By Faizer Shaheid –
A recent statement made by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Chairman and Parliamentarian, Basheer Segudawood sparked quite an outrage among the people of all communities. It implied a separatist view. Dawood seems to have gone into hiding ever since, thereby effectively depriving Journalists of any clarification regarding the statement.
At a discussion held in Kattankudy recently, Dawood had gone all out iterating that a Muslim Province will give a motherland and self-determination to the Muslims. In the same discussion, Dawood had stated that the Tamil community had neither stepped down nor given up on their demand for self-determination, and neither should the Muslims. He added that the demand for a North and East merger was most likely a political ploy to ensure the supremacy of the Tamil Community in the region.
His statements were alarming and the netizens, as expected, ran roughshod on his blatant statement. His former position as a High Command Member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization attached an extremist label to his reputation. To make things worse, he had also claimed that the late M. H. M. Ashraff had endorsed such a view, and the son of the legendary politician, Aman Ashraff wasted no time retaliating.
In a strongly worded letter, Aman stated that his father’s mandate was purely for a united Sri Lanka, undivided in any way. Re-iterating his father’s stance, Aman claimed that such a separate state for the Muslims was only fair if the Tamils were granted a separate state, but that his father changed his view eventually. As a result, Aman claimed that the National Unity Alliance (NUA) was formed to encourage a pluralistic political entity.
Aman’s letter was a hard hitting one. It also claimed that Dawood was not a part of the Politburo of the NUA because he lacked political maturity and still did. At the same time, the letter was also hailed as an appropriate response to what could have potentially jeopardized the ethnic harmony of the masses. Dawood’s statement could also have firmly branded a racist label to an already prevailing conjecture from among people in the South that the people of the North and East are racist beyond reason. Therefore, Aman’s letter was timely and was afforded adequate media attention to denote that not all Muslims felt the same.
However, Aman may have misconstrued the statement of Dawood. His letter sort to address the issue as a call for a separate state for the Muslims, but drew no response. By then, Basheer Segu Dawood had already fled the open in the wake of incessant fire from the people. Thankfully, the political bigwigs did not take him as seriously most likely due to the other more important issues at hand. Thankfully it also did not inspire further affliction upon the Muslims from racist elements who would usually harp on the minutest of such issues.
Nevertheless, SLMC General Secretary, Hassan Ali came out to rescue his colleague from the imminent dilemma he was facing by clarifying the statement. Ali claimed that Dawood had never called for a separate state, but only a separate province. He also acknowledged that the good name of the former SLMC Leader Ashraff had been constantly abused in the last 15 years. However, Hassan Ali claimed that if a solution to the ethnic problem was to be made, the Muslim community should be given prominence tantamount to that of Tamils.
Ali had confirmed that in no point in time had the Muslims of the country demanded a separate state, although he conceded that the SLMC had constantly nudged the Governments of Sri Lanka, past and present, for a separate administrative district to ensure a Muslim voice.
The demand for a separate administrative district seems rather archaic and unsuited for present times. Nevertheless, it must be scrutinized if the demand is still a contemporary one. To me, I was personally impressed by the response given by Minister of Local Governments and Provincial Councils, Faiszer Musthapha who sought to even out the imbalance in the statement of Dawood and introduce clarity to the issue.
Minister Musthapha claimed that in the absence of a North and East merger, such a demand is baseless and unwarranted. He claimed that such a demand could have been justified in the past when the situation was unconducive for minority parties, but the Government was working hard towards attaining reconciliation and the statement seriously jeopardized such efforts.
Musthapha also asserted that the statement was likely made to oppose a North and East merger, which had been a strongpoint of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in recent times. However, he said that Dawood should have added clarity to the statement if so. Dawood’s statement lacked ‘intellectual depth’ he also claimed while asserting that such a demand will not materialize.
This response of the Minister was coherent and intelligible, and helps the masses to absorb the actual reasoning behind the statement. There is a real ongoing discourse on the topic of a North and East merger, which the Muslim political parties are not too fond of. This is because of a sense of insecurity and inferiority complex no doubt, but such an insecurity is justified considering the volatility and sensitivity of ethnic relations in the region.
In the past the North and East had been severely marginalized due to the ethnic tensions and the war against the LTTE. The Muslim parties feel that the Muslim community had been worst affected due to the their decision to leave their homes and wealth and seek dwelling as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) because of a decision to side with the Sri Lanka Government at the height of war. As a result, neither the LTTE nor the Sri Lanka Government had afforded adequate attention.
At present, the Muslim parties feel that the efforts at reconciliation are aimed at reconciling the differences between only the South and the Northern Tamils, and disregards the demands of Muslims. This is most likely the reason as to why the SLMC demanded a separate administrative district.
However, as Minister Faiszer Musthapha had rightly stated, there is no necessity to make such a demand in the absence of a North and East merger. The Muslim parties must understand that the present Affirmative Action Plans are aimed at ironing out the differences that emerged from the war and creating permanent communal harmony between the Tamil speaking and Sinhala speaking masses.
The Muslims had not been sidelined, and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had called the Government to take adequate measures and do justice to the Muslims who had been forcibly evicted in the North. Therefore, there is absolutely no necessity for a separate province or a separate administrative district that would likely create more separation than reconciliation in the regions.
In the event such a separate Province was declared in the East, such would add to the ethnic tensions and create serious instability in terms of ethnic relations. Such a move would essentially create an unhealthy environment for those of other religions coexisting peacefully in the East, and would without a doubt inspire racial hatred once again in the North and South. Therefore, it is mandatory that the SLMC gives up this demand for a separate administrative province and appreciate a more pluralistic society. If they cannot, I propose that SLMC disbands before the party is branded by the people including Muslims as a radical extremist political group.