16 May, 2022


The Courageous Role Sobitha Thero Played Should Continue To The Future!

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

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.

SobithaIn 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 focussed 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!

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Indeed Terrorist and Anarchist in any part of world never fought for democratic task undertaken by Working class.

    The arch -Terrorist like that Lional Bopage as ex-leading carder of JVP who had been betray the task of democratic revolution by encouraging anarchism during JVP days.
    How can such man become fight for rights of democracy ?

    Well such person like Bopage that can be trust by the masses of people that he asked to be undertaken leadership of democratic rights ?
    People should know that background of Bopage politics of JVP that always in counter-revolutionary camp. Even now he allied with
    Rev. Sobitha who has betray vital interest of Sovereignty and Independent to US and Indian. Rev Sobitha lost his national identity and diverted from politics of Democracy. Bopage is now want carry forwarded Rev.Sobitha task of partition of Island by US led agenda.

    By and large working class had been misdirected by Bopage during his JVP days 1969 to 1985.

    Now that he( Bopega) want review policy of Rev.Sobitha give that new leadership enrich that ongoing policy UNP-Ranil.W… CBK and President MS that continuations which that domination of Sri lanka by US and Indian hegemony. The every nook and corner of well known Terrorist and anarchist are agents of US and Indian hegemonies.

    Bopage never diverted from US and Indian orbit.

    • 5

      Instead of dealing with the article and the issues raised in the article, Mr “W. Milton” makes some vitriolic comments and brings up matters that betrays his ignorance of the history of Sri Lanka. As pointed out to him, more than once previously, I have detailed elsewhere about the campaign of state terror launched against the JVP in the seventies, in the form of disruptions, intimidation, tortures, proscriptions, incarcerations, and disposal of dead bodies without holding post mortem examinations. In addition, I have explained the manner in which the political and military vicious cycle evolved during the period of the 1971 April uprising. For example, see “Rebellion, repression and the struggle for justice in Sri Lanka: The Lionel Bopage Story” available at Vijitha Yapa Publications. Please refer http://www.vijithayapa.com/product/view/26687.

      Let’s put aside the erroneous comments Milton has made. There are many important issues pertaining to Sri Lanka that need to be discussed constructively. Regarding his vitriolic comments made against late Ven Sobitha Thero, it would be good for Milton to read the comments the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made about the Thero. See http://colombogazette.com/2015/11/10/mr-notes-key-role-played-by-sobitha-thero/

      • 2

        Mr Bopage’s memory appears to be incredibly selective!

        He refers to “the campaign of state terror launched against the JVP in the seventies, in the form of disruptions, intimidation, tortures, proscriptions, incarcerations, and disposal of dead bodies without holding post mortem examinations”, but not a word about thousands of bus drivers, nurses, labourers and other most oppressed people of Sri Lanka killed by his comrades like Piyasiri Fernando (may he rot in hell).

        I have witnessed their killings first hand. May be Bopage in salubrious Australia now wants us to forget those bastardly killings.

        This is a problem with all JVP “kandettas” including the current leader Anura Kuamara and the old muderer Tilvin Silva. They will never have a political future in our country, except through some National List MPs.

        [Edited out]

      • 1

        What about the 1970 or 71 Kegalle district JVP bank robbery and the murder of the policeman on duty in that bank during the robbery, weren’t you directly involved in that?

  • 0

    [Edited out]

  • 5

    I need to make a correction to the period of my first visit to Sri Lanka that I have mentioned in this article. My visit to Sri Lanka since becoming a political exile in 1989, was not in early 2000, but in May 1998. I thank the editor of Colombo Telegraph, Mr Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, for pointing this out. In fact, after interviewing me for ‘Ravaya’, he drove me to Naga Maha Viharaya to meet up with Ven Sobitha Thero, as I was running late for the discussion. Afterwards, he then drove me back to Colombo. Thanks Uvindu, for pointing this out and also for providing me those ‘historic lifts’.

    • 1

      Bopage is trying to buy out Uvindu Kurukulasuriya. These tactics won’t work my friend

  • 0

    Comrade Bopage,

    The fact is crimes in the name of liberation were committed by JVP as well as the state apparatus. You cannot deny that you were part of the JVP at that heinous period of Sri Lanka. Awful crimes were committed in the name of politics just as much as in the name of race and religion in the not so blessed country of ours.

    Coming back to Sobitha Thero, it is true that he was instrumental in kicking out the MARA mafia. For this he should be given due credit. However the people that he promoted to take MARA’s place were a poor choice as events have proven to be. ‘Yahapalanaya has now morphed to ‘Yamapalanaya’. Due to this I for one unfortunately will curb my praise of the late Prelate.

    • 0

      Your question needs to be clarified as to provide a yes or no answer would be an over-simplification of the context within which these events took place. Significant shifts in the national and international political arena during the 1960s impacted heavily on the political evolution of the JVP. During this period, neo-colonialism was expanding its tentacles and reinforcing its hegemony world-wide. The USA was applying overt force or indirect covert force in South-East Asia to subject socialist or pro-socialist governments to regime change.

      In 1970, the defeat of the UNP government that advocated establishing a dictatorship by folding the electoral map down for twenty years became the political challenge and priority. Even the SLFP perceived this threat of a pro-colonial dictatorship and openly spoke against it. In the light of what was happening in the international arena and the statements made by the pro-US elements of the UNP government, the JVP had decided to arm themselves. The intention had been to confront a future military government that could be set up with neo-colonial backing.

      The movement supported the United Front at the 1970 general elections held in 1970. The United Front fought on a strong anti-imperialist policy platform including the nationalization of colonial big business enterprises, which was very popular in many developing countries at that time. The United Front won the election by more than a two-third majority in parliament. Within weeks of coming to power the leaders of the United Front commenced singing a different song, backtracking on the radical election pledges that were made.

      Did the establishment offer any peaceful means and opportunities for the youth to bring about fundamental changes needed to satisfy their youthful aspirations? The disadvantaged and the underprivileged of the society had no opportunities for decision-making, they were kept far away from power centers and were marginalized. This situation provided a natural and ideal opportunity for the JVP to expand its political base.

      As the government discredited itself, the JVP rapidly grew in popularity. The JVP was gradually expanding its base not only among the youth but also among workers, peasants and plantation workers. Disappointment and disillusionment with the excuses for not implementing pro-socialist policies while implementing pro-capitalist policies provided the basis of the gains the JVP made in a very short period of time, devastating the bases of traditional left. The JVP became the harbinger of the message of social progress and its ideology spread like a bush-fire. This ideology had its own drawbacks, as many intellectual critics have pointed out, but it was Marxist in essence.

      By the end of 1970, the JVP had become the strongest left force in Sri Lanka. The United Front government started arresting party cadres and supporters in large numbers including JVP sympathisers in the armed forces. The assessment was that given the structure and political program of the JVP and the nature of the state and its repressive apparatus, the state would sooner or later have used all the means at its disposal to destroy the JVP.

      The JVP in the pre-1971 period was also full of factionalism and splits. Many groups had moved away from the JVP due to political differences. At the end of 1970 factionalism had at its core personal matters that led to serious implications during the period of insurrection. Despite working together due to government repression at the end of March, the mistrust between the two factions was so vast that each faction was taking life and death precautionary steps to protect their own factions.

      The state’s repression of the leadership and the cadres of the JVP, combined with the JVP’s inexperience and the romantic notions of armed struggle it held, resulted in a premature call to arms. Bad planning, poor communication, rifts within the party and possible police spies within the organisation allowed the armed forces to easily crush the rebellion and launch a campaign of terror against the JVP and its supporters. Tens of thousands of people were being arbitrarily jailed, tortured or shot. The political and tactical question whether the JVP leadership had a choice as to if they should have launched the insurrection?

      During the insurrection, the CP and the LSSP set up home guards to protect police stations and to search and destroy JVPers. The UF government introduced repressive labour laws banning the distribution of handbills and posters within the workplaces without employer permission and arresting all those who did not report to work. While carrying out a systematic purge of the workplaces, the government decreed that in recruitment to the armed forces anyone under the age of 35 should be totally excluded in forming the National Service Regiment. Hundreds of JVP cadres sacrificed their lives in combat and non-combat situations, and thousands were arrested and destroyed by security personnel trained and motivated in cold-war political ideology. After capture, some were burnt alive, buried alive and some were cut to pieces using chain saws. Even some of those who surrendered following the call of the then Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranaike were killed.

      In my view, the insurrection should have had the limited goal of enabling the survival of the JVP, something possible only if it had retreated to the more remote and less inaccessible parts of the country. However, the party was not prepared for even such a limited revolutionary manoeuvre. The planned simultaneous attacks on police stations were to allow the JVP access to arms and munitions for the guerrilla campaign to come.

      JVP had an over-simplified view on the method of socialist revolution. Instead of the working people, armed with class consciousness generated by the deep social contradictions they experience, moving forward to capture state power, the JVP was acting as a substitute on behalf of the working class. The JVP struggle took the form of a secret conspiracy, without the participation of the majority of the working people. The insurrection was for all purposes a botched putsch by a faction-ridden party of young inexperienced revolutionaries responding to state repression. By doing this the JVP allowed the state to imprison its leadership, murder 10,000 of its cadres, and jail and torture many thousands more.

      I resigned from the JVP in February 1984. In my letter of resignation, I admitted to the faulty political conclusion made at the discussion held to decide whether to embark on the 1971 armed insurrection. Obviously, this decision was a destructive one. I was involved in this decision and am also responsible for the consequences that ensued. As I have stated in the resignation letter, irrespective of whether this decision was taken to confront the repression of the State or not; or whether it was a suicidal decision or not, it was the logical outcome of the pre-1971 political activities of the JVP. The question how this decision could have been avoided or altered still remains unresolved.

      However, I still believe, had the party and the leadership, when they were released in 1977, learnt any tactical and political lessons from the failure of the insurrection, it could have avoided the large scale devastation that was caused in the 1988-89 period, which in a way this may be interpreted a return to pre-1971 politics.

      It is still debatable whether the April 1971 insurrection was a short-term plan to capture state power or not. It was an action plan to defend the JVP’s right for political existence. At the same time I accept the fact that if capturing state power was not the long-term goal of the JVP then there was no strategic reason for its existence. However, in hindsight I believe, the reaction and opposition to the inhuman state plan to search and destroy the JVP could have taken other forms, which could have led to mass agitations and protests against the government repression. Its original decision to arm itself, in self-defence, generated an ascending vicious spiral of violence. Some intellectuals continue to interpret the insurrection as an occasion of misconduct of misled youth and quick to condemn them. These pundits have intentionally kept a blind eye from the major societal causes for the violence and have become apologetics for the corrupt, family bandyist regimes, and the social layers that have been passive in terms of social change.

      The following statements vividly summarise the political ideology of the state and its armed forces: Sandhurst trained Lt. Col. Cyril Ranatunga, military coordinator of Kegalle district during the insurgency and later appointed as a diplomat, was quoted as saying: ‘We have learnt too many lessons from Vietnam and Malaysia. We must destroy them completely.’ Another officer was quoted as saying: ‘Once we are convinced prisoners are insurgents we take them to cemetery and dispose of them.’ Despite subsequent denials, in later weeks, hundreds of bodies of young men and women were seen floating down the Kelani river near Colombo, where they were collected and burnt by soldiers. Many were found to have been shot in the back.

      In summary, the JVP was pushed into a corner, and the state repression, factional infighting and political inexperience led the JVP into a premature insurrection. As a consequence some leaders (including me) of the rebellion were tortured and jailed for their role. But the crucial point that political commentators never discuss is the fact that the state’s armed forces that perpetrated most violence had never been brought to justice and made to account for their actions. This has been true not only with regard to April 1971 insurrection, but also during the subsequent armed conflicts at other crucial periods in Sri Lankan history.

  • 1

    The terrorist has spoken

  • 1

    Bopage, you are no patriot. A traitor. Full Stop

  • 0

    JVP is not a Marxist political Party ,it was anarchist political outfit very beginning since 1965/66. It practices Terrorism until now.

    PDN Wijeweera was Moscow oriented type of adventurist and his class basis more familiar with Chauvinist and conspirators politics as similar as petty bourgeoisies class in nature.
    In his(PND W…) action plan by join 1966 Coup and join 1966 anti-Tamil in practices proved that JVP core leader of party and that your ‘Guru’ never being Marxist or followed Marxist political ideology.
    JVP as leader PDN W… who laid down principle of one stroke ‘socialism’ by overnight take state power that overthrown of Bourgeoisie regime at that time ( Coalition Govt. led by S R Banadarake, Dr NM.P…of LSSP and CPC-Moscow wing Peter Kenamen and Dr S.A Wickramasinghe click) by armed struggle.

    5th April 1971 insurrection and revolt that collective decisions by JVP terrorist central committee, the overnight so-called revolution led that by Bopage and PND .W.. Party decisions. That is not an isolated decision PND W…..Rohan by himself.

    Well, JVP was not working class party, there were few handful labors, farmers, radical unemployment youth, students and few women like Sujatah Hadagama and sister of party supports mean, those individuals are not the real represtantive of working class of Ceylon.

    Therefor your party elements has no class roots of working class basis that has nothing do with to Marxist ideology.

    Your party very inception that followed Chu Guvura path of politics of that is not Marxist path to Socialism.
    In fact you and PDN Wijeweera totally opposed Mao Zedong thought, your self and your Guru PDN W…denied which called Mao politics and your party teach and said that Mao line of politics was anti- Marxist.

    How can you being member of Communist or become Marxist ?
    Your ideology position proved that your in reactionary camp very beginning. And you and your Guru of PDN W…..Rohna or Attnayake of JVP are agents of Comprador bourgeois in Ceylon /Sri lanka.

    In term of Marxism JVP denied different stage of Democratic and Socialist revolutions. In fact JVP has totally ignored role play by working class in bourgeois revolution, that not only armed struggle and political struggle in two fronts was important.
    Once Mao said don’t strike too many enemies at a time, strike at a few, and even with the big landlords deal your few only at most reactionary handful….UNP….CBK MS..!

    Those handfuls are almost of pretty bourgeois like you– Mr Bopage! They have been no any relationship with Marxist world outlook.

  • 0

    bopage is a terrorist I won’t trust him

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