Gnanasara Thera’s comet-like progression from obscurity to infamy to prison



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By C. A. Chandraprema


Last week the Supreme Court turned down the leave to appeal application made by Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera against the Court of Appeal judgment that found him guilty of contempt of court owing to his behaviour in the Homagama Magistrate’s Court on January 25, 2016. The Supreme Court perhaps had no option because this monk is a serial offender having made a public spectacle of himself more times than one can keep account of. Earlier, he had been sentenced to six-months Rigorous Imprisonment by the Homagama Magistrate for threatening and intimidating Sandhya Eknaligoda, the wife of the missing political activist Prageeth Eknaligoda. Given his previous conduct and the nature of the charges against him, even reducing the sentence may not have been an option. If the Supreme Court had granted leave to appeal and given Gnanasara thera bail, he would have been out again going about his business as usual.


There were four charges against him in the Appeal Court which were as follows. 1) that on 25 January 2016, he conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to the power and authority of Court, challenged the authority of Court, disrespected the authority of the Court and addressed the Magistrate's Court of Homagama, without having any lawful connection to any proceedings before that Court. 2) He deliberately and intentionally stated in open Court, that he would not accept the orders of the Court, and that the law of the country should not be followed. 3) He deliberately and intentionally stated, without any lawful permission, in open Court, in the form of a direction, that the Court must grant bail to the suspects in the case that was being heard. 4) He deliberately and intentionally, insulted in open Court, the Senior State Counsel who appeared for the prosecution Mr. Dileepa Pieris, calling him an impotent state officer (napunsaka rajya niladhariya).


Gnanasara Thera was sentenced to four-years-RI for the first count. Four-years- RI for the second count and six-years and five-years RI in respect of third and fourth counts. His BBS colleagues had been asking for a Presidential pardon even before applying to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against the sentence which shows they were not expecting any leniency from the SC. Now the ball is firmly in President Sirisena’s court. Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has told this writer that Gnanasara Thera should be given an award for having destabilised the Rajapaksa government and paved the way for Maithripala Sirisena to win the Presidential election. This is the moment that that IOU needs to be called. Gnanasara Thera was quite close to the Sirisena camp after the change of government. Readers will recall the manner in which he had charges against him watered down so that he could get bail following the sudden flare up of anti-Muslim violence in 2017. A Buddhist monk who is an advisor to President Sirisena was the master of ceremonies in that operation.


The problem about having volatile allies on your side is that there can be a contradiction between your interests and the stock in trade of those allies – which is what caused the embarrassment of 2017. The Sirisena camp appears to have hit upon an idea of keeping Gnanasara Thera otherwise occupied and there was a massive pooja of robes for monks that was being planned with the help of the Agriculture Ministry. Readers will recall that Minister Duminda Dissanayake went to see Gnanasara Thera when he was imprisoned for the first time for threatening Sandya Ekneligoda and he said he had gone to discuss this planned pinkama. Given this proximity, there is the possibility that Gnanasara thera will get a pardon.


From obscurity to notoriety


It took all of six years for Gnanasara Thera to progress from complete obscurity to becoming a household name to landing in jail. In many ways, this is the only logical outcome of the path he chose in 2012. Before 2012, this monk was completely unknown to the public. Even this writer never knew such a monk existed until his name came up in the public domain for the first time with the anti-Halal campaign in 2012. Even in obscurity Gnanasara Thera had the knack of getting on the wrong side of the law. Back in 2000 he had been charged in the Traffic Courts in Colombo 12. The case bore the number 6315/2000. Buddhist monks are not issued driving licences even if they apply for one. The 2014 Appeal Court case of Dr. Paragoda Wimalawansa Thera Vs. Commissioner of Motor Traffic explained the rationale for this prohibition.


For a Buddhist monk to plead guilty to such a charge was very unusual. But even this very unusual happening failed to make Gnanasara Thera’s name known to the public.


His conduct after he managed to get the public to notice him shows that what he craves more than anything else is publicity -- not respect or veneration. In this respect, his big break came through contacts with certain interested foreign parties in 2011/2 012 when he got this five-year multiple entry visa to the US and visited Norway.


To say that Gnanasara Thera had a chequered history before that big break came would be an understatement. In 2004, he contested the Parliamentary election of that year on the JHU ticket and lost. In 2005, he joined the UNP and for a while was active in the UNP Bhikku Front. This was the period when he worked with Ravi Karunanayake and Shiral Laktilleke.


At the 2010 presidential election, Gnanasara Thera helped General Sarath Fonseka. According to Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Gnanasara Thera’s visit to Norway at Norwegian government expense had been facilitated by Arne Fjortoft, a Norwegian national. After coming back from Norway, Gnanasara Thera actually wanted to work with Dr. Senaratne to promote minority rights but after they had agreed to work together and organize a massive bhikku gathering at the BMICH to support minority rights, Gnanasara Thera suddenly burst into the limelight through the anti-Halal issue. The recent revelations made by Namal Kumara a denizen of the murky world of the Sinhala extremist organisations that began proliferating at around the same time that the Bodu Bala Sena made its appearance in 2012, sheds a lot of light on these various groups. All these groups including the BBS seem to have a common history of having shady connections with local and foreign organisations and individuals.


The path to prison


In just six years, Gnanasara Thera suddenly emerged out of nowhere and became a household name and a staple of the TV news bulletins and has now disappeared into jail. That things have come to such a pass is hardly surprising because Gnanasara Thera’s way of keeping himself in the public eye was through leading mobs on the streets, making inflammatory speeches and through generalised hooliganism. His turn of phrase and manner of speaking would make even hardened criminals wince because even they expect something different from a monk wearing the robe of the Buddha. Gnannasara Thera’s behavior would have been unacceptable in the most thuggish politician let alone in a bhikku. So what we had since 2012 was one monk destroying the image of Buddhism and the bhikku hierarchy was helpless to put a stop to it.


In days of old it was the duty of the king to cleanse the Mahasanga and remove undesirables. Under today’s Constitution that power is with the judiciary. The Bhikku hierarchy is paralysed due to the lack of leadership and clarity of thought and also out of fear for Gnanasara Thera. The hooliganism that was projected outside was first directed into the bhikku community. The language he uses on those within the sangha are much harsher than those that he uses on outsiders. The Homagama Magistrate’s court, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court have done their part to uphold Article 9 of the Constitution. Speaking of the JVP of the late 1980s, the late Lalith Athulathmudali compared the JVP of the late 1980s to the Baader-Meinhoff gang of Germany and he told this writer that the way that Germany finally brought the Baader-Meinhoff gang under control was with the whole of society, the government, the police, the judiciary, the media and the ordinary public all cooperating with one another to be rid of that scourge.


The exposure of the sinister underbelly of these groups by Namal Kumara makes it imperative that the same be done in Sri Lanka as well. The public would no doubt have noticed the similarities between the attitudes and outlook of Namal Kumara and Gnansara Thera. The former, who had tried to get either former President Mahinda Rajapaksa or former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to attend a certain temple ceremony had said in the same breath that if neither of those two came, they would invite Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe instead. This lack of any real political convictions and being able to move from one side to another without any qualms is a common characteristic of Gnansara Thera and all the other shady Sinhala extremist groups and indicates that to them this is not a matter of conscience or conviction but just an occupation – a trade, or a business.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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