By Ameer Ali –
With regional councils elections around the corner Muslim politicians, those in power already and the ones aspiring to capture it, once again have started searching for tactics and slogans to win the hearts and minds of Muslim voters. The ultimate objective of the first group is to arrest their diminishing popularity and placing their positions so strategically that when elections to the parliament follow they will be able to retain their parliamentary seats and capture lucrative ministerial positions. There is no doubt that religion and ethnicity will play the most crucial role in this dirty political game.
Muslim politics since the registration of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) as a political party has taken the wrong turn leading to the political, economic and social detriment of the Muslim community. The leaders of SLMC, by changing colours and switching allegiance at convenience, more to maximise their personal than community’s gain, have quite deliberately placed the Muslim community in a collision course with the rest of the country. Never before in the history of this country did the Muslim community earn such an enormity of mistrust from other communities as it is confronting now. The leaders of SLMC have been repeating ad nauseam that they would “fight for the rights” of Muslims without spelling out to the Muslim public what those rights are and how many of them have they achieved since they entered politics. In a democratic country like Sri Lanka what right for example, can an Abdullah have which an Appuhamy or Ambalavanar cannot have? Also, why do they always talk about rights in isolation without at the same time reminding their listeners about duties? Even now it is not too late for SLMC leaders to come clean with Muslim voters by listing the so called rights they have been struggling to win since the party came into existence and provide a balance sheet to the Muslim public accounting for the party’s achievements and failures.
In this context, it is also relevant to ask a more general question from SLMC politicians: that is, do they think that the Sri Lankan Muslim community has gained more by way of economic, educational and cultural advancement before or after their party’s entry into politics? There is hard evidence to show that Muslims won the trust of other community leaders and achieved greater degree of progress when the community did not have a political party of its own. SLMC by putting quantity before quality in parliamentary representation has made any progress in the future more difficult. Although the party now has split into different factions and each faction is trying to form alternative configurations to win the political race their ethnic and religious bias remain permanent.
On a broader level, ethnic nationalism is the bane of Sri Lanka’s progress. Devoid of any testable plan in their campaign manifestos all political parties without exception have found salvation in promoting ethnic rivalry as the trump card to win political power. This is the pathology of Sri Lankan power politics. Is there a way out of this malaise? If one can look into the pre- and post-partition political history of India one can learn how that country lost two large chunks of its territory due to competing and uncontrolled ethnic nationalisms and how the ascendancy of supranationalism after that loss prevented further division of that country. I am referring here to the loss of Pakistan and Bangladesh for the pre-partition case and Tamil Nadu for the post-partition phenomenon. Dravidian ethnic nationalism in the 1950s threatened to shrink India further with its demand for separation when supranationalism under Nehru’s leadership succeeded in subsuming it by making Tamil Nadu a federated state of United India. It is unbelievable that Sri Lanka with a long and proud history of managing pluralism so successfully before independence is incapable of producing supranationalists to save the country from the ravages of ethnic nationalism.
To come back to Muslim politics, it is time that the community finds an alternative leadership to face the challenges that are compounding by the day. There is no need for a separate political party for Muslims. I said this before and am saying it now. However, there is a desperate need for quality leadership from the community. Such leadership must be supranationalistic in outlook and aspiration and should join hands with similar leadership from other communities to build a united and progressive Sri Lanka.