By Hilmy Ahamed –
As we bid farewell to a rare human being who probably changed the political landscape of Sri Lanka from disaster, it is time for us to reflect on his life, times and principles that he adhered to in the spirit of serving mankind and resolve to continue his work. Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha was one of those rare individuals who, despite his limited formal education possessed vast knowledge. He probably was the most influential Buddhist priest in Sri Lanka who was accepted by the Sinhala Buddhists, Tamils, Christians and Muslims alike. The large number of Buddhists, Muslim, Christian and Hindu Sri Lankans who inundated the Kotte Naga Viharaya to pay their last respects is evidence of the high esteem in which the people of Sri Lanka held him. His love and affection for all of god’s creation surpassed his religious and cultural beliefs.
There must be a large number of souls from my Muslim community who consider Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero as a champion who challenged the racist agenda of a few Buddhist extremists when they were destroying the peace and spearheading a campaign of hate towards the Muslim, Evangelical Christians and other minorities in post war Sri Lanka. He believed and articulated strongly that every Sri Lankan had the right and freedom to live as an equal citizen in our blessed land.
Born into a humble village family on the 29th of May 1942, Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero rose up to be one of the country’s best know and respected Buddhist priests. Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha entered Buddhist priesthood at the tender age of 11 and his love for the people steered him to be a prominent socialist and social justice activist. He led campaigns that even changed regimes in true Buddhist-style nonviolent revolutions. He was the chief incumbent of the Kotte Naga Vihara. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero supported the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe in January 2015 to form a new government defeating President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sobitha TheroHe never belonged to any political party and led an influential and assertive political life with significant charisma. Yet, many wanted him to come forward as the common candidate to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa in his bid for a third term presidency in January 2015. He once told media that his initial inspiration for politics came from the 1956 socialist revolution in Sri Lanka that brought a reformist government to power against the pro-western UNP-led ruling elite.
He was a prominent member that opposed President JR Jayewardene’s efforts to centralize power within the presidential system of governance and continued his fight against the presidency. He was most concerned about the threats against freedom of expression, civil rights and the rule of law.
Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero was also one who campaigned against the Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka. His skills as an excellent orator immensely helped in mobilizing and creating political awareness amongst all Sri Lankans across the spectrum. He was a lead campaigner that propelled the incumbent government to office on assurances given by the leadership to ensure good government. He used his charisma, influence and skill to maximum use by spearheading the fight against corruption, nepotism and impunity within government through the National Movement for a Just Society (NMJS). His sole objective was to bring in a government that would address the burning issues of the people on 8 January 2015. He could be singled out as the key players who helped end the decade long Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration. He brought together a divided opposition, trade unions, rights groups, artists, professionals and academia alike to fight for justice, democracy and good governance.
According to many media accounts, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero was a totally unhappy person during the last days of his life due to the failure of the National Governments to address the core issues that he fought and brought this government to office. The government’s failure to inquire in to the massive corruption scandals, nepotism in government, and bringing in reforms that would lead to good governance were issues that saddened the venerable priest. He felt betrayed.
It is ironic that the current government is accused of even capitalizing on his death. A video that has appeared on mainstream and social media clearly states his last wish to be buried without fanfare in the simplest possible way. He has been denied his last wish that has been recorded in a video release.
Maha Sanghanayaka of Sri Jayawardenapura, the Ven. Meegahatenne Chandrasiri Thera said that in the absence of a written last wish, his colleagues and devotees had to decide on the funeral arrangements. He accused “some people” of trying to spread false rumours that the last rites of the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera were not being conducted according to the Thera’s last wishes.
What ever the truth of the matter is, as we bid adieu to this noble being, let us resolve in honour of this irreplaceable monk to continue his mission and ensure that the rule of law prevails, every single cent of the country’s resources that were illegally siphoned off by politicians and their henchmen are brought back to the country, end political impunity, ensure freedom of religion, thought and expression, bring in the constitutional changes that would enshrine civil rights, forge reconciliation and sustainable peace and work towards bring to Sri Lanka the miracles that have been promised by our politicians in recent history.