By Rushdy Nizar –
The post-independent politics of Sri Lanka can be characterised as a two-party structure. Invariably, since independence we have seen the patronage of two leading political parties in shape of the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Although more recently the Sri Lankan political landscape is punctuated by the sway of emerging political parties, having the clout of the king-maker, hence, an indication of the multi-party system and greater democratic propensity. However, Sri Lanka, like many developing nations cultivates political parties on ethnic, region and religious lines.
Tamil areas are generally dominated by Tamil parties and the same goes with the predominantly Muslim majority areas led by Muslim parties, though not until the formation of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). Further, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has become a reckonable force, arguably the third most powerful party. The party has gone through different levels of transformation from Marxist political philosophy to the adoption of domestic political culture.
The formation of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress by late M.H.M. Ashraff was a landmark historical event in the Island. It was not the formation that raised alarm, but the unconditional support of then governments for it creation. The support was well crafted and endeavored to polarize Sri Lankan Muslims as a separate distinctive Tamil speaking entity, an attempt to divide and dissect yet another identity for the Muslims. Such a political ploy further alienated the isolated and scattered Muslim community, yet created deep-rooted feelings amongst them on the extent to which they are an integral part of the nation. The ploy hyphenated the socio-political and socio-economic status of Muslims with M.H.M. Ashraff and SLMC. Undoubtedly, the dispersed Muslim community found a certain degree of integration, and Messianic solace in the SLMC.
The tale of the late M.H.M. Ashraff cannot fulfil the entire political history of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Prior to Ashraff, the political saga of Sri Lankan Muslims was well beautified by the legendary leaderships of Sir Razik Fareed, T.B. Jaya, Badiuddin Mahmud, Bakeer Markar and recently M.H.M. Ashraff. Their efforts have been instrumental in according a bearing to the Muslim community.
It is imperative to articulate here that the aforementioned leaders took decisions based on public-centric and state-centric factors and actively took part in national level politics devoid of a restricted parameter. Moreover, they never maligned Muslims within the country and were equally kind towards issues of all Sri Lankans in the international fora. They were cautious against ego-centric decisions, instead aligned Muslim and Sri Lanka issues at home and away.
Today’s SLMC leader, Mr. Hakeem has departed from the cherished tradition of SLMC, and has rather discoloured the image of Muslims in Sri Lanka as well as the motherland internationally. Could such a departure at this juncture become a justification to question Mr. Hakeem’s legitimacy as leader of the SLMC? The post-Beruwala riots and the reaction of Mr. Hakeem as a representative of Muslims in Sri Lanka speaks volumes on his legitimacy as Muslim leader.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that following the demise of late M.H.M. Ashraff, the former SLMC leader cum founder, the vacuum of a centripetal leadership and representative of the Sri Lankan Muslims was vacate. The demise of Ashraff off-tracked the Muslims in the isle, and culminated by internal division and factionalism amongst successive leaders within the party. It was no surprise that cracks soon surfaced within the party.
The party subsequently departed from the chief philosophy upon which the SLMC was founded. Its leftist/socialist political ideology was cremated by successive and contemporary individual-centric political leaders in the party. While a few championed egocentrism, some within the party remained altruistic and truly philanthropic, thus a roadmap towards polarization. Incontrovertibly, SLMC has seen no ideological spar among the key members, instead a power-greedy “identity-politics” unleashed by the Hakeem factor.
I happened to watch the video clip of Dr. Dayan Jayathilaka’s speech on Facebook, wherein he compared the political role of late SLMC founder M.H.M. Ashraff and current leader, Rauff Hakeem as a politician. He was commenting on BBS Chief Monk Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara’s statement that if Maligawatta is Palestine, they would become Israel. He looked at how Hakeem made a truce with the LTTE and what ex supremo Ashraff did to defend the country and the Muslims in the North-East. The dearth of foresighted politics in Mr. Hakeem’s leadership has added a black spot to the uncontaminated history of Sri Lankan Muslims by clandestinely merging with the LTTE, a deal which was revealed by the government sources. A segment of the Muslims strongly hold the view that Hakeem has misplaced the priority of the party and subsequently forfeited confidence in him as a Muslim leader, though he still enjoys a degree of respect as a power broker within Sri Lankan power-politics. But the truth is evident that Hakeem’s legitimacy is at stake as he fails day by day, and loses his prominence among the Muslim youth on the island.
On the other hand, the recently formed party All Ceylon Makkal Kachchi (ACMC) under the competent leadership of Rishad Bathiudeen is apparently taking root and sooner or later can stand its ground against the SLMC. It is significant to articulate here that though Mr. Bathiudeen has a meagre representation, he has delivered incredible work for the people by whom he was elected.
The major essence of politics, honesty, justice and the truth philosophy of SLMC have all been dented by the current SLMC party leadership. Therefore, will Rishad Bathiudeen’s Peacock be able to spread its brightly coloured long tail feathers with patterns shaped like eyes and attract the Sri Lankan Muslim community to stand for the betterment of Muslims justly?
(You can contact Rushdy Nizar via firstname.lastname@example.org)