Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has drawn heavy flak for using Buddhist temples for what his critics call political work. Politicians who desecrate places of worship by using them for political purpose are doomed to fail, Media Minister Gayantha Karunatileka has said. Rajapaksa has sought to defend himself by claiming that his religious programmes are free from partisan politics.
Nobody will buy into the former President’s claim. He is obviously carrying out a grassroots level campaign via temples in a bid to turn the tables on those who brought about his downfall. His is a textbook pincer movement on the political front; he is targeting the incumbent president from the top of the party pyramid as well as the base thereof. Having won over many UPFA MPs he is now mobilising the SLFP’s rank and file. President Maithripala Sirisena has made a counter move by placing 234 UPFA-run local government bodies under special commissioners instead of extending their term so as to clip the wings of the pro-Mahinda representatives in those councils.
It is, no doubt, wrong to use temples for political work. But, it is not only laymen who are blameworthy; some Buddhist monks involved in active politics have turned their temples into party offices of sorts and thereby desecrated them. They are also seen on the same platform as political dregs in public. Most of the political parties have Bhikku wings. Prince Siddhartha gave up state power and went through untold suffering for years to attain Enlightenment. But, sadly, the political monks are moving in the opposite direction; they are seeking political power. Those who have rightly expressed their concern about Buddhist temples being used to advance political agenda ought to take up the issue of monks involved in dirty politics much to the neglect of their duties and functions.
Time was when Rajapaksa as a young, pugnacious, intrepid parliamentarian who took on the JRJ and Premadasa governments, launched very effective campaigns such as pada yaththra and human chains to mobilise the masses. Today, he is craftily using bodhi poojas for that purpose. There is no way he can absolve himself of the blame for what he is doing. But, the fact remains that some temples were used by his holier-than-thou political enemies themselves to carry out their campaign to oust him. Secret meetings to topple the former administration were held at some famous places of worship with the participation of very senior monks who now boast of the role they played in the anti-Mahinda campaign!
No function that politicians attend at a religious place is devoid of politics. They use everything and everyone to further their interests. It is not out of any love or respect for the Sasana that they fall at the feet of monks including the Maha Nayake Theras they go all the way to Kandy with television crews in tow to visit.
Interestingly, even those who never so much as made a whimper of protest when their leaders had monks like Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera roughed up by goons are now lamenting the desecration by politicians of temples. They themselves had Buddhist monks tortured in the name of counter insurgency operations. Their love for temples and the Sasana is tainted with partisan politics.
However, their argument is still valid; the practice of using temples for political purposes has to end. Let the defeated leaders, those at the levers of power and political monks be urged to refrain from desecrating those places of worship.