19 November, 2017

M.H.M. Ashraff: The Renaissance Man

By Mangala Samaraweera

Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs

Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs

My late colleague -the renaissance man M.H.M. Ashraff – was a talented lawyer, articulate legislator and effective minister. He was also an accomplished poet, reciting poetry or quoting from literature at the drop of a hat. But more importantly he was a deeply humane man, who genuinely shed tears for the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden.

I first met Ashraff in 1993, just prior to the General Election, for a feast to mark a religious celebration. We would have been passing acquaintances if not for the 1994 general election, which resulted in becoming close friends and political colleagues. In fact, in Parliament our allocated seats were next to each other, we sat beside each other in cabinet, when I moved to my official residence I found that he was my neighbor, and one day when we unknowingly sat next to each other on a flight in 1996 to watch the cricket world cup in Lahore, he said: “It appears that I am doomed to sit next to you for the rest of my life.” Sadly, that was not meant to be.

I lost a friend and Sri Lanka lost a statesman. He had a vision of a peaceful, prosperous, united Sri Lanka – a Sri Lanka without violence, oppression or injustice, where all citizens could feet at home, as equal partners in the state and society. It was this vision, I believe, that led him help create the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. He felt Muslims, particularly the Muslim farmers and fishermen of the Eastern Province did not have a voice and say in the politics of our country. His speeches in Parliament are replete with the concerns of the people of Eravur, Kalmunai, Addalachenai and his native Nintavur.

M.H.M. Ashraff

M.H.M. Ashraff

But he was not a communalist. Ashraff was deeply committed to a vision of building a just society for all Sri Lankans. Which is why for him freedom for Royal College and Ananda College was not enough. Ashraff, who over the years became fluent in English, Tamil and Sinhalese, was a man who not only fought for the freedom for Sammanthurai Maha Vidyalaya but also for Killinocchi and Weeraketiya Maha Vidyalaya. He spoke on behalf of the problems of the Tamils, the suffering of Sinhalese youth, the difficulties faced by Up-country Tamils and the issues faced by ordinary Sri Lankans. He wanted a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious state and society, which were shared among all Sri Lankans. In fact, just before he died, he was in the process of creating a national non-communal political party called the National Unity Alliance.

His concern for the oppressed does not mean that he endorsed the LTTE or JVP’s methods or their ideology. In fact, he was one of the LTTE’s greatest critics. But he was convinced that if Sri Lanka was to move forward, the grievances of all communities and social groups would have to be addressed. I remember him in Parliament saying once:

““So long as we allow the minorities to feel that their grievances have not been heard, that their grievances have not been remedied, then we will not be able to think as Sri Lankans and face the national crisis that we have been called upon to face.”

The challenge before us now is to make Lanka the Island of Peace. In fact, we now face the task of re-forging our constitution; as a society we are re-negotiating our contract with the state. The two main political parties have debated the national question since 1956: the time has come for a lasting solution. We cannot go on supporting or opposing a reconciliation package simply because we are in, or out, of government. But that does not mean that the final consensus will easy: it will be tough, it will take mistakes. But if we are committed to taking Sri Lanka forward, I am convinced that we can finish the task that many, including Ashraff, have laboured at before us.

It is at junctures like these that we especially miss Ashraff. He was a tough negotiator: but he was also practical, adaptable and committed to his principles. He was ever willing to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders to find creative solutions to problems as long as they fitted the principle. For example, he was steadfast in finding a configuration that would share state power in a way acceptable to all communities and actually solved the grievances of ordinary people – whether it be sharing legislative, executive, administrative or judicial power at the periphery or the centre.

The legacy Ashraff leaves us is a commitment to a just state and a compassionate society. He reminds us that we must face this country’s challenges with both our heads and our hearts. After all in him, politics was the business of poets, and poetry the business of politicians.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    5

    Ashraff was an excellent communicator. This is a blast from the past. Ashraff vs Ven Soma Bikkhu.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkDmEUJ99Z4

  • 4
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    Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs

    RE: M.H.M. Ashraff: The Renaissance Man

    “I lost a friend and Sri Lanka lost a statesman. He had a vision of a peaceful, prosperous, united Sri Lanka – a Sri Lanka without violence, oppression or injustice, where all citizens could feet at home, as equal partners in the state and society. It was this vision, I believe, that led him help create the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. He felt Muslims, particularly the Muslim farmers and fishermen of the Eastern Province did not have a voice and say in the politics of our country. His speeches in Parliament are replete with the concerns of the people of Eravur, Kalmunai, Addalachenai and his native Nintavur.”

    “But he was not a communalist. Ashraff was deeply committed to a vision of building a just society for all Sri Lankans.”

    “The legacy Ashraff leaves us is a commitment to a just state and a compassionate society. He reminds us that we must face this country’s challenges with both our heads and our hearts. After all in him, politics was the business of poets, and poetry the business of politicians.”

    Thanks. Well stated, Ashraff, a man who cared about Sri Lankans and those he represented, despite all the communal elements he had to deal with.

    Well said. He had ti take care of his people, and the others were taking the concerns of his people in the Eastern Province for granted. The Muslims in the West and South dos not care so much about them.

  • 4
    0

    Mr. Mangala Samaraweera,
    But now some people think his dreams have been shuttered by the current leadership. The party image has been tarnished. SLMC has been split into many now. Many believe that your government is partly responsible for it Mr. Samaraweera. That is what called ‘divide and rule’. Can you say that your government is not partly responsible for the damage suffered by SLMC? Rauf Hakeem has accepted that SLMC is weak now. You can also ask your partner in the government Rauf Hakeem, what is his vision for the Muslim community?

    • 4
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      Mr Sideek,

      What “vision” of Rauff Hakeem are you talking about ? Have you not heard of the old truism “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see” ? Hakeem of course is able to see very well at split level , even though he may have to slightly bend !!Surely the late Kumari Cooray will confirm this for an absolute fact.

    • 1
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      Hakeem is only interested in a minister post regardless of which government is in power and has taken to the next level by appointing his family in the national list ……how stupid does he think the eastern province Muslims

      Ashroff was definitely a communalist ,how can he not be a communalist? He started the SLMC for that very reason,he campaigned on religious slogans

      Ashroff was starting a new party name NUA for his own selfish ambition to use Sinhala politicians in his party to become President of Sri Lanka

  • 4
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    Fancy shape shape tip c..
    Preposterous politicians have gone down the drain to praise.

    If one has to die to be felicitated then I can wait.

  • 5
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    M.H.M.Ashraff was the son of a Grama Niladhari.His family is from Kalmunai.The Federal Party was the first vehicle of his entry into politics.He had an uphill task to dislodge the Muslim Political leadership in the coastal side of the Amparai District like Kalmunai, Nintavur etc.There were established politicians like Mansoor,Majeed,M.C Ahamed etc.
    He formed the Srilanka Muslim Congress and reaped the whirlwind.
    Islam,in his politics was the mainstay.

  • 2
    2

    Mr Sideek,

    What “vision” of Rauff Hakeem are you talking about ? Have you not heard of the old truism “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see” ? Hakeem of course is able to see very well at split level , even though he may have to slightly bend !!Surely the late Kumari Cooray will confirm this for an absolute fact.

  • 3
    3

    Mangala is clearly fishing for the Muslim vote as well now, trying to white wash this rogue Ashraf (see below).[Edited out]

  • 3
    3

    Excellent article by Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, the vacuum of late M.H.M.Ashraff is a great lost for the country. His vision for a united Sri Lanka and peaceful existence of all communities should be fulfilled by those who really value his leadership.

  • 4
    3

    AShraff was the same man who bulldozed part of Deeghavapi and settled muslims.

    • 3
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      Jim Sooty:

      NEW DELHI: Keen on fostering ties with neighbours, India is set to engage in high-level talks with Sri Lanka by October for an ambitious $5.19 billion road project to connect both the nations through a sea-bridge and an under water tunnel.

      Sinkala Thivinukor Palam Amaipom

      The development follows Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari meeting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week with plans to expand the existing motor pact with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal to other neighbouring countr ..

  • 8
    2

    Mr.Mangala Samaraweera:

    I respect you as a man of Intergrity and a breath of Fresh Air compared to the terror unleashed by Mahintha the fallen king on the Minorities. But sadly your actions so far have not filled me with any confidence that we can place our trust in a Government headed by MS, RW and yourself but I readily admit these are early days.
    First of all I want to see an Admission by the Majority of the Terrible crimes commited against the Tamils called remorse. You cant protect Mahintha and he has to be punished if we are to move on as a Nation but with seperate sleeping arrangement.
    I am sorry to say this but it is the battered wife syndrome.

    *** I like the following and you must thank your lucky stars that you havent perished and alive to tell the tale.

    It appears that I am doomed to sit next to you for the rest of my life.” Sadly, that was not meant to be.

    If you mean what you say and respect Ashraff for what he stood for here is a piece of what he said and stood for.

    ***”Ashraff began his political career like many an Eastern Muslim leader as an admirer of the Tamil father figure S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, the founder leader of the Federal Party. He was greatly enamoured of Chelvanayagam and the federalist vision for the Tamil speaking people of the North – Eastern Traditional Tamil homelands.

    Ashraff was particularly appreciative of the fact that it was Chelvanayagam who raised the issue of Muslims being killed at the Puttalam mosque by Sinhala policemen. Muslim Parliamentarians including Puttalam UNP Pariamentarian Naina Marikkar maintained a deafening silence then.

    Ashraff spoke on F.P. platforms and in 1976 attended the historic Vaddukkoddai Conference where the newly formed Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) unanimously adopted the demand for a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

    *** I have a humble request for you.

    In memory of Late Ashraff will you promise to do the following.

    1) Find the killers of Thajudden
    2) Punish Mahintha for his Crimes against the Tamils
    3) Deliver what Ashraff dreamt of ” Federal Sri Lanka” as nothing else will do.

  • 4
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    If Mr Ashraf was still around he would have made Eastern province a Muslim state. Also Mr Ashraf was accused of destroying ancient Buddhist sites and land grabbing of ancient sites.

  • 5
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    Dear Mr.Mangala Samaraweera:

    After posting my comments in response to your Article “I lost a friend and Sri Lanka lost a statesman” I have read a piece of News Item as follows.

    Mahintha the fallen king has made statement saying that he will not answer any Questions asked by the Hybrid Court and let me give you my take on this.

    1) The Tamils never believed that Sri Lanka either had the Expertise or the apetite for an Inquiry.
    2) So from the begining this arrangement was flawed and this was a the Brain Child of the US for a variety of reasons.
    3) So your worry of you loosing a Friend and Sri Lanka loosing a Statesman will turn into Sri Lanka loosing its Sovereignty.

    I dont have to advise you but you as a Polititician should know what happened to ” Milosevic”.

    Milosevic was indicted to the Hague and when he refused the Big Brother flexed his muscles and under pressure from the Satan and despite Russian Oposition the Generals finally put Milosevic on a Plane to the Hague.

    When the USA finally realises that it was a folly to agree to a domestic inquiry she will come round to the idea of empowerring the ICC to take Mahintha to the Hague.
    That is when Sri Lanka will finally face the Wrath of American might and I am sure what the consequences will be.
    The UN has already named Mahintha as a War Criminal but you are still providing State of the Art Security to protect him.

    Mahintha is guilty as charged and dont forget even by a Conservative estimate 40,000 innocent Tamils died and UN has corroborative evidence and the shelling of Hospitals and killing surrendering Combatants in cold blood amounts to WAR CRIME.
    The future for Sri Lanka is BLEAK.
    8th Of January and 18th of August hasnt changed anything. You cant change ” KARMA”

  • 1
    1

    “M.H.M. Ashraff: The Renaissance Man” – Mangala Samawaeera

    Ashraf was never a “renaissance Man” but the renaissance behind Wahabism to Sri Lanka. Ashraff helped import Jamaatul Islamiya & Jamaathul Dawa (Indian) and AlQaeda branch of militant ideology to the Eastern province. The two Indian militant groups that later forcmed Laksha-el Taibaa that were behind the Mumbai attacks. As a result, we have extremist in pockets where Eastern province Muslims enclaves even in Colombo. Whoever who got rid of Ahsraf subsequently removed a canker from the country and stopped the bad rapport he was giving to peace loving Muslims who have embraced democratic politics and opposed any kind of separatist politics quite unlike Ashraf. Ashraff’s clandestine agenda was to make the entire Eastern Province a Muslim protectorate governed by Sharia law and courts. Ashraff’s several speeches implied this and his communiques intercepted by military intelligence that was made of high level Muslim and Malay officers whose allegiance were unwavering and remained patriotic to this day. Every one of the officers unanimously confirmed of the impending danger they smelled in Ashraff. Mangala who is ignorant of the facts, internal memorandums belonging to our national security apparatus that makes up the Joint Operations Command should refrain from giving credit to evil and vicious men like Ashraf.

  • 3
    0

    Dear Mr.Samaraweera,

    It is with dismay that I have read a Statement put out by Field Marshall SF claiming that it was the LTTE who killed all the Tamil civilians.
    This is not only factually incorrect and insulting to the victims as evidence to confirm armys involvement was given by Colonels who deserted but also from satellite image picked by US of indiscriminate shelling it also amounts to SUBJUDICE.
    His statement undermines your efforts to prove to the World that you have opened a new page in terms of Good Governance and Race Relations. SF him self was vilified by Gotha and Manhintha but his statement amounts to absolving them of any wrong doing but I can understand the reasons as they were partners in Crime.
    My request to you is this.
    As SF is still part of your Government you , MS and RW have to restrain him from making wild statements which is SUBJUDICE.UN has spoken and he will have his say in Court and I hope decency and respect for Law & Order will prevail and if he refuses to obey your order he should be stripped of his Privileges.
    Wish you success and you owe it to us .

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