Daily News Editorial
The Joint Opposition has threatened to halt the agreement on the Hambantota Port project being signed and has vowed to mass protesters to lay siege on the project site on the day of the signing. Garrulous JO activist Dullas Alahapperuma has even sounded out more drastic measures. He says that they of the JO are planning to obtain a Sangha Akgnawa (Sangha edict) to prevent the project getting off the ground. It is not too difficult to imagine who will issue this Sangha Akgnawa. The Mahanayakes have so far not responded to the pleas of the JO on the Hambantota Port project to its entire satisfaction. A similar Sangha Akgnawa was threatened by some Bhikkus on Sarath Fonseka when the former Army Commander challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidential race. The chief proponent of this Sangha Akgnawa, then, was the redoubtable Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera of “unlincensed elephant” fame. The country knows in whose camp the Ven Thera is in today.
A Sangha Akgnawa is known to be an edict issued by the Buddhist clergy that all Buddhists are bound to adhere to. Both, the President and the Prime Minister being Buddhists, the JO plan is clear. It wants to show the country that the duo, by not adhering to an the edict of the Sangha, have lost the claim to call themselves true Buddhists, particularly with regard to Premier Wickremesinghe, who is dubbed pro west, now that the agreement signing is to go ahead with both the President’s and Prime Minister’s blessings. It is doubtful though if a majority of Buddhists in this country would consider this Sangha Akgnawa sacrosanct, that they are compelled to follow, given the conduct of certain Buddhist clergy in the JO camp, which has not done any credit to Buddhism, or the teachings of the Enlightened one.
Cartoon added by TW from Daily FT
Be that as it may, the country’s economic development and future progress cannot be held hostage to the whims of a set of Buddhist clergy who are hell bent on advancing the political project of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Government should make every endeavour to resist this agitation carried out for political reasons. There was nary a whimper of protest when tens of thousands of acres of forest land in Hambantota was destroyed to make way for a loss making airport. Not a single Buddhist monk, among those who are in the forefront in the “Hands Off Hambantota” agitation today complained of the destruction of cultural sites, as they are doing now, when vast tracts of land were being bulldozed to make way for the Mattala airport. There were no protests either when the Chinese were first inducted into Sri Lanka by Mahinda Rajapaksa and given a free run of the country to do as they please. Nobody protested when Chinese workers were employed in the Hambantota port in their hundreds while youth unemployment in Hambantota had surged. There was also no outcry when loans from the Chinese were piling up to the skies, plunging the country into a massive debt trap, or when the Chinese finger was in every pie, so much so we were called a colony of China.
The present government, alas, is left holding the baby. Those protesting don’t seem to realise or deliberately feign ignorance that the astronomical loans obtained from China has to be repaid and the government has settled for the best option in entering into a Public Private Partnership with the Chinese companies to defray this massive loan. Bhikkus confined to their aramayas cannot be expected to know the economic implications of this loan being defaulted. Nor can they be made to understand the economic benefits to the country accruing from trade agreements (Alahapperuma also plans to obtain a Sangha Akgnawa against ICTA). What all these monks clamour for is a regime change so that they can get back their patronage positions as advisors or other high office such as Chairman of the National Police Commission, for thumping salaries. Barring a few, there are hardly any monks among these rabble rousers who are true to their convictions borne by the fact that not one of these ‘patriots’ made even a token protest when war hero Sarath Fonseka was unceremoniously thrown behind bars.
The game plan is clear. What the JO and its Bhikku supporters plan is to drive away investors by their antics and cripple the country’s economy. The Sangha Akgnawa is a mere ruse to give respectability to this campaign. Hence, the government should not cave into threats and take the bull by the horns. President Jayewardene acted firmly with protests and agitations, willfully carried out to disrupt the economy. Had he not dealt firmly with the July strikers there would not have been a Free Trade Zone in Katunayake.
Similarly, President Sirisena should not show restraint with those planning giant protests at Hambantota with ulterior motives. The protesters, as Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated, are planning to cash in on blood spilled or a body or two, for that matter. While the right to assembly and protest is a democratic right, there should be no room for saboteurs, trouble makers and disruptive elements.