progressed in this direction?

A: This was our motto when we ventured into politics. Nobody ever asked the JVP or LSSP whether they were able to form their socialist State? At the outset, they said that they would form a Government of socialist outlook.

However, good social reforms have been introduced to the country due to certain progressive policies of these political parties in the past. The country’s leftist movement had played a prominent role in education and health sectors.

But if we ask them whether they had been able to form a socialist state, it is clear that it has not happened. Forming Dharma Rajjaya is also like that.

Over one billion of the world population is suffering from starvation. What is perhaps at issue is whether the globe will survive for another 50 years. The Rio conference will be held in Brazil in few days time. Dharma Rajjaya should be first promoted in Asian Buddhist countries and throughout the world later. Therefore the validity of our concept has become much more important today. It is time to change the society based on the doctrine of Buddha.

Q: Some sections of the JHU have been accused of being behind certain incidents of religious disharmony such as threatening mosques etc. Is the JHU involved in or does it in any way condone these incidents?

A: I categorically deny it. The JHU set up a Hindu- Buddhist Association two years ago. During this post conflict scenario, attempts should be made to promote mutual co-existence and inter-cultural relationship between Sinhala and Tamil communities. We alone have made that attempt. As a political party, the JHU has done its job towards achieving this goal.

The JHU was never involved in creating religious disharmony. Actually this type of incidents could have been prevented due to the existence of a movement such as JHU which consists of a social segment of intellectual Sinhala Buddhists. For example, if we too had become emotional such as those in India, what would have happened when Sri Dalada Maligawa was attacked by the terrorists? That did not happen as our national movement was spearheaded by an intellectual social segment. As a result, the Sinhala community was not misled despite the communal pressure exerted by certain minority groups. We say with a sense of responsibility that the attempts by some extremists failed as we gave leadership to defeat such conspiracies.

Q: For certain parties with vested interest, both local and international, LLRC recommendations have become a stalking horse. Does the JHU support these recommendations wholesale or on selective basis?

A: When the LLRC report was released, the JHU categorically said that the report had gone beyond its mandate. They have no right to speak about a political solution. They have the right only to say that there is a need for a political solution. Another grave mistake in the LLRC report is that it has not properly analysed the atrocities committed by the LTTE during the past 30 years and the international pressure exerted on us.

When the LLRC report was being prepared this issue had not been highlighted at the national level and the information disseminated properly. For example, the impact of the Indo-Lanka agreementand the intervention whether by India up to the period of 1987 have not been highlighted in the LLRC report. It has recommended a political solution by exceeding its mandate.

Therefore, the JHU has already made its recommendations on the LLRC report. Since the West has alleged that war crimes have been committed, we wanted to prepare a report refuting those allegations. That is why the LLRC was set up. At present the LLRC report is used as a wrong approach.

Q: Some foreign elements justified LTTE terrorism as a response to the so-called Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. Is there any truth in this?

A: Is there any country in the world where its natives have no sense of patriotism? Any person in any country has a sense of patriotism. Minorities in any country also have their own problems and issues. In most of the countries, minorities respect the main culture in that country. If somebody lives in US, he should speak in English and respect its culture.

The situation in Sri Lanka is same. The most important thing is that patriotism should not be used in a manner to harm any community. My patriotism or religious ideology should not cause fear to any other religious community. Therefore, patriotism and indigenous feelings are essential components. This is the common aspiration. We should have a sense of patriotism for our country.

Q: There is an allegation that the JHU politics are communal-minded. How do you explain this?

A: Sri Lanka is a democratic country. It is a downright lie that the JHU politics have promoted communalism. There is no communal basis whatsoever for the JHU policies. It is only Buddhism that could lay the foundation for harmonious and peaceful co-existence of all communities in Sri Lanka. We are fully committed to unite all communities.

Q: What is JHU’s stand on devolution of power? Should not it be the decentralisation of economic powers to strengthen the periphery?

A: Who needs power? It is really the people who need power. If something is to be done in a particular village, the views of the people in that village are obtained. Actually it is necessary to implement the people’s power by way of formulating a structure which could enable the people to make political decisions up to Pradeshiya Sabha level. Although it is obvious that the orders given from the top are implemented at the bottom, no methodology has been created to channel the decisions reached at the bottom to the top. Our position is that there should be a mechanism to devolve the administrative powers down to the Pradeshiya Sabhas at village level.

Power should in fact be given to the people, not to the communities. The devolution of power based on communities is a wrong concept.

When we talk about the decentralisation of economic powers, farmers should have independence to engage in cultivation. Do they have such independence today? At present several companies have asked farmers to use various pesticides. Poverty continue as a result of not managing the economy properly. Finally poverty turns into racism. It is our responsibility to present a comprehensive economic program to the country, based on decentralising power down to the grass roots level.

Q: Always people are asked to make sacrifices in the interest of the country. How about politicians taking the lead?

A: Definitely politicians should make sacrifices. We should formulate a plan to rebuild the country. The people should be educated on the targets to be achieved by the Government within a period of five years. Then the people will get ready for those targets.

They should save the local reserves. We should study the manner how the national wealth goes out to foreign countries. For example we spend Rs.300 billion for food imports. If we want to save this, we should encourage the people in that direction. Before increasing the price of a packet of milk powder, we should have told the people of the true purpose behind such increases. The people should be encouraged to get fresh milk. If we can set this example to the people, there will be no need to import milk powder. The Government has not been able to properly educate the people on its objectives. At present dairy farmers have been subjected to the monopoly of the multinational companies.

We don’t need companies to supply fresh milk. At present the people find it difficult to purchase fresh milk in their respective areas.

The people who buy powdered milk may think that an unnecessary burden has been put on them due to increased prices of imported milk powder.

We should educate the people on similar lines to save electricity as well. If electricity rates are increased without educating the people, they would view it as an unnecessary burden on them. The Government should educate the people by setting targets.


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