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“Attacks on Muslims were part of a conspiracy” - Dilantha Withanage (Former BBS CEO) -

11 November 2021 03:22 am - 4     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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"I thought I should work with him to achieve our objectives. So I thought that I should help in that. But after he was sent to prison for some issues we had a discussion and I advised him that when he is released he must go to some other country and study and improve his skills and knowledge and not enter party politics"

 

BBS shifted focus from original plan


Of course when it (BBS) was very popular people living abroad, mostly people from South Korea gave funds 


GR not involved in forming BBS


Rumours about Norway funding us (BBS) were fabricated by Wimal Weerawansa


I can tell you that the then Defence Secretary didn’t fund the BBS


I graduated from the former Soviet Union. I did computer engineering, so I had the opportunity to leave this country and stay in any other country in 1989. But I returned to Sri Lanka


I didn’t resign. There is no reason for me to resign. I will work


I believe that the Rajapaksa regime and some ministers of that time were afraid of the rise of the BBS 


 

The appointment of the Task Force on ‘One Country, One Law’ has thrown the spotlight on the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) once again. There has been huge criticism on appointing the BBS General Secretary Ven. Galagodathe Gnanasara Thera as the head of the Task Force. In that context the Daily Mirror spoke to the former Chief Executive Officer of the BBS Dilantha Withanage to get some insight into the BBS and Ven. Gnanasara Thera. 
Excerpts of the interview:


Q:  Mr. Withanage, firstly, why did you leave the BBS? 

Not really. I didn’t leave the organization, but I have not been actively involved in operations for the past three years. 
 

Q:  Why is that? There have been reports of differences of opinion between you and Ven.Gnanasara Thera.  

 Of course in any family you have conflicts. We had certain disagreements from the beginning. But I thought I should work with him to achieve our objectives. So I thought that I should help in that. But after he was sent to prison for some issues we had a discussion and I advised him that when he is released he must go to some other country and study and improve his skills and knowledge and not enter party politics. We wanted him to be both a national and religious leader and not enter party politics.  
 

Q:  But he didn’t adhere to your request? 

Yes. And I supported him for sometime. But later I thought I should get out from this and take up a very silent role. 
 

Q:  What was the objective of forming the BBS? 

Actually, I was a university lecturer and I was working for a former Minister of Education to introduce it to the Sri Lankan school curriculum from 2000 to 2005. Then in 2005 I was one of the senior members of Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA). Then when President Rajapaksa assumed power I faced some harassment from a former secretary to the President and a few others, so I thought I should leave the government. So at the same time I was working as a lecturer at the University of Colombo. But there was a lot of harassment even there, so I thought I should leave that as well. Then while I was doing some social work I met Ven. Gnanasara Thera who was introduced to me by somebody. I was promoting a concept called Sithamu (Lets Think). Sithamu stood for Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim. It was a social integration programme. I went to see him to discuss that. I thought that we don’t have proper social integration in this country, so we should get different types of people, different opinions and work together. So that was my first intention. 

Then, Ven. Gnanasara Thera was telling me that, while he agreed on that, there were some issues related to Singhalese and we should work on that. So then we discussed on making Sri Lankan youth more modern and globalized. We discuss on so many things. As a result I developed a strategic plan and I introduced that to the leading Buddhist monks and they formed this organization. Then Ven. Gnanasara Thera proposed that the name of this organization should be Bodu Bala Sena because I believe that he had this name used before that for some operations. I advised that I should not be part of this organization. But Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, who was the president of this organization, insisted that I should join. At that time I was working as an advisor to Minister S.B Navinna on consumer welfare policy for Sri Lanka. Then I agreed finally. And we had very nice objectives; 12 objectives. To meet those objectives we started this organization. I can remember the first discussion we had. We were discussing about education problems, education issues, giving opportunities to many youth to receive higher education. Even how to develop the organic agriculture. And we had very interesting ideas. I graduated from the former Soviet Union. I did computer engineering, so I had the opportunity to leave this country and stay in any other country in 1989. But I returned to Sri Lanka. Then I started a project called ‘computer literacy for all by year 2000’. That was in 1990. People laughed at me. We had the interest and vision to develop this country, so I thought that because of harassment from the Government and the university sector, I thought that I will be able to use social capital, exist within the Buddhist temples and other organizations and develop this country. So we had development in mind. That was our intention.  

 

"Then we discussed on making Sri Lankan youth more modern and globalized. We discuss on so many things. As a result I developed a strategic plan and I introduced that to the leading Buddhist monks and they formed this organization. Then Ven. Gnanasara Thera proposed that the name of this organization should be Bodu Bala Sena"

 

Q:  But you switched your plan, because the BBS was eventually seen as being racist.  

 I understand. I still maintain the same policies. I am still working for these objectives. I didn’t resign. There is no reason for me to resign. I will work.  
 

Q:  But then your objectives are not being met by the BBS.  

Well actually what happened is that three Muslim gentlemen came to see us in 2012; I think, mid-December. They wanted to meet us. They said there were some Muslim extremists  in this country and they showed a lot of documentation. So then I told them they need to deal with this issue separately because we are working with Buddhists. Then they pleaded. They even said they might be killed. So as a result Ven. Gnanasara Thera decided to talk about these problems. 
 

Q:  But didn’t he believe in law and order? There is a system in place to deal with these kind of issues. 

That I can’t say. But basically, we thought that we should educate the public on those extremist elements. When people are aware they will take precautions. But I feel media and some political elements promoted us as anti-Muslim and today everybody feels that the BBS is an anti-Muslim organization. But in reality it is not.  

 

"But basically, we thought that we should educate the public on those extremist elements. When people are aware they will take precautions. But I feel media and some political elements promoted us as anti-Muslim and today everybody feels that the BBS is an anti-Muslim organization. But in reality it is not"

 

Q:  Was the BBS involved in the Digana and Aluthgama incidents? 

 No. But the perception of the people and what is being promoted by many elements in this country is that the BBS was involved. Of course Ven. Gnanasara Thera had made some speeches as a result of which some people may feel the BBS was involved. People can feel that the politicians are behind such events. But I know as Chief Executive Officer at that time we never had any intention. But when there is an attack on a Muslim shop or mosque everyone assumed BBS did it. Even we were wondering who was doing this. I believe that the Rajapaksa regime and some ministers of that time were afraid of the rise of the BBS and that they will lose their status in the society. I believe there were conspiracies to create those problems and put the blame on us. 
 

Q:  Since you mentioned about the Rajapaksa regime there were reports back then that the BBS was very close with the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Was there some sort of alliance between the BBS and him?

I remember some assumed that the Defence Secretary had formed the BBS. Of course today it’s obvious that Ven. Gnanasara Thera and the president have a close relationship. Otherwise he will not appoint him. 
But I know for sure that they were not behind establishing the BBS. Lately they may have used the BBS concepts and other things for their benefit. For example I can remember when we created the Bodu Jana Peramuna in 2015. Only one word changed when the Podu Jana Permuna was formed.
 

Q:  So the BBS did have plans to do politics?

Yes, we had. 

 

"Of course today it’s obvious that Ven. Gnanasara Thera and the president have a close relationship. Otherwise he will not appoint him. But I know for sure that they were not behind establishing the BBS. Lately they may have used the BBS concepts and other things for their benefit"

 

Q:  Do you agree with the idea that it is OK for monks to engage in politics? 

Actually, Ven. Gnanasara Thera had plans to leave the country and he was frustrated regarding many things. I think he had a plan to visit the US and stay there for some time. But I told him not to. I told him (Ven. Gnanasara Thera) that his services are required by the country. He can also lead the country. And he agreed to stay. We discussed on many things. Although we call this a Buddhist country, Buddhist principles are not practiced. Buddhism as a dharma is not practiced by many. I realised we need to even teach Buddhism to Buddhist monks. 
 

Q:  But don’t you think that the speeches made by Ven. Gnanasara Thera added fuel to the Aluthgama and Digana attacks?

I understand his speeches are hard hitting. But the media is also very smart. They take the whole speech and cut a small part and highlight that. 

 

"Of course Ven. Gnanasara Thera had made some speeches as a result of which some people may feel the BBS was involved. People can feel that the politicians are behind such events. But I know as Chief Executive Officer at that time we never had any intention. But when there is an attack on a Muslim shop or mosque everyone assumed BBS did it. Even we were wondering who was doing this"

 

Q:  But why is he giving that option to the media in the first place? You spoke about the Dharmas. Surely the Dharma does not promote hate?

I went through that speech (Before the Aluthgama violence). And in the speech he even requested the public to meditate and he asked everybody to go home without being involved in any violence because it was a hot spot. The mistake he made was going for that meeting. Even I advised him not to.
 

Q:  So, it seems from what you are saying the BBS did deviate from its main goals and lost track.

No. If you look at the BBS I don’t think so. But if you look at Ven. Gnanasara Thera as the BBS then you can say that. Several people created the BBS. I have even told him to be careful when making speeches. 

 

"I told him (Ven. Gnanasara Thera) that his services are required by the country. He can also lead the country. And he agreed to stay. We discussed on many things. Although we call this a Buddhist country, Buddhist principles are not practiced. Buddhism as a dharma is not practiced by many. I realised we need to even teach Buddhism to Buddhist monks"

 

Q:  Where did the BBS get its funding from? There was a lot being said that some funding was coming from Norway and even from the then Defense Secretary. 

I can tell you that the then Defence Secretary didn’t fund the BBS. I had some personal funds from my earnings. I used that. Even during the first three or four months my wife’s vehicle and my vehicle were used by the BBS. Then, of course when it (BBS) was very popular people living abroad, mostly people from South Korea gave funds. Rumours about Norway funding us were fabricated by Wimal Weerawansa. He said I was a Norway agent. Of course I had some links with Norway. They wanted to fund my ‘Sithamu’ programme. But because of my involvement with BBS they stopped funding. So no country funded us.

 

 

 

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  Comments - 4

  • Sirinaga Hettige Thursday, 11 November 2021 09:18 AM

    You and Hamuduruwo must be in jail!!

    Nimalasiri Sunday, 14 November 2021 03:27 AM

    Definitely. Trying to play another trick.

    AHIMSA Saturday, 13 November 2021 03:46 PM

    The entire country knows about the BBS and Gnanasara Thero. This D. Withanage is trying a vain attempt to change the scenario!

    "WHITEWASH" Monday, 06 December 2021 06:43 PM

    PLEASE TELL THE MARINES


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