Will the UNP seek legal recourse to unseat the Ven Thera?

Ven Athureliye’s contradictions

Daily News Editorial

Ven Athureliye Rathana is not a monk who makes political waves like in the case of the late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha, who, throughout his ordained life, made great efforts to transform the national polity and resurrect it from the pits it had fallen into. However as a member of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, which is the first Bikkhu body that entered parliamentary politics, the Ven Athureliya gained prominence for his strong sentiments on behalf of the country’s Buddhists and his advocacy of a righteous Sri Lanka.

But the JHU, along with the Ven Rathana, was soon to learn that parliament was not exactly the right forum to carry out its reforms mission. The party was subject to a baptism of fire, so to speak, on its very first day in parliament where the Bikkhu members of the JHU were roughed up, ending with the Ven Kotikawatte Sri Sumangala being admitted to hospital. None of this setbacks were to deter the Ven Rathana though, who continued to be a strong voice in parliament against injustice and oppression of the state and what he perceived to be internal and external threats to Buddhism. It is on the basis of the latter and what he saw as Indian expansionism that the Ven Thera and the JHU decided to throw in their lot with Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005.

The JHU, though, when it saw that Rajapaksa was deviating from the policies and undertakings agreed to, decided to throw in its lot with the Common Candidate, with the exception of a few monks such as the Ven Ellawela Medhananda, who stayed put with Rajapaksa.

Much water had flown under the bridge since then and today the Ven Athureliya appears to have adopted the same stance he took with regard to Rajapaksa in 2005, holding the government to its pledges to the people and opting to sever ties with the regime after admitting to be disillusioned by the path pursued by it. Noble as the Ven Thera’s intentions are for the country, some of his demands are not in sync with what is good for the country in terms of its economic health and future progress.

One of Ven Thera’s demands is for the cancellation of the Hambantota port project and to stay the ECTA agreement with India. Strangely, Ven Athureliya is against the government antagonizing India by the influx of Chinese investments to the country. This, by a movement which was openly hostile to India not so long ago and its raison d’ etre for supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005.

The Ven. Thera’s professed mission to steer the government on the correct path, through a National Council he intends setting up, should not impinge on the economic strategies of the government that would benefit the country. In no way should this Council play the role of a pressure group to stymie the government’s economic plans. Policy decisions affecting the economy should be strictly the province of the government.

Be that as it may, Ven. Rathana is still an advisor of the President and while being so he cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hound. He is, after all, a member of parliament nominated on the National List and as such has no moral right to make statements that would embarrass the government. The Ven. Thera is also full of contradictions. While saying that his movement is not a political party he says they have not yet decided on contesting the Local Government Elections. A Presidential Election will be an entirely different ball game, he asserts. Also while saying that Mahinda Rajapaksa was a spent force, the Ven Thera nevertheless invites all political forces to join his movement which he asserts is not a political entity.

Which begs the question. Can President Sirisena hope to have, as his special advisor, an individual, a Bikkhu notwithstanding, who has deemed that his (President’s) Government is on the wrong path, failed to fulfill its promises and that he (Ven Athureliya) has decided to leave that self same government and sit as an Independent in parliament since the government has not taken steps to mend its ways? Can he also afford to have, as his adviser, a person who has all but attacked the government’s economic policies by calling for the scrapping of the Hambantota port project and the proposed ETCA agreement? Can the President also have Ven Athureliya as his advisor after the latter had decided to leave his government and sit as an Independent MP in parliament, where, in time to come, will permit him the opportunity to make common cause with the Joint Opposition?

What is the legal position of Ven Rathana’s exit from the UNP, from which party he was appointed as a National List MP? Will the UNP seek legal recourse to unseat the Ven Thera, which is unlikely, given the backlash this would invite? Or in the case of legal action being taken, will the Ven.Thera resort to the beaten track and claim he is still a member of the UNP though sitting as an Independent?