Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera, a leading Buddhist monk associated with the nationalist movement, shares his views on the current political developments in the country in an interview with Daily Mirror
We are not content with the political situation. I am not referring to the government’s politics only. We cannot be happy about politics being done by the opposition either.
Q Why do you say so?
There is an urgent thing to be done. It is the agitation for elections. The main struggle should be aimed at toppling this government somehow. I do not see any concerted effort being made in that direction. In my view, the most meritorious act to be done is to unseat this government. Buddhists are the majority in this country. Yet, all believe in meritorious acts.
This Government will do anything to stay in power. Other political forces in the country insist elections as means to get into power again. Both the government and the opposition are driven by the craze for power
Q Yet, it is only possible by securing a majority in Parliament. How could it be done?
It has to be planned strategically. We do not divulge strategies in advance.
Q Do you believe it is possible?
If the proper strategies are applied, it is possible.
Q Why do you consider toppling the government as the topmost priority of the opposition at this juncture?
Three years have elapsed after the government was formed in 2015. There is no development in the country taking place. It is difficult for people to eke out their living under the current circumstances. We, as members of the Buddhist clergy, live off meals or alms offered by people. So, we can sense their economic difficulties. The government is held responsible for this economic plight of the people.
There are signs of terrorism raising its ugly head again in the north. Politicians like Vijayakala Maheswaran, C.V. Wigneswaran, M.A. Sumanthiran and R. Sampanthan boost Tamil separatism by making various statements. Their separatist agenda is becoming obvious by the day. This government is held responsible again for it.
Q How do you support your argument that terrorism is rising today?
When the intelligence apparatus is crippled, underground preparations for terrorist activities cannot be traced in advance. Recently, a cache of weapons was seized, while being transported in a three-wheeler in the north. If the intelligence services were operational in full, it could have been detected at the initial stage of its planning. We need not wait till it is transported in a vehicle. That is the advantage of having an intelligence service. Intelligence officers who worked diligently in the past have been penalized now on various charges by the government.
Q As a Buddhist monk, you travelled internationally and lobbied against the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. How do you assess the results you got in this case?
Sri Lanka is always under surveillance by so-called human rights activists because there is a subservient government. In 2009, a section of the international community wanted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stop the war on terror. Nevertheless, he did not give up despite pressure being exerted from international corners. We need to act with a backbone. We should not be servile to any power bloc or nation.
Q The United States moved out of the UNHRC. How do you see it?
The United States did so primarily because the UNHRC did not endorse the activities of Israel. We cannot justify the US’ action on that premise. Yet, the UNHRC becomes a weak body in the absence of the US. So, these human rights lobbyists may not have the same strength to pounce upon the countries.
From that perspective, it is an advantage for us that the US is no longer there with the UNHRC. Otherwise, we cannot condone the US action taken purely in the interests of Israel. If the US did it in protest over the UNHRC double standards towards the countries like ours, we could welcome it. After the US pulled out, then US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap said the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka would prevail.
Q Ambassador Keshap, in a meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders, insisted that Sri Lanka should work out a new Constitution. What is your view?
It amounts to meddling with our internal affairs. How can the US dictate terms in that manner? Sri Lanka is not part of the United States. We should respond in the way the President of the Philippines did to such interference once. The Philippines is a small country like ours. Yet, its leader has a backbone whereas ours don’t.
Today, crimes are on the rise. We see a surge in underworld criminal activities. But the IGP is meditating. The Police should not do meditation in the face of criminal activities. When I say this, I would be criticized. One would question as to how I could oppose to meditation being a Buddhist monk.
What I meant is different. There is a specific task assigned to the Police. Meditation is not something assigned to the Police. The Police should fulfil its duty. If the Police discharges its lawful duty, the underworld will not thrive. Terrorist activities will cease in the north, then. This Government will do anything to stay in power.
Other political forces in the country insist elections as means to get into power again. Both the government and the opposition are driven by the craze for power. We are only asking them to place the country before self
Gotabaya is the best candidate in the greater interests of the country. Lawyers say there are no provable charges against him. The government may be able to take him to remand custody. But, they cannot punish him legally
Q What do you think of the next Presidential Elections?
I have a feeling that the UNP-led forces would field President Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate again. They might field another flanker candidate to engineer a split in the Sinhala Buddhist vote base. We have learnt it from reliable sources. Then, it will be a challenge to a candidate like Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The political forces, supportive of him, are yet to contemplate strategies.
In our view, Gotabaya is the best candidate in the greater interests of the country. Lawyers say there are no proven charges against him. The government may be able to take him to remand custody. But, they cannot punish him legally because there are no legitimate charges. It is difficult for the Police to take action against him under the current circumstances.
If he is nominated as the presidential candidate as soon as possible, it will be advantageous. If the government opts to arrest him, it would then amount to the incarceration of a nominee for the Presidential Election. If he is remanded, he can contest from being behind the bars. Time is ripe for the Joint Opposition to nominate him as the Presidential candidate.
Q Yet, there is an objection to his candidacy according to reports...
Within the Rajapaksa family, there are no splits. I know it for a fact. All will agree to what Mahinda Rajapaksa says. Only he has the experience to do it.
Lawyers say there are no proven charges against him. The government may be able to take him to remand custody. But, they cannot punish him legally because there are no legitimate charges
Q After the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the elections in 2015, an organization led by you undertook a task to bring him back. How do you look at it in retrospect?
We initiated the struggle. The Joint Opposition took it over from us and proceeded. At the local level, we carried out our campaign, though. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won the Local Government polls in February, this year as a direct result of the campaign we initiated. That is the success of that campaign we spearheaded. It is making further gains now.
Q You met with Lord Baron Naseby, a member of the British House of Lords, who spoke for Sri Lanka countering allegations of war crimes. How was that meeting?
The Pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora groups are all powerful in Geneva. It is a long story. The successive Sri Lankan governments, since 1977, maintained stoic silence in the face of the LTTE’s international propaganda.
So, Tamil separatist forces are more powerful than us in this sphere today. They have funding from multiple sources. MP Vijayakala Maheswaran might get a lot of funding because of her statement calling for the revival of the LTTE in recent times. It is a virtual appeal to the Tamil Diaspora asking for funding. Unfortunately, our State intelligence do not get information to this effect today.
Lord Naseby is supportive of us. However, he asked us to build a support base within Sri Lanka for his stand. He said he could ensure further support only when the support base grows in strength here.Without a support base for him in Sri Lanka, it is difficult for him to be a lone voice. The government should have invited him to Sri Lanka soon after he spoke in support of us countering allegations of war crimes. Then, his opinion becomes our opinion. It would deliver a clear message to the international community. Unfortunately, the government holds a different view. The government’s position favours the pro-LTTE diaspora.
If he is nominated as the presidential candidate as soon as possible, it will be advantageous. If the government opts to arrest him, it will then amount to the incarceration of a nominee for the Presidential Election
Q Now, some Sinhala organizations such as Global Sri Lanka Forum carry out propaganda to counter the Tamil Diaspora. How successful it is?
It is continuing.
Q What is your view on the Constitution-Making process?
It is tottering. Let alone, the government has not abandoned it. We continue to protest against the government.