By Visvanath

Anything goes in Sri Lankan politics. There is nary a person or thing that crafty politicians hesitate to use to compass their ends. They do not spare even places of worship and religious leaders to gain political mileage. They frequently visit Buddhist and Hindu temples, churches, mosques and other shrines and obtain maximum possible media coverage. One may recall that following the 2015 government change, the UNP claimed that Abayaramaya in Narahenpita had to be renamed Mahindaramaya because former President Mahinda was using that temple for his campaign to make a comeback. 

One of the so-called ‘Five Great Forces’ or Pancha Maha Balawegaya that the founder of the SLFP, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, harnessed to win elections, was the Maha Sangha, the others being Ayurvedic physicians, teachers, farmers and laborers. He effectively mobilized Buddhist monks more than any other political leader has done in the post-Independence era, and was assassinated by one of them. All political parties have Bhikku wings. The current SLPP Chairman is a Buddhist monk—Ven. Prof. Uthurawala Dhammarathana Thera. The Jathika Hela Urumaya won nine seats in the parliament at the 2004 general election with the help of Buddhist monks.

Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has publicly admitted that Gotabaya Rajapaksa took him for a ride ahead of the last presidential election (2019) by promising to have the Easter Sunday terror attacks thoroughly probed and justice served expeditiously. The prelate said Gotabaya had reneged on that pledge after winning the presidency.

That Gotabaya played a trick on the Cardinal was an open secret. Several other religious leaders have fallen for politicians’ wiles during the past several decades. It may be recalled that the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera said something similar to what the Archbishop of Colombo has said. A few months after the 2015 regime change, Maduluwawe Thera flayed President Maithripala Sirisena for not fulfilling the promises the latter had made, such as introducing far-reaching constitutional changes and bringing those who had helped themselves to state funds to justice and usher in good governance. Speaking at a public meeting, Sobitha Thera said Sirisena had to make rotis while the griddle was hot instead of using it to warm himself. If he had not passed away, he would have taken on Sirisena politically. In fact, he reportedly told his close associates that he was planning to launch a campaign against President Sirisena after leaving hospital, but he died a few days later. However, the Cardinal took on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Why Cardinal Ranjith turned hostile towards the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government over the Easter Sunday attacks is understandable. The betrayal of trust could be extremely hurtful. The Cardinal has placed himself in the crosshairs of the rivals of the SLPP by saying that Gotabaya deceived him. UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara lost no time in claiming that by allowing himself to be taken for a ride, the Cardinal had helped  those who ruined the country, the implication of his claim being that the blame for the untold suffering the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government inflicted on the public should be apportioned to the Cardinal as well. Interestingly, UNP Leader President Ranil Wickremesinghe is leading and defending the very persons whom Bandara accuses of having brought about the ruination of the country! It was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who appointed Wickremesinghe Prime Minister in 2022, paving the way for the latter’s elevation to the executive presidency a few months later.  

The Opposition parties are making the most of the situation. They are falling over themselves to assure the Cardinal and the Catholic Church that they will order a high-level probe into the Easter Sunday killings, as a national priority, in case of being able to form the next government. The SJB has given a written assurance to the Cardinal that it will have a fresh probe conducted into the Easter Sunday terrorist bombing if it is voted into office. The SJB has undertaken to appoint a special Commission of Inquiry for that purpose, and a team of President’s Counsel is already doing the preliminary work, and the Commission to be appointed will consist of seven to nine members, including two international judges. Not to be outdone, the JVP-led NPP, on April 18, handed over a seven-point action plan to the Cardinal, spelling out how a future NPP government will have justice served to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks.

SJB MP Kavinda Jayawardene took a swipe at the NPP, which, he said, had politicized the Easter Sunday tragedy. But the SJB can also be accused of trying to gain political mileage out of the tragedy by making promises to have it probed thoroughly and the masterminds behind it brought to justice. There is hardly anything that is not politicized in this country.

Police investigations into the Easter Sunday terror attacks have been dragging on for five years, and they are not likely to be concluded in the foreseeable future. In a bid to have the public believe that the police investigations are on, the CID, on Friday (19), recorded a statement from Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando, who is a member of the Communication Committee of the Archdiocese of Colombo, on the Easter Sunday attacks. Fr. Fernando, who edits the Catholic Church’s Sinhala weekly, Gnanartha Pradeepaya, told the press, while on his way out of the CID headquarters, that he had provided some vital information about the tragedy to the CID, but he did not expect the police to act on it. He said the Church had revealed everything it knew about the 2019 terror attacks to the police, and what was needed was for them to act.

What has stood in the way of identifying the masterminds behind the Easter Sunday attacks is not a dearth of information but the absence of political will on the part of the incumbent government. Maithripala Sirisena, on whose presidential watch the Easter Sunday carnage occurred, has sought to muddy the water in a bid to deflect criticism and save his skin. There is no guarantee that even if a party other than the SLPP, the UNP and the SLFP happens to form a government in the future, the police will get to the bottom of the 2019 terror attacks. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the Easter Sunday carnage, has recommended legal action against several police high rankers, including incumbent IGP Deshabandu Tennakoon. Whether the Cardinal will take the aforesaid assurances from the Opposition politicians and run the risk of being taken for another ride again remains to be seen.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here