Faith, not publicity | Daily News

Faith, not publicity

Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has once again urged religious leaders not to permit places of religious worship to be used directly or indirectly for promoting political parties or candidates for the upcoming General Election. This was actually a long standing regulation but it was not observed or practised by the majority of politicians regardless of their religion.

According to a news report we published on Tuesday, the Commission had received complaints that such activity was taking place in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Ampara districts. One recalls that during past elections too following the creation of the Independent Elections Commission the Commission Chairman made a similar request which certain clergy and many politicians took exception to.

This time though there has not been any overt promotion of political parties or candidates at places of religious worship perhaps due to the Coronavirus and this is as it should be since temples, churches, kovils and mosques are places where the faithful go for spiritual nourishment and not for political sermons. The Elections Commission in a statement said that any candidate or political party that breaches the order could be found guilty for Undue Influence.

The Commission Chairman’s reasoning is not without basis. People in this country look up to and follow the advice of religious leaders to a large extent. Politicians are acutely aware of this and want to exploit it to their advantage. The Election Commission chairman’s ruling in this regard was endorsed by the Most Ven Chief Prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and also by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith perhaps for the same reasons.

Therefore let this be a beginning where all types of political campaigning at all places of religious worship is put to a halt altogether and the clergy made to strictly follow these guidelines. The practice of politicians seeking blessings from religious leaders before television cameras should stop. We are the only country where such practices have gained prominence among the public. Religion, after all, is something personal, to be practised and nurtured within oneself, and not to be made an open display of. Religion must not become a tool for gaining political mileage.

Not just politicians, even sportsmen, artistes and myriad other characters who covet publicity today make a beeline to prominent and historic places of worship seeking the blessings of religious leaders in front of television cameras – whilst many them are having various allegations against them. This is clearly a cosmetic exercise for public consumption and religious leaders should not entertain such practices.

Certain prominent places of religious worship from all religions have today become thoroughfares, with all and sundry trooping in to obtain blessings from their custodians, not only devaluing the religion concerned but also desecrating their sanctums. This has to stop at least now.

The Elections Commission Chairman has requested all political parties to refrain from holding election meetings at places of religious worship and asked the police to take action in this regard .However politicians know how to get over such obstacles and get the message across to the voters. Nobody, the police included, can prevent politicians from entering places of religious worship when there is a large congregation and mixing with the crowds, though this has been prevented to some extent by the pandemic.

This in itself is self –promotion, given that the Sri Lankan public has great faith in religion and the presence of politicians at places of religious worship is a plus factor for the politicians concerned. He/she need not make political speeches.Their presence alone is sufficient.

Chief custodians of places of religious worship too have to bear responsibility for the current state of affairs to some extent. Some of them not only promote the politicians who come to seek their ‘blessings’, but also attack the rivals of the politicians concerned. This is not only unfair and unjust but also goes against the grain of the religion these custodians uphold, for no religion calls for the attacking of individuals, for whatever reason. On the contrary it is forgiveness and forbearance that are taught in all religions in the world and this should be foremost in the minds of the custodians of all places of religious worship patronized by politicians.

Ideally, all political party leaders should advise their candidates in the fray to desist from visiting places of religious worship during the period of the campaign. Any such visits should be devoid of publicity and strictly private. There is no necessity for an open display of piety by politicians or any individual, for that matter.

As already mentioned, religion is strictly a personal matter that does not call for an overt display of sanctimony. Let the Election Commission Chairman’s ruling to make places of religious worship out of bounds for all political activity come to stay, not only during the election period but for all time, in this country.

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