Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, the Game Changer

by Lalith Allahakkoon

( November 9, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The passing away of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera removes from our midst not only a religious leader held in high esteem but also a doughty fighter against corruption, oppression and abuse of state power by Governments in office. He was always in the forefront of any agitation that pit the state against the ordinary folk. It is this indomitable spirit of fighting for what is right and leading from the front to confront Governments that strayed from accepted norms and resorted to arbitrary rule that made the Ven Thera a prominent a public figure revered and respected both layman, politician and civil society groups.

His taking up cudgels on behalf of the Rathupaswala residents, the demonstrators who agitated against Government attempts to fiddle with the EPF, students at the receiving end of police violence etc. are only too well known. Yet he was also not a one of those bikkhus who we see on the streets waging running battles with the police, bringing disgrace and dishonour to the saffron robe. He had other channels through which he articulated his views. He was a popular guest on TV talk shows where he aired his full range of views on men and matters, not caring whom he hurt. This outspokenness, naturally did not endear himself to the political powers of the day. But he stayed the course rather than take the easy way and pander to politicians the way some of our bikkhus are wont to do.

The Ven Sobitha was no ordinary Buddhist monk who was content to remain in his temple abode preaching and offering counsel to the devotees. He was an individual with a mission bent on cleansing the body politic of the ills that afflicted it. In this endevour he transcended political colours and ideologies. He did not support any political party, did not mount the platform of any political party. He was a rare monk who always clashed with the Governments that were in power rather than take the convenient path of aligning with the powers that be, as even some of our Mahanayakes have been doing. His famous clashes with the JR, Premadasa regimes are only too well known to warrant repetition. Suffice it to say that no threat or physical assault, which he was subjected to, succeeded in breaking his resolve.

On hearing of his grave illness President Maithripala Sirisena ordered that Ven Sobitha be flown to a Singapore hospital, with the state undertaking to bear all expenses. President Sirisena no doubt would be devastated by the news of the Thera’s death. For, it is the Ven Sobitha and his Movement for Social Justice that proved the catalytic force that effected the January 8 regime change installing him as the President of the country, evicting a leader who was considered invincible. It is pertinent to note that Mahinda Rajapaksa was a close associate of the Ven Sobitha who could have easily availed himself of state largesse had he decided to play ball, blinding himself to the shenanigans of the Rajapaksas. With the number of Buddhist monks holding posts in state bodies, handed out by Rajapaksa,Ven Sobitha could have had the pick of his choice. It is the measure of the man and his principles that he chose to ignore these blandishments and instead continue with his mission of fighting corruption and family rule.

True, it was no secret that Ven Sobitha was hurt and disillusioned by some of the developments under the regime he help install, in recent times, and was in fact out of the limelight in the days preceding his illness. He was particularly unhappy over the extraordinary delay in bringing to justice those politicians against whom massive corruption charges had been leveled. He also voiced his concern at the induction of defeated candidates into Parliament and showering them with Ministerial portfolios. However his coming out into the open and being critical of the Government, went to show that he firmly stood by his principles and was not averse to even pinpointing the wrongs of the Government he helped instal.

Of course he had his critics, those who saw him as a major impediment to the furtherance of their political ambitions. There were even vilification campaigns against him and also attempts to silence him. This was seen during the recent Presidential Election campaign when he was pursued by intelligence sleuths and the Kotte Naga Viharaya which was a virtual command post in the campaign in support of the Common Candidate kept under surveillance. There were even threats to his life. But nothing deterred him in his mission to the see the back of a corrupt regime and family rule.

Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera will be sorely missed by not only those whose causes he espoused, disregarding threats to his person, but also the politicians, who capitalized on the fund of goodwill he had cultivated among the masses, to bring them into prominence. He will be remembered for many things, most importantly as the Game Changer in the political battle waged on January 8, that brought down a corrupt, oppressive regime.

( Lalith Allahakkoon, is the editor of the Daily News, where this piece was originally appeared as the editorial)

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