By As-Sauthul Mazlum –
“The most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham
It was the history of deceit and shamelessness in the repeat. When the 20th Amendment was put to a Vote in the Parliament recently, Eastern based political opportunists bearing Muslim names became turncoats and sold themselves to the Rajapaksas presumably for proverbial ‘thirty pieces of silver’ by voting in favour, allowing the brothers to rule Sri Lanka with an iron fist. It was however not the first time that these political scumbags acted against public interest as it happened during the passage of the equally toxic 18th Amendment too. What will be the quid pro quo they were promised is anyone’s guess; at least they will be answerable to the God Almighty for their treachery. One thing was however clear: it was time for the Muslim community to call out them for who they are and shun them like a plague: as they continue to sell the dignity of the community, pretending to represent Muslim interests.
The SLMC in 2010 supported the 18th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution that lifted the two-term limit on the Presidency. When the 18th amendment was being formulated, Rauff Hakeem reportedly had a meeting with President Rajapaksa in Kandy. The one to one meeting ended on a positive note. Rauff Hakeem returned to Colombo and after consulting party stalwarts and well-wishers convened the meeting of the High command. After much discussion and debate the High Command resolved unanimously that the party would support the proposed amendment from opposition ranks. This the Muslim Congress did and the 18th Amendment was passed. Soon afterwards the SLMC joined the Government as a party in its entirety. Rauff Hakeem became Justice minister.
In particular, the capitulation of the SLMC, which ultimately granted the Rajapaksas the two third majority to make the Amendment possible, presents a clear example of the failure of minority of parties to engage in any meaningful, principled opposition politics. At the time, the SLMC’s rationale for crossing over was explained as an exercise in pragmatism: without being in power, they were unable to respond to the demands of their constituents. The then response of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was better. Though the party was engaged in a process of reflection and debate on its role in the post-LTTE political context and was inclined to withdraw from the debate on an issue that it was argued by some was a matter that did not affect them directly, it did oppose the Amendment. The speech delivered by Mr Sumanthiran M.P. contained probably the most powerful critique of the Amendment. Even during the 20th Amendment vote, the Tamil politicians took a principled stand.
Then in 2014, in a major setback to Mahinda Rajapaksa ahead of the January 8 polls, Hakeem’s party cunningly quit his government and pledged support to the opposition camp led by challenger Maithripala Sirisena and the rest was history. At the time of their crossover, Hakeem said in a tongue in a cheek fashion, ‘We are guilty of compliance, and want to redress that” explaining his party’s disillusionment with the statute that enables the executive President to use wide-ranging powers. However, after a decade, his MPs along with another one from ACMC (and 2 SJB members Diana Gamage and Arvind Kumar) voted for the 20th Amendment visibly for material benefits, thus letting down the people who voted for them and petty political gain. It is interesting that Rauf Hakeem wrote a book on Muslims titled ‘We are a part; not Apart’. However months later, his party ripped apart the dignity of the Muslims!
Thus, Sri Lanka’s political pendulum decisively swung toward a strong, centralized state in the grip of an executive president with sweeping authoritarian powers, fulfilling a goal of the Rajapaksas, Their (slavish) allies argued that an all-powerful executive echoed the political mood in the country, but it was a fact that the brothers tapped into an ultranationalist, majoritarian sentiment to win two decisive electoral victories in December ‘19 and August ’20. With the passage of the draconian 20th Amendment, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being re-enthroned with unbridled powers of a monarch and the electorate cannot complain, for they voluntarily invited the disaster. In passing the new amendment , the Government (along with this band of Opposition renegades who voted with it) has eagerly given the President a blank cheque to do what he wants.
As the columnist Malinda Seneviratne once warned: “History has shown time and again that tyrants have come to power democratically and ‘nice people’ have ended up abusing trust and position” The columnist Malinda Seneviratne warns: “History has shown time and again that tyrants have come to power democratically and ‘nice people’ have ended up abusing trust and position”. He adds: “Forget names and faces. Let’s concentrate on the wording. Let’s imagine the unimaginable. It is far better to assess the worth of any particular amendment by imagining that the benefits accrue to the politician you dislike most”.
The proposed amendment generated a heated debate in the public domain , led by liberal and progressive-minded academics, Maha Siangha, legal experts and civil society activists ,who expressed alarm at the country regressing into a virtual dictatorship regime. However, the amendment received the green light from the Supreme Court before being placed for Parliamentary approval. In fact, Parliament’s makeup also favoured the Rajapakses with previous amendments to the 1978 constitution not being subject to a national referendum as well. Their political juggernaut has given the SLPP 145 seats and were confident of attracting few more votes from smaller parties to meet the two-thirds threshold. However, this exercise posed no difficulties, as the Rajapakses knew that there are always political garbage lying around in the leadership of these so-called Muslim parties , who can be bought for ‘thirty pieces of silver’ as they say. Thus, despite all those nays against the move, the legislature of the country gave 2/3rd majority approval to the 20th Amendment which will be a death knell on the democratic process and the strengthen the autocratic Executive Leadership- a curse of the JRJ ghost!
Politicians face a perpetual conflict between what’s expedient at the moment and what they should do for the long-term. The tendency, unfortunately, is for expediency to prevail, thus worsening longer-term consequences. History will record the treacherous action of the turncoats and political opportunists from some so-called Muslim parties in the East who paved the way for the political disaster to happen for the second time. O tempora, o mores! (Shame on this age and on its lost principles!“). Their unprincipled conduct will continue to tar the image of the Muslim community already being wounded by a well –orchestrated demonization campaign with blessings from the top.
As Senior journalist Latheef Farook said, round this time, knowledgeable Muslims began losing faith in the SLMC that built up an image as a political party by simply joining the winning side to suit its leader’s personal agenda. There were many who started to openly criticise the SLMC, stating that the community’s interest would have been better served if the SLMC has not come to the political scene and allowed the Muslims to be in different political parties and work together with the other communities. …. the SLMC has become an unfortunate liability on the community. This was the sorry state of affairs that Muslim politicians have brought upon the community especially at a time when nationalists and neo-nationalists from the majority community in the Government are hell-bent on implementing their agendas against the Muslim community. The general feeling among the Muslims is that the SLMC is today a liability’. So are other splinter groups under Muslim names who continue to use the community name and its interests to further their narrow political interests and earn political positions. It is a shame that Muslims are still failing to realize their hypocrisy and political opportunism and continue to vote for them.
In the Post- Easter Sri Lanka in general and after the election of a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist government headed by the Rajapaksas, anti-Muslim hatred is on the rise with increasing tempo of demonization of the community visible both in the media and government policy. Muslims are being portrayed negatively regularly in the media., In the light of opportunistic gymnastics of these Muslim name-bearing political turncoats, it is highly likely that Muslim community has to bear the fall-outs and insults thrown at them for no fault of theirs. Isn’t it therefore time opportune for the Muslim community to drive out these political scumbags from the political arena. The Muslims should not let any of these so-called Muslim parties to auction their vote and make the community the punch bags for the gimmicks of the likes of Hakeems and Bathiudeens? These parties are in fact a liability and a shame on the community. The sooner they realise, the better for the community. Instead, the Muslim community should seek to develop political leaders in the moulds of Sir Razik Fareed, Sir TB Jayah and Dr Badiudeen Mahmud for they are better and exemplary political role models.
As Muslims, we are proud of the visionary approaches of our early Muslim leaders, especially during the latter stages of our Independence struggle, which helped significantly to charter Sri Lanka’s way to Independence from British colonialist masters in 1948. The Muslims participated in the demand for freedom from British rule without any hesitation and in full strength through their organization Muslim leaders at the time of Independence, did not lose sight of the national priorities whilst gaining immense benefits and rights for their community, due to their balanced approach and political maturity to see things ahead of time, without harping on narrow community interests. .
Crucial Muslim support then facilitated the process of Sri Lanka gaining independence from the British in 1948 and helped end almost four and half centuries of European colonial rule in the island. Fast forwarding the time clock 72 years later, and comparing those leaders of statesmen calibre with today’s array of cheap Muslim politicians who use community interests to gain their own vested interests ( about whom the lesser is said, the better), aptly sums up the degeneration of political values and culture during the last 6 decades. Those early leaders did not sell the dignity of the community and the country like how the despicable so-called Muslim parties are now doing. Of course, this process of political degeneration has been on a national level, and applies to the political leaders of other communities too. There was more class and polish in those leaders of yesteryear.