n Sri Lanka’s modern history we believe it would be just and right to say that seldom or never before has any religious prelate done so much for so many. We carry this in our banner as we join a grateful country in saying a heartfelt thank you, hail and farewell, to the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera who passed away at a Singapore hospital early yesterday.
Soon after the death was announced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe rushed to the Kotte Nagavihara to work out the funeral arrangements.
The prelate who played a pioneering and pivotal role in the people’s silent revolution of January 8 will be given unprecedented State honours. The body will lie in state at the Naga Vihara till it is taken to the Parliament grounds for cremation on Thursday-which has been declared as a day of national mourning.
The last two years of Sobitha Hamuduruwo’s life were the most noteworthy. What he did and spoke with courage and wisdom would be remembered and hopefully followed for generations. The Seventy-three-year old Sobitha Hamuduruwo emerged to play his highest and noblest role as the founder leader of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ).
Early last year when the visionary prelate saw Sri Lanka being dragged towards autocracy, he came to the centre stage. He believed that for his beloved Sri Lanka’s people, what hurt more was not the sword of the enemy, but the silence of the friends. The NMSJ spoke out strongly in the mainstream of politics though many religious leaders feel that politics and religion should not be mixed.
But Sobitha Hamuduruwo in his vision and mission for liberative spirituality believed that religious leaders—while not getting involved in party politics-have a responsibility and moral duty to get involved in politics because “Deshapalanaya” needs to be for the common good of all the people, especially the impoverished or marginalised and not for the rich and ruling elite, to get richer and more powerful. Unfortunately the English word ‘politics’ has often been wrongly interpreted and has bad connotations. Thus many religious leaders say they do not wish to get involved. But the Sinhala word, ‘Deshapalanaya’ gives the correct meaning—how the State should be justly governed for the common good of all.
Sobitha Hamuduruwo a committed follower of the noble Eight-fold Path preached by Gautama the Buddha was not just a promise-giver as are so many politicians and other leaders, but a promise keeper. Like his Master he practised what he preached and preached what he practised. As he often said he had no personal animosity or grudges against leaders but he challenged them on issues of principles especially when they involved important matters relating to the common good of the people. On this foundation of rock he built the common front for the battle against the former regime’s dictatorial policies which had led to a breakdown of the Rule of Law. On the foundation of rock Sobitha Hamuduruwo even offered to be the common candidate of the Joint Opposition for the Presidential election this year but only if another credible common candidate could not be found.
Dramatic, behind the scene political moves took place last late last year, before the November 20 proclamation was issued for an early Presidential election on January 8.
Sobitha Hamuduruwo joined the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in opening an unexpected door for Maithripala Sirisena to come out. The rest is history.
Sobitha Hamuduruwo lived and died for good governance, democracy and social justice for accountability and transparency, for honesty and integrity, for the independence of the judiciary, the police and other vital issues. Among other practical steps, he repeatedly called for the abolition of the Executive Presidential system or a significant dilution of its powers. He also insisted that the long delayed Right to Information Bill be implemented soon.
President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the National Unity Government must on Thursday need to go beyond a day of national mourning. They need to give a solemn and unbreakable pledge to the people that Sobitha Hamuduruwo did not die in vain.