By Latheef Farook –
SLMC abandoned Muslims for positions and perks; Isn’t it time for Muslims to reassess their politics?
Spate of latest scandals involving Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) parliamentarians and its leadership demand that the Muslim community should reassess their politics and free itself from this party which, many accuse, betrayed the community for positions and perks .
The SLMC came with the slogan of Islam and Unity. However this slogan was abandoned since inception. Throughout it has been a one man show of its founder Late M.H.M. Ashraff, and has been known for scandals.
History of SLMC has been history of compromising community interest for positions, scandals and corruption. The latest spate of scandals involving SLMC parliamentarians and its leadership show the lowest moral depth to which they have descended to.
It is difficult to understand by what yardstick they claim themselves as Muslims.
They have caused immeasurable damage to the image of the community. The emerging consensus is the increasing support to wind up this party as early as possible.
I had highlighted these scandals in many of my articles. In my book” Nobody’s People-The Forgotten Plight of Sri Lanka’s Muslims” I stated as follows ten years ago;
“Muslims were fed up with their SLMC politicians known for autocratic leadership, allegations of corruption and opportunism, greed for power and positions, factional fighting, sex scandals and the tendency to betray their own colleagues for positions
The general feeling among the Muslims, especially among professionals, intellectuals, religious scholars and even businessmen and others, is that the SLMC has let down the community.
Muslims did not want a separate political party. However Sinhala leaderships’ indifference pushed them for a party to have a platform of their own to raise their issues.
For example since early 1980s, the Muslim community was deeply disappointed with the then UNP government. They were longing for a forum to voice their grievances especially on issues affecting the very survival of the Muslim community.
For example, in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, President Jayewardene openly insulted Muslim politicians and the community when he told them that they could leave the government if they did not agree with him to establish an Israeli interest section in the United States Embassy in Colombo.
Thus Jayewardene’s arrogant dismissal of Muslims, overall disappointment with UNP, atrocities of Tamil militancy, Indian manipulations in local politics and Ashraff’s political ambitions ended up with the establishment of SLMC.
However many Muslims advised him to confine the party to the east and not to make it an island-wide one. They warned that such an island-wide Muslim party could harm traditional good relations between the Sinhalese and the Muslims in the rest of the country.
However exploiting the mood of the community Ashraff started the SLMC.
Then Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga formed the UPFA Government, with SLMC support, providing the SLMC with an unprecedented bargaining power and influence that was not to the liking of especially the hardliners in the majority community.
In his hour of glory, Ashraff failed to read the mood of the majority community. His irresponsible utterances such as his claim that the “SLMC has emerged as the kingmaker and without its support the government could not be formed” angered both Sinhalese and Muslims alike.
His Digavapi land issue and unwanted public debate with Ven Soma Thero created Sinhala animosity towards Muslim community which bitterly opposed and detested Ashraff on these issues.
Unfortunately ego resounded from this thinking made him blind to the realities around him. Those who were close to him accused him of inaccessibility, arrogance and ill-treatment. There were even allegations that he treated his own supporters who helped him climb the political ladder very shabbily. This led to large number of senior members starting to distance themselves from the party.
“Ashraff’s policy of exploiting Islam as a weapon to enhance his personal political agenda damaged the image of the Muslim community in the eyes of other communities.
In the midst, in the most unexpected moment, Ashraff was killed together with eleven others in a helicopter crash in September 2002 near Uragala jungle, adjacent to the central hill town of Mawanella.
His death triggered leadership struggle between Rauf Hakeem who was not a founder of SLMC and Ashraf’s wife Ferial which subsequently led to numerous splinter groups.
The Sinhala leadership picked up one group to provide ministerial portfolios and related perks to put them against the other. The result has been endless splinter groups of sell outs who were only interested in positions, perks and accused of amassing wealth.
This struggle for position, power and perks was not based on the interest of the community but purely on personal interests. These Muslim parliamentarians joined the government as individuals and small groups. They negotiated, before joining the government, not as a bloc but as individuals and groups and got what they wanted: ministerial portfolios and the associated perks.
In the process Sinhala leaderships came to know that they could manipulate side-line and make the community voiceless. In fact this is exactly what is happening now.
Early this month former President Chandrika Kumaratunga told a group of Muslims that Muslim parliamentarians failed to raise important issues such as education, jobs, land problem, resettlement and all other such issues affecting the community.
Muslim parliamentarians in the government need to raise Muslim issues with one voice and draw the attention of the government to bring about a peaceful solution. Such a joint effort would attract the attention of the government that needed the support of these parliamentarians for its own survival. But unfortunately these Muslim ministers opted to remain silent angering and insulting the community.
For example in the August 2016 elections more than 95 percent of the Muslims voted for United National Party and brought it to power which lost more than two dozen elections. However the UNP led government abandoned the community and started rolling red carpet to Israel, sworn enemy of Islam and Muslims, who have turned the Middle East into a killing field.
Israelis who called Sri Lankan as “Monkey looking people” are here not because they love Sri Lanka but as part of their global agenda. They would pit Sinhalese and Tamils against Muslims and even Muslims against Muslims. The SLMC is constituent party of the government. Did they speak a word about Israeli presence here? Perhaps that is not their agenda.
On the other hand heated debate is underway for a new constitution for the country. Isn’t it the responsibility of SLMC to take every possible step to ensure the rights of Muslims too guaranteed in the new constitution?
The efforts of many Muslim individuals and organizations to bring these Muslim parliamentarians together to jointly take some measures to deal with issues that threatened the livelihood of Muslims proved futile.
It was under such circumstance about four years ago eighteen national organisations got together and formed the National Shore Council which is striving to establish better ties with other communities while helping the community to deal with various issues.
The unanswered question is “what are these Muslim parliamentarians doing? Whom are they working for?”
Speaking out on behalf of the community and still remaining in the government is a difficult task in this highly commercialized, criminalized and corrupted political environment. Thus they prefer to abandon the community rather than antagonising Sinhala leadership. As a result Muslims have lost their confidence in the SLMC’s ability to protect their interests.
The SLMC not only failed to make its own contributions on national issues but also separated the Muslims from national parties all of which ignore the Muslim community. As a result Muslim community is left out in almost every important policy debate.
This is the sorry state of affairs that Muslim politicians have brought upon Muslim community especially at a time when extremely hostile local and international forces are here in the island, hell-bent on implementing their evil agendas against Muslim community.
Need of the hour is for Muslims to join national parties and it is up to national party leaderships to absorb the Muslims into the mainstream politics if they are sincere. Under the circumstance the only option for Muslims is for civil society to play a key role to safeguard the rights and interest of the community.