UNP crisis : Why influence of Buddhism is vital in politics

16 January 2020 01:18 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • It’s encouraging that the UNP is concerned about safeguarding the remaining Buddhist votes

  • We have also seen monks entering parliament and enjoying the perks of lawmakers

  • Even the temple as an institute is used for much worldly affairs

 

The United National Party must learn to read the pulses of the masses. Its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe learned the hard way that his way of leaving religion out of politics made him an unpopular politician. It’s time that the green party learns quickly that religion is marketable and can fetch votes for a politician. 

 
These are days when we get to read so much in newspapers that the saffron robed monks are demanding that the UNP leadership is handed over to a politician who is experienced and can unite all factions within the party. The priests also demand that the new UNP Leader should be someone who can be accepted by both the clergy and the outside world. According to media reports the monks wish to see someone of the calibre of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya being made UNP Leader. 

 
Even from the days of the kings, those who walked the corridors of power knew the clout priests have in this nation; hence most vital government decisions were taken after consultations with monks. Wickremesinghe tried to change this culture or saw little need in monks being updated on government matters. There is a school of thought in this nation that if you are ant-Buddhist you are anti-nation too! Wickremesinghe might not be guilty of any of the two, but his lukewarm interest in Buddhist affairs caused enough damage to his political career.  

It is a bit strange that a party with a rich history like the UNP needs to be reminded that the saffron robed monks are also key stakeholders of the country even though they operate from the sidelines; despite having renounced the world

A good example is Wickremesinghe being ousted as the Chairman of the Committee of patrons serving the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. Wickremesinghe’s absence at a crucial meeting of this committee saw a proposal being made to remove him as chairman. The proposal was seconded. There were objections to his removal which led to a vote taking and Wickremesinghe loyalists lost badly during a vote conducted by showing of hands. Wickremesinghe’s response was that he was going to resign from his post anyway because he was too busy with his political work. For the record the post was initially held by A.W Jayewardene and then by Upali Wijewardene before the baton was handed over to Wickremesinghe in 1982.

   
Issues like these are reminders to all lawmakers that neglecting the side of Buddhist monks can make a lawmaker suffer dire consequences. 

 
If one takes Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Jayasuriya the latter is better accepted within the community of saffron robed monks. Both have received honourary titles from the ‘Sangha’ (Buddhist order). However the perception of a listener of Premadasa might change if the ‘young’ UNPer and Leader of the Opposition starts speaking about Buddhist matters. He was taken to task during the recent Presidential Elections when he used the words ‘Shree Mukaya’ (the mouth of the enlightened) when referring to himself.

   
It’s encouraging that the UNP is concerned about safeguarding the remaining Buddhist votes the party can boast of. It was pointed out many times that the decision taken during the Yahapalana Regime to impose restrictions on domestic elephants backfired on the ‘Grand old Party’. 

 
It is a bit strange that a party with a rich history like the UNP needs to be reminded that the saffron robed monks are also key stakeholders of the country even though they operate from the sidelines; despite having renounced the world.  

If one takes Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Jayasuriya the latter is better accepted within the community of saffron robed monks

Even the temple as an institute is used for much worldly affairs. Temples are used even as polling booths, tuition classes, eye clinics and the meeting places of conciliation boards. Hence the temple, the monk and the village are interwoven; one depending on the other to ensure coexistence. 

 
We have also seen monks entering parliament and enjoying the perks of lawmakers. That decision the UNP took to look forward to a period of prosperity sans the association of monks at the beginning of the ‘Yahapalana’ regime will no doubt go down in the annals of the political history as a blunder. 

 
What’s food for thought for the UNP is the statement made by Bodu Bala Sena (a movement spearheaded by Buddhist monks) that the movement would disband soon as the country has now got a competent leader in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The movement maintained that they were happy because the president elect had pledged to protect Buddhism and also acknowledged the contributions made by saffron robed monks for him to emerge the victor at the presidential elections. The monks representing this movement also said that they had the confidence in the new president that the Sinhala race, which was humiliated for many years, would be uplifted. These were not topics which appealed to the UNP; just like discarding the notion that playing to the gallery is part and parcel of politics. 

 
The UNP must quickly realise that it must learn the art of addressing the masses who value the ceremonial aspect of a religion and not necessarily the practice or the application part of the doctrine. There were times when the UNP Leader picked from the knowledge of Dhamma he possesses, but often what he spoke of was used against him or never really acknowledged in a positive manner. Times have been bad for the Green Man who has never been known to run behind astrologers like how other wellknown lawmakers do.

   
It’s reported that Wickremesinghe has indicated that he would resign as soon as party leader in the midst of growing opposition against him within the UNP. While he counts the days remaining to enjoy being party leader, Wickremesinghe might be pondering on the most spoken and the least incorporated Buddhist stanza when living the human life which is ‘all good products come with an expiry date’.     

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