Picture courtesy SithTV

We are deeply saddened by the demise of the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, the chief incumbent of the Kotte Naga Maha Vihara. He contributed immensely as the Convener and Chairperson of the National Movement for a Just Society in Sri Lanka. As far as I know, the Venerable Thero was one of those rare Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, who had the courage to stand up against the injustice of the powerful.

At the end of 1970s, when I was a member of the JVP, I had the opportunity to meet up with the Venerable Thero to discuss the prevailing situation of the country. He was clearly standing above party politics, but willing to work for achieving fair and just solutions to the problems of the people. While in exile, I visited Sri Lanka in early 2000, and had the opportunity to meet up with him again at the Kotte Naga Vihara. One of the important points of our discussion was regarding the necessity for developing a political solution to the national question in Sri Lanka, which would be acceptable to all stakeholders involved. Even at the height of the armed conflict, while he was supporting the war of the state against the LTTE, he was not against working out a fair and just solution to the problems and grievances of the Tamil people.

In discussing the issue, the Venerable Thero expressed the view that political parties in Sri Lanka work mostly for narrow gains and their own selfish interests, rather than being focused on the needs of the country and its people as a whole. His view was to establish a council of the country’s intelligentsia that reflects the diversity that exists in the island, so as to study all aspects of the national question and develop and recommend a political solution appropriate to the country and its people as a whole. Later those recommendations can be subjected to discussion at the political and executive level in order to gain wide support. He emphasised the need for a clean policy based politics, rather than working on an opportunistic political agenda.

He played a leadership role in the movement that worked for defeating the corrupt and criminal political culture that prevailed, by establishing a new President to the country in January 2015, and a new government in August 2015. He has always emphasised the need to fulfil the pledges that were made to the people during the two elections. He went on to state that if these commitments are not fulfilled, it will be disastrous to all. In order to achieve this, he wanted civil society to be active and for it to take steps to ensure an end to the Executive Presidency; to change the electoral system, to properly investigate allegations of bribery or corruption and to penalise the perpetrators. He did not want corrupt individuals or candidates that were incapable of serving people to be elected to the Parliament. The Venerable Thero appealed to all political parties to nominate only suitable individuals. He further appealed to the people to vote only for suitable candidates.

I believe the greatest honour we can bestow upon the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero will be to make what he envisaged in terms of good governance in Sri Lanka and addressing the problems of its people a reality. He was a boundless inspiration to all those people who have been in the forefront in the struggle for defeating autocracy, family bandyism, nepotism, bribery and corruption.

The active role he played courageously and fearlessly to restore basic human rights and freedoms of peoples of Sri Lanka needs to carry on to the future!

10 November 2015, Melbourne, Australia