By Ameer Ali –
There are far more important matters to think, discuss and publish about the current developments in Sri Lanka. However, since I had been a long campaigner for abolishing all ethnic political parties in the country, and particularly the SLMC and its break away ACMC among Muslims, I thought of exposing their irrelevance in the context of (a) this year’s island wide May Day rallies, and (b) a budding New Sri Lanka at the Galle Face Green.
May Day marks a day of victory to the working class, which won the right for an eight-hour working day, and the history of that struggle goes back to the 19th century. Ironically, it was in the citadel of capitalism in America that May 1st was declared holiday in 1891. In Ceylon, the first May Day event was held in 1927 led by the Labour Leader A. E. Gunasinghe, and May Day was declared public holiday by the SLFP coalition government in 1956. Since then, there had been rallies every year organized by trade unions and political parties. It is a day to mark the historic struggle of the working class.
This year’s May 1st came at a time when the entire country was engaged in a historic struggle to change a political and economic system that had bankrupted the national coffer, ruined the economy and brought misery to millions of Sri Lankans. Therefore, May Day rallies this year carried an added significance. They were not simply rallies to mark the victory and solidarity of workers and their inalienable rights, but more importantly to lend support to a national struggle spearheaded by an awakened generation of young men and women of all ethnic and religious communities, and determined to end a political and economic system that had kept communities divided and exploited that division to accumulate wealth power for a few. That division and exploitation had reached its climax during the regime of Rajapaksas. What is going on therefore is a struggle for liberation – a liberation from the tyranny of a kakistocracy.
Significantly, all May Day rallies organized this year by political parties and trade unions had deliberately avoided marching towards and assembling at the Gall Face Green – an otherwise traditional destination for mass rallies and demonstrations in the past – because that venue has now become the maternity ward for a mother with birth pains for a new Sri Lanka.
However, the main question behind the present discussion is where were the May Day rallies organized by SLMC and ACMC? Isn’t there a working class among Muslims and don’t those workers form part of the world labour movement? Surprisingly, even TNA, another minority ethnic party, did organize a rally in Kilinochchi. Why couldn’t the leaders of the two Muslim parties at least show that they are also part of the national struggle by organizing at least a token rally somewhere in a corner of the country where they claim to carry support? They couldn’t, they didn’t, and they wouldn’t, because of their interest are solely parochial and profit seeking. Their disinterestedness in workers interests, like their nonchalant attitude towards national issues, and the absence of internal party discipline expose their irrelevance to national politics.
Since the formation of these parties, contribution by their leaders and parliamentary representatives to debates on national issues such as for example, the annual budgets, economic and financial policies, environmental issues and foreign relations had been absolutely zilch. If at all they spoke it was about problems facing their own community. No one denies their duty to raise those matters in the parliament. But they fail to realize that Muslim issues cannot be solved singularly by Muslims alone. They need the national support and that support would not come from by championing religious and communal parochialism. Muslim problems are part of a larger issue arising from a divisive and exploitative political system. That system has now exhausted its vitality and has created an economic and financial catastrophe never experienced in this country before. It is this failure that has finally awakened the young generation, which has no tolerance for ethnic parties and ethno-nationalism. It has taken more than seventy years to bring about this enlightenment.
The contemporary Muslim community is not that historically maligned “business community”. It has rejected that sobriquet and its new generation of men and women, like their counterparts in other communities, are bravely breaking away from the traditional aloofness of the community and willing to share responsibilities and make necessary sacrifices in the struggle for a new Sri Lanka – a Sri Lanka that would not only be free of that accursed ethno-nationalism and religious parochialism but also would have no place for profit making political fools in the parliament. Already there are signs of that willingness in the enthusiastic and spontaneous participation of Muslim young men and women in the ever-growing aragalaya.
Given this national awakening among youngsters from all communities, ethno-nationalism is fast losing its currency, although its usual propagators are trying to breathe some life into it. Muslim political parties too have become an irrelevance and anachronism in the changing political paradigm. Gota-Go-Gama represents a unique mission to liberate the country’s economy, society and people from the ravages of an oppressive ethno-national political mechanism engineered by its demagogues. The aspirations of the aragalaya cannot be met and the country’s economy cannot be resurrected simply by playing musical chairs with ministries and reshuffling powers among them in a desperate attempt to constitute an all-party interim government. Except perhaps little over a dozen of the present 225 the rest of the parliamentary mob are total misfits to govern the country. Aragalaya therefore demands a quick opportunity for the people to choose a more capable team to clean up the mess created by a kakistocracy. In the same vein, it is time for the Muslim community to sing the requiem after burying the two embarrassing irrelevances, SLMC and ACMC, in the dung heap of history.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia