I have openly supported Sihala Urumaya and then Jathika Hela Urumaya from their inception. I have made monetary contributions to their funds and participated in their campaigns. And I don’t regret. They have delivered what I expected from them. But for the future, I have concerns.
JHU is fundamentally a Sinhala Nationalist party; but within them, there are some Sinhala Buddhist extremists. Their role in Sri Lankan political arena however, at their inception, was very crucial. At the time, nationalism was not that much a popular subject among the politicians, and whenever they used the term, they didn’t meant what they mean now. None of the two main political parties had a clear majority in the parliament. So who comes to power was decided by the smaller parties which are either Muslim or Tamil. Since their alliances kept the government from falling apart, they had a great control of the governance. To say the least, their agendas did not include fighting terrorism or developing the country. Even though JVP had become the 3rd strongest political party at that time, they did not promote nationalism or end to terrorism by means of war like they opted to do so later.
Also, no political party had solid determination to eradicate LTTE in a war. By 2004, after couple of years in to the peace agreement, and quite a few army intelligence officers dead, no one really believed that the LTTE could be defeated in a war.
These were the things that JHU brought in. They created popularity for those among people, thus forced other political parties to adopt. JVP jumped in very quickly and UPFA caught up. UNP however, didn’t understand. By the presidential elections, the country had barely enough adapted to nationalism and the thought of eradicating LTTE. But Chandrika tried to postpone the presidential elections by a year. It was JHU which brought a fundamental rights petition and enabled the presidential elections in 2005.
Even though the stage was set to eradicate LTTE, there was no strong ignition to get it going. Again, JHU plays a crucial role in this by marching to Mavilaru, which prompted the government to start the military offensives.
So what’s bad? The anti-conversion act that they are trying to bring in to start with… it simply tries to take away the right of someone to embrace their beliefs and chose their religion. That's wrong by the Buddhism I know. As a friend described, Sri Lankan Buddhists does lot of chanting, worships idols, makes such idols available in every corner, nook and cranny to be worshiped; Worships trees in the same sense. Offers flowers, food and incense etc. to those idols and trees (perhaps a direct adoption of Hindu idol worshiping) and believes that "Good luck" or "Divine favors" are granted to the people doing those rituals. And of course, has the word “Buddhist” in the religion field of their birth certificates. They also kills, tell lies, commit adultery, steal, and consume narcotics. Ah and yes, boast a lot about being a Buddhist country and of our superior culture. They blame ladies for wearing revealing cloths as the cause of rape, ban alcohol and mild sexual content on TV for everyone just to protect the culture (or their children? Or whatever), get pissed off at and try to beat the hell off from anyone who questions them… and so on. And if these people chose to embrace Christianity, I say it’s good. Because that would be their first conviction of a religion, for surely, they are not practicing Buddhism right now. So I hope, instead of trying to bring laws to prohibit those convictions, our Buddhist monks go convert those people without a conviction to Buddhism.
I don’t know the exact stake of JHU in the laws against alcohol and tobacco, but they are one party who’s having a strong opinion about it. I personally don’t consume them, and believe they do no good. But I also respect the right of other people to consume them as long as they don’t violate rights of others - that includes right for free health care: i. e. having to treat cirrhosis patients in government hospitals for free is a violation of another patient’s right to receive that medical attention. But trying to stop alcohol by law would be as ineffective as the laws on prostitution. Prostitution was never legal in Sri Lanka for my knowledge, but we have never succeeded in eradicating that. United States tried to eradicate alcohol, but failed. And censoring alcohol related and smoking scenes from television is outright stupid in my opinion. If they affect the minds of the minors, it’s the parent’s responsibility to control what their children watch on TV. Censoring them is a violation of mature audience’s right to enjoy a work of art in its original state. So is censoring sexual content. Government should acknowledge the fact that mature audience in Sri Lanka has the ability to watch and enjoy television programs with some erotic content as a whole without being turned in to sociopathic sex addicts by those timid sexually explicit scenes.
On their defense, when JHU led it elections campaign in 2004, a lot of people with extremist ideas about such issues got attracted and became supporters - or even members. And those elements form the majority of people who represent JHU in our society. And they might be voicing their own perceptions on some of these laws instead of the reality. I never bothered to read these laws anywhere, apart from my own experience of the censoring television content.
On the governance model of the JHU, they propose governance based on Buddhist teachings. There was a time when I believed that this is a good idea. But as I mature, I realize how difficult it is for someone from another belief to subscribe to such governance. So now I believe in secularity.
So, what’s the purpose of JHU’s existence now? If they change their outlook to be a more liberal nationalist group, they could help strike a balance as the Sinhala Buddhist representatives among the Tamil and Muslim political parties in the parliament. But I guess that promotes separatism in a way, and is not a positive thing. So, I doubt if they’d contest the next parliamentary election as a separate party; and I hope not too.
What’s left of them? I believe Champika Ranawaka and Udaya Gammanpila are two great politicians the country would benefit from in a higher capacity. The monks could go back to doing what they used to do before 2004, or better, start practicing meditation and teach us too…