Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith seems to be loving the limelight and the glow, however spooky, of politics. I have pointed out before how His Eminence has a penchant for popping up in public affairs when he shouldn’t and avoiding intervention when he should intervene. In terms of timing and appropriateness His Eminence doesn’t fare well.
This time, the Archdiocese in Colombo has, perhaps, realised the Cardinal needs defence and it issues a statement refuting Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s charge. That isn’t enough to cover what seems evidently clear was an intervention that should have been avoided.
Our Cardinal should have not rushed to pay his respects to the fasting Rev. Athuraliye
Firstly, the Cardinal violated a sense of protocol. The incident was pretty, prosaic and ordinary with no high level involvement at all. The protocol at Cardinal level is on general par with the Mahanayakes, the President and Prime Minister.
Such protocol can be set aside for interventions of a universally humane nature like caring for the sick. It is pertinent to know that even the Malwatte Chapter had not given their blessings to the monk who chose the doorstep of the great temple to ‘fast unto death’.
Not a single of the other Mahanayakes took any notice. Buddhist organisations ignored. Not a single respected public figure had come to exhibit solidarity. Yet, here we see our Cardinal hopping there, and worse, making a political speech.
Besides, Sri Lankans don’t take fasts-unto-death seriously because, as Wimal Weerawansa dramatised some years back under Rajapaksa rule, these fasters have no intention of dying. So it was with Rev. Athuraliye.
Rev. Athuraliye Rathana
I deliberately refer to this monk with the prefix ‘reverend’, because he is a well-ordained and educated monk with a record of excellent personal behaviour and a mentor to many in the past. Rev. Rathana has himself ordained many a monk local and foreign who speak well of the ‘guru’.
That was his past. His sojourn, later, into the shit world of Sri Lankan politicians was a case of sleeping with the dogs and getting ticks on the body.
Even in politics, however, we cannot forget his role in forcefully breaking into the Mavil Aru Dam that had been blocked by Prabhakaran. While even Mahinda and his men got cold feet, Rev. Athuraliye forced the rupture of the dam in order to let the water flow into the thousands of acres of paddy. This incident was really the trigger point of the war that even Mahinda preferred avoiding at that time.
Politics and its untruth has soiled a good monk. The potential for power has aroused a natural greed that, as remarked by the Buddha, that we men and women do innately possess. This is where this monk now is. He has switched parties from UPFA to UNP and now he seems to be in limbo searching for opportunities. He has been looking for causes and now he has got one.
The Cardinal’s Office
This is an office at the top level of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a position whose incumbent must at all times hold with dignity and without space for ordinary people to call in question and spit on. Our Cardinal had also been picked by Rome to join the small cluster of Cardinals who had to select the last Pope. What a sacrosanct position!
On this occasion, it was not an ordinary citizen but a senior Minister matured in politics for many, many years who felt himself impelled to complain about Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
Mangala Samaraweera is no Wimal Weerawansa or Gammanpila. He speaks forthrightly, but after much thought. He is the one who recently had the courage to state that Sri Lanka is not a ‘Sinhala Buddhist country’.
Mangala has at all times been beyond communalism, advocating a Lanka that belongs to all its inhabitants. He is not a cheap politician who has a bent for populism. He is a Minister who has excelled in every job assigned to him. Mangala loves to drive home the truth, as he sees it. He has never robbed ever and this is rare for Lankan pollies.
In this instance, Mangala tweeted the papal office about what he saw as an action by the Cardinal that can be interpreted as one giving an impetus to the firming of gathering communalist sentiments in the country, particularly at a time when racism has been engineered on a wide scale by political forces.
I cannot see how the statement of the Archdiocese can call Mangala in question. The Archdiocese statement, as reported in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, asserts that His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith visited the fasting monk because he read the latter’s action as one “on behalf of the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks demanding the expediting of the outcome of the investigations that are underway and the removal from office of two governors and a Cabinet Minister who are alleged to have had close ties with those responsible for extremist terrorist activities in Sri Lanka”.
Archdiocese statement misleads
I am afraid the Archdiocese’ defence misleads. The fast had been only with one demand and that is that the two governors and Cabinet Ministers be removed forthwith. The monk gave 24 hours’ notice to the Government and then started the fast. Now, all these three persons in public office were Muslim. The monk demanded that they be removed without even an investigation.
Why no investigation? Because they were Muslim? How else can anybody with common sense read this?
Contextual background very pertinent
Furthermore, it is very pertinent to take an account of the contextual background of the fast. In the background was the widespread arousal of anti-Muslim emotions. Muslim shops in Kandy and in many towns of the country had to close down depriving these traders and their workers of their livelihood. Sinhala Buddhist mafia jingoism was on the march.
Ven. Gnanasara was breathing fire and we all know he had a dark history of allegations of lashing Muslims. Gnanasara announced that if the fasting monk’s demands are not met within 24 hours he would ensure a ‘carnival of fireworks’, throughout the island. Newspapers reported that the final act of this raucous gang would be to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s elected Government. Gnanasara said that.
His Eminence the Cardinal has obviously not perceived all these ramifications when he decided to pay homage to the monk; he didn’t take a look at the wider context. He should have. Consequently, he unavoidably gets associated with all these gangs and sinister forces. The Cardinal, in effect though unwittingly, became a status lender to a rabid gang of racists on the march.
The above considerations point out clearly that the fasting incident had not been an isolated one but one with a clearly political character having threatening implications for our democracy and our healthy body politic.
President Sirisena suddenly releasing Gnanasara from jail and the Athuraliye fast following on the heels of that controversial pardon seemed ominous to the politically savvy.
The Opposition demand to pressurise and bring down the Government is well known and the involvement of some Pohottuwa politicians in the riots has been documented.
The Cardinal’s political howler
In this context I would say that the Cardinal made a howler of huge proportion by making public a political assessment asserting, as he did, a blatantly political statement: “A country belongs to the people; not to the rulers.”
To make such a statement during this visit to the fasting monk was unwarranted. He meant that the current Government leaders think that the country belongs to them. To be fair by the Government it has thus far acted within a democratic framework and has expressed commitment to quit if the electorate wants it that way at elections.
This is, in fact, the polar opposite of the Rajapaksa Government both during office and out of office as was evident when they joined President Sirisena in a Constitutional coup for 52 days until they were booted out by Parliament.
Incidentally, while numerous leaders opposed that illegal move we didn’t see Cardinal Ranjith say anything. A man like him so fond of speaking on public issues should have opposed the violation of the Constitution. He did not. On many an issue like this where the violators were the Rajapaksas His Eminence observed silence, giving us the impression that the Cardinal is being driven by political agendas.
Such a supposition tied up with the inappropriate visit to the fasting monk may constitute a whistle-blower which the Archdiocese should seriously take a look at.
(The writer can be reached via email@example.com.)