Minister Samaraweera: "I consider myself a good Buddist"
Q: Do you now see your statement that the Sinhala Commission report should be thrown into the dustbin of history as being an ill-conceived one?
A: No. All the remarks I made were after careful consideration of the Sinhala Commission report and its implications.
I see this as one of the recurring conspiracies against the Sinhala people since independence.
A report of this nature will only benefit the likes of Prabhakaran, the LTTE and Tamil separatists who justify their call for separatism by pointing to documents of this kind. The arms dealers will also will be happy about such documents because they will only impede moves to end the war. Therefore if the war is prolonged the only people to get any benefit out of this are not the people of Sri Lanka; not the Sinhalese; the Tamils nor the Muslims; not the innocent young boys who are dying in the battle field. It will be the arms dealers.
I have faith in the people of this country, if I may say so in the Sinhala majority of this country. Thats why I said at the cabinet news conference last week that this commission report would find its due place in history.
I was surprised at the reaction of certain sections of the Maha Sangha because nowhere had I mentioned anything about them. Never would I cause any disrespect to the Maha Sangha because I consider myself a good Buddhist. I regret if some people try to misinterpret my statement as an insult to the Maha Sangha. But there was no such intention. Having worked in this field for a few years I know there is a large section of the Maha Sangha who are supportive of peace. As true Buddhists, they also want to see an end to this war, in which lots of innocent lives, specially of the Sinhalese, are being lost. So I still do not think it was an ill-conceived statement.
Q: Have you not lost face as it were by making what is interpreted as a public apology to the Maha Sangha?
A: I have not made any apology. How can I say sorry about something I never meant? But if certain sections of the Maha Sangha were disturbed, obviously manipulated by various forces who have not given them the right interpretation of what I said, then of course I regret if they are agitated. But certainly my latest statement last Wednesday was no apology for what I said the previous week. I still stand by my views.
Q: Has not the government now lent significant weight to the Sinhala Commission report by making public its displeasure?
A: No. That is yet another school of thought. Look at the Sinhala Commission. It is the forces behind this pseudo commission, who have in various guises been coming forward at various points in history to obstruct any solution to this problem. Each time these forces agitated, the problem became more acute and was passed onto yet another generation. What could have been solved without so much damage, perhaps in 1957, has today become a tragic and devastating crisis. So we must not underestimate these forces either. We must accept that they are going to oppose. They would have opposed sooner or later. That is their sole intention.
Q: Do you see the Sinhala Commission as having deviated from its original purpose of highlighting the grievances of the Sinhala people and instead, it seems to have concentrated on the devolution proposals?
A: Yes. The Sinhala Commission does not talk about the grievances of the Sinhala people. Instead it is an attack on the governments devolution proposals and on the new constitution. Several Buddhist priests whom I know personally wanted to give evidence before this commission. Since they did not fit into the agenda of the commission they were not invited. Some of those who gave evidence say their views were not reflected in the report. This is not just my view ,several monks have made statements in newspapers to that effect. So I think it is not a matter of lending weight but we must not underestimate these forces.
The way has to be cleared for the new constitution. The government is determined to play the role history has given it. Unlike before, we shall not go backwards. The President is determined that the suffering in this country must stop. For that purpose if we are to be the sacrificial lambs for a better future, so be it.
Q: How strong is the support President Kumaratunga has today from her ministers for the proposed constitution?
A: In 1957, the then premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had the vision and the desire to implement the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, but he was prevented from doing so. Looking back I would say one of the most tragic and saddest days of modern history is the day he tore up the B-C pact, because of pressure some monks. In a famous statement he made that day at the gates of his Rosmead Place residence, he told the waiting Buddhist monks that even though I am doing this at your request you will see the consequences of this action in 20 years time. Just as he predicted, by 1976 the seeds of separatism had already stated to sprout in this country with the killing of Alfred Duraiappah. Looking back, Mr. Bandaranaike did not have the strong backing of his Cabinet at that hour where he should have been given the strength to go through with the pact. So he had to take a U-Turn on his policy. Fortunately, 40 years later, his daughter who is leading the country today has the determination and the total backing of her Cabinet to see this through.
Q: Dont you think the Sinhala Commission report represents mainstream Sinhala opinion?
A: No. The people of this country will reject such thinking. But lets wait and see when the people are given an opportunity to decide. We presented our constitutional reform proposals some two years ago, and we have allowed a wide debate all over the country. People have criticized it, sometimes in abusive terms. They have picketed against it, editorials have been written against it, yet suddenly when the Sinhala Commission report comes, we are told that we cannot make any comments about it. I certainly do not understand the logic. Now certain people are protesting against the statement I made. That is perfectly alright. They are supposed to be going to my electorate to protest. I welcome that. They will be given full protection to do so. That is what is called a functioning democracy, and this is what we should really get into as soon as possible.
Q: Do you acknowledge that the Maha Sangha in this context can now wield significant influence on the nation in opposing the governments power sharing proposals?
A: Not only the Maha Sangha, but various opinion groups and sections of civil society can also wield a lot of influence among various sections of the people. The Maha Sangha is widely respected and I too have that respect. But like all other groups, the Maha Sangha does not have one monolithic view. There are differing views. There are those who oppose, like the monks who took part in the satyagraha at Vihara Maha Devi Park a few days ago. Some communal-minded newspapers tried to project it as a huge event, saying some 2,000 Buddhist monks took part, but I am told only some 300 turned up. Even those 300 priests have the right to express their opinion. On the other hand there are as many if not more Buddhist priests who say they do not want this war. They want a peaceful solution to the ethnic crisis for this country go forward. As Buddhists we cannot condone war. Those are the points I made. If we prolong this war the people who would suffer most are the Sinhalese.
Q: Why do the Sinhala people sometimes fear the concept sharing power with the minorities?
A: Because of years of mutual suspicion of each other perhaps there is a layer of latent fear. But I believe given the opportunity the people having suffered so much will now respond positively to proposals which will restore peace and rebuild the country.
Q: So you are confident of victory at a referendum on the constitutional proposals?
A: Im no soothsayer and cannot predict. But having met people all over the country for two years, especially in Sinhala majority areas, I feel they will respond positively. In 1993, during the Wijetunga presidency, the UNP took a communal line and went to the south insisting that all the minorities were creepers on the Sinhala tree. The UNP thought the south was chauvinistic and would support such racial claims. But the PA headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga acknowledged that the minorities had legitimate grievances and aspirations which needed to be addressed. The South rejected the racist slogans of the UNP and gave us a resounding victory in 1993. We won again in August 1994 and in November, President Kumaratunga scored the biggest victory in the history of democratic elections in Sri Lanka. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to have forgotten the past. He is going to temples and making vows regarding the alleged rigging of elections by the PA. But he has forgotten how President Premadasa drove out British High Commissioner David Gladstone because he reported some rigging. Anyway, all that apart, we are now facing the moment of truth and a tryst with destiny.
Rev. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thera
Q. Are you satisfied with the explanation given by Minister Mangala Samaraweera ?
A: No. there wasnt an explanation in that statement. All what he said was that he regretted if any pain of mind had been caused to the Maha Sangha by his remarks on the interim report of the Sinhala Commission.
Having claimed it is an expression of regret, he has once again branded the Sinhala Commission as conspiratorial and a body fulfilling the objectives of a certain political party, aiding Prabhakaran and arms-dealers and also satisfying the need of those who are blood-thirsty.
The Maha Sangha cannot be separated from the Sinhala Commission for the Buddhist priests have been actively involved in it from its inception. Moreover, on the day when the interim report was made public, the Maha Nayake Theras issued messages with blessings. Hence , by the so-called explanation, he has only re-affirmed the charges he had earlier levelled against the Sangha.
Furthermore, the National Joint Committee (NJC) appointed the members of the Sinhala Commission unanimously and the latter is constituted of a group of intellectuals including former judges. There may be drawbacks in the recommendations or areas to be modified. So being a responsible Cabinet Minister, what he should have said was that due attention would be paid to the report without dismissing it in toto.
Q. Are there any other reasons for your non-acceptance of Mr. Samaraweeras explanation?
A. Well , the NJC consists of 47 strong organisations such as the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) , Young Mens Buddhist Association (YMBA) , Buddhist Theosophical Society , Buddhist Womens Federation and the Order of Monks. Therefore , a federation of this nature cannot be treated lightly. Naturally, when the Minister said that the NJCs recommendations would end up in the dustbin, it hurt all of us very much.
In addition, various Tamil organisations have submitted a number of reports highlighting their problems over the years. Even last week P. Chandrasekeran submitted certain proposals regarding the up-country Tamil people. The government did not dismiss them as false or partisan or say they would end up in the dustbin. If that is so why should only the proposals of the Sinhala Commission be castigated ?.
It is also implied that the Sangha including the Mahanayake Theras are indirectly supporting the Tigers. We have not written a word against Tamils or Muslims in our report. We always maintain that if they had been discriminated their grievance should be rectified. That is humanity.
What is mainly discussed in our report is the danger we see in the governments devolution package.
Q: What were you expecting from Mr. Samaraweera?
A: We wanted him to apologise for the disgrace he brought on the race and the Maha Sangha. To err is human. He has merely said sorry. That is what we say even when we accidentally trample ones foot. The matter shouldnt have been treated so lightly.
Q: Did you mention that the Minister should worship the Mahanayakes and then apologise ?
A: As the Minister is a Buddhist, it is not difficult for him to do that. The Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Amarapura chapters were present on the day of handing over of the interim report . He could worship them and apologise for his remarks.
According to history even powerful kings have done that in similar circumstances. For example King Mahasena once acted against the Maha Viharaya. Then one of his ministers along with the masses rose against the King. Finally the King worshiped the Sangha of the Mahavihara and apologised for causing pain of mind.
Q: What would be the main issues of the protest to be held in Matara ?
A: This protest will be held near the Matara Bodhiya. It has been organised by the Sangha of the Matara district. We will condemn the disgrace caused to the Maha Sangha and the Sinhala people by the Ministers remarks. This cannot be taken as a protest against the government. Our campaign is not politically motivated.
Q: Some reports say Tuesdays satyagraha did not draw the expected number of monks.
A: We expected only about 500 monks, but there were nearly 1500. At Matara we are expecting more .
Unless and until Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera withdraws his statement underestimating the report of the Sinhala Commission, thereby damaging the dignity of the nation, and asks for forgiveness in public, the Maha Sangha, numbering 5000 monks will protest in front of the Bodhiya in Matara, Jathika Maha Sangha Sabhawa, organiser Rev. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thero, said in a letter to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
The letter added that the Jathika Sangha Sabha is deeply hurt over the ministers statement which said the interim report of the Sinhala Commission should be thrown into the dust bin.
The letter states:
If he failed to do so, the Maha Sangha would launch a protest campaign, and stage a mass protest in front of the Matara Bodhhi, where 5000 monks would take part.
If the desired result is not obtained even with this campaign, the Sangha Sabha would take the protest campaign, country-wide exposing to the people the tactics of politicians who resent when monks talk of injustice perpetrated on the nation, thereby misleading the masses. We express our regret that these politicians fail to feel the pulse of the people.
We are amazed that none of those in authority is able to understand the damage caused and the dishonour incurred by foolish utterances of some politicos that harm the dignity of our nation, and the Sangha, who advise in such grave situations.
It is a pity that reality is misconstrued and private and individual desires of politicians are carried through public media giving voice to bogus men.
We challenge the media to expose their new found saviours, some of them including monks who in the eyes of the government are the Maha Sangha. When such statements are made at levels of press briefings, we are prone to accept them as the version of the government.
That a Minister of the government did accept the Interim Report by his participation at the official handing over, goes to show that the intentions of the government are different to those of the Media Minister.
Therefore, we insist that the government should take responsibility for the statement made where the Sinhala nation is slighted and dishonoured.
Media Ministers comments came in for censure from certain sections of the Maha Sangha. A protest campaign was held on September 30 at the statue of the Anagarika, in Vihara Maha Devi Park.
At the protest it was decided that Mr. Samaraweera should withdraw his remarks within 72 hours, and ask pardon from the nation and the Maha Sangha.
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