Ven. Sobitha, the Desmond Tutu of Sri Lanka | Daily News

Ven. Sobitha, the Desmond Tutu of Sri Lanka

Wednesday marked the second death anniversary of the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, a towering figure among the country's bikkhu fraternity, but for whose dedication, indomitable courage and pioneering spirit there would not be a Yahapalanaya regime today. The event was marked fittingly, with President Maithripala Sirisena in attendance, together, with all civil society organsiations and groups, which went to form the Movement for Social Justice, of which the Ven. Sobitha was the convenor, and the vanguard in the campaign to oust the corrupt Rajapaksa regime. In fact, it was Sobitha Thera who was the original choice for the Common Candidate, for which there was a strong campaign led by political parties and civil society groups. But the Thera, characteristically, declined the offer.

President Sirisena, no doubt, will be the first to acknowledge that the charisma, benign influence and wide popularity enjoyed by the Ven. Sobitha, was the key factor that swayed the voter in his favour. The Ven. Thera was the central figure in the campaign to enthrone the Common Candidate, who was able to convince the vast majority, of the dire need for a change in course for the country, caught in the throes of nepotism, corruption, impunity and misgovernance. He was the Desmond Tutu of Sri Lanka, who fearlessly took on the might of all governments, when they veered from the path of righteous governance. His battles with JRJ and Premadasa are only too well known to need elaboration. His taking up cudgels on behalf of the Rathupaswala residents, the demonstrators who agitated against the Rajapaksa government's attempts to fiddle with the EPF, students at the receiving end of police brutality etc. no doubt, are etched in the memory of many.

Yet, he was also not one of those bikkhus who are today seen on 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. Ven. Sobitha was a popular guest on TV talk shows where he aired his full range of views without pulling any punches, not caring on whose corns he was treading. This outspokenness, needless to say, did not endear him to the political powers of the day. But he stayed the course, rather than take the easy way out, and, pander to the politicians, the way some of our bikkhus are wont to do. For him, what mattered was justice, fair play and clean governance.

Ven. Sobitha was not an ordinary Buddhist monk, who was content to dwell in his temple abode, preaching and offering counsel to the devotees. He was an individual with a mission, to cleanse the body politic of the ills that afflicted it. In this endeavour he transcended political colours and ideologies. He did not support any political party, did not mount the platform of any politician. He was a monk who always clashed with the government in power, rather than take the convenient path of aligning with the powers that be, even as some of our Mahanayakes have been doing. Suffice it to say that no threat or physical assault, to which he was subjected to, succeeded in breaking his resolve.

As already mentioned, it was Ven. Sobitha, and his Movement for Social Justice, that proved the catalytic force that effected the January 8 regime change, 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 patronage and 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, under Rajapaksa, Ven. Sobitha could easily have had his pick. It is the measure of the man and his principles that he chose to ignore these blandishments, and, instead, continued 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 himself helped install, and, was in fact, out of the limelight in the days preceding the illness that claimed his life. 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 Yahapalanaya government went to show that he firmly stood by his principles and convictions and was not averse to even pinpointing the wrongs of the government that was formed with his blessings.

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, no doubt, will be sorely missed, by not only those whose causes he espoused, 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. 


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We need many in lanka


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