By Latheef Farook –
Muslims are a deeply wounded community today. They are ignored by successive governments, betrayed by their own politicians and exploited by all to suit their agendas. The selfish politics of the main Muslim political party Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and it are more than half a dozen splinter groups have brought nothing but disaster.
As a result Muslims are disgusted with their politicians. They are in the same camp with Sinhala racist groups which unleashed violence against Muslims.
For the past four years these racists, often led by Buddhist monks, have undertaken a very well planned and organized vicious and shameful campaign attacking mosques and religious schools, Muslim women’s dress code, food and almost every other aspect of their life often under the watchful eyes of security forces.
In the process they killed, looted and destroyed properties under a meticulously planned and executed to military precision attack on Aluthgama, Dharga Town and Beruwala Muslims. Overnight Muslims in the area were made penniless turning once wealthy Muslims who fed others to stretch their hands for food.
According to United Nations sources there were around 350 attacks on Muslims.
As if these atrocities were not enough Myanmar’s fascist monk Ashin Wirathu, responsible for killing thousands of innocent Rohingya Muslims, was brought in with a reception usually meant for heads of states.
What better way to humiliate the Muslims already wounded by attacks on them? Now the unanswered question is why these atrocities on Muslims? Did they ask for a separate?
Despite all these naked atrocities SLMC continue to cling on to the government supported by BBS and other Sinhala racist elements. This included Udaya Gammanpila, known for his anti Muslim mindset and shameless prediction that an attack on Muslims in 2015 is inevitable to commemorate the 1915 Sinhala Muslims riots
Under the circumstance all what the Muslim community could expect from Muslim parliamentarians is to leave the government if they cannot stop this lawlessness. However they refuse to do so.
As a result Muslim politicians have become irrelevant. In fact this has been the more than a quarter century history of SLMC.
For example, when almost a quarter century ago M.H.M. Ashraff first mooted the idea of forming a separate political party for Muslims, many Muslims including parliamentarians, professionals and others, advised him to either give up the idea or confine the proposed political party to the east .
They warned him that an island-wide Muslim party had all the potentials to harm good relations between Sinhalese and Muslims in the rest of the country, just as it happened later as seen by the rising Sinhalese chauvinism.
Justifying their warnings they explained that Muslims live in small numbers in peace and harmony with their Sinhalese neighbors in hundreds of villages and an all-island Muslim political party raising Islamic slogans, may put all Muslims into one communal camp and disturb their good relations with the Sinhalese community, especially with Sinhalese hardliners awaiting an opportunity to raise a communal cry.
However all these saner advices he went ahead and established the Muslim Congress as an island-wide political party.
Some elements in the Muslim community in the south, ignored and insulted by the major national political parties, too viewed the SLMC with sympathy in the hope of a forum to highlight their problems without antagonizing the major political parties in the south.
It was around this time that the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi forcefully thrusted the Indo-Lanka Accord on 29 July 1987 down the throat of Sri Lanka .
The Indo-Lanka Accord paved the way for the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces and the establishment of provincial councils. It was also announced that the elections to these provincial councils were to be held in November 1988. But the LTTE refused to participate. Yet the Indian government did everything possible to ensure that Tamil militants and political parties contested the elections.
Several senior politicians from the area said, that the Indian High Commission in Colombo handed over cash donations to Tamil militants and the SLMC. This was revealed in the book, “Tigers of Sri Lanka – From Boys to Geurrillas” (Page 289, second paragraph, second Edition, New Delhi) by M.R. Narayan Swamy. Except the LTTE most Tamil militant groups and the SLMC contested the provincial council elections for the East.
The election was fought on bitter and destructive communal lines and both Tamil militants and the SLMC were fully responsible for dividing the two communities and the price innocent people from the two communities were made to pay later.
Meanwhile Muslims in the East looked up to SLMC as the political force that could bring salvation to them. The SLMC slogans were “Islam” and “Muslims” and SLMC leader Ashraff claimed that the Holy Quran and Hadees were the very basis of his party.
He stated in the parliament on 23rd March 1989 that (Vol 55. No 7 and pages 993-1013): “In the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress we have our own principles and our vision is very clear. The Holy Quran and the supreme life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) are the guidelines of our party”.
In the 1988 presidential elections, the SLMC agreed to support the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, but at the eleventh hour this agreement was abandoned, in violation of Islamic teachings, and the SLMC supported the UNP candidate, causing deep disappointment within the SLFP circles. Muslims, especially those in the south, were also shocked and disappointed.
This decision considerably dented the credibility and the integrity of the Muslim Congress as well as the community, which had produced leaders of impeccable integrity and were known for their loyalty to their political parties.
One should not forget that this policy, as expected, won the wrath of the SLFP towards the Muslim community that had nothing to do with this decision. Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike and her Sri Lankan Freedom Party had every reason to question the policies of the SLMC that, by then, had emerged as a one-man show. Furious Muslims in Colombo and other areas blamed the SLMC for harming their relations with the majority Sinhalese community. There were speculations that Ashraff was bought over by the UNP.
Six years later, during the 1994 elections the SLMC tied up with the SLFP-led Peoples’ Alliance [PA], under the leadership of then Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Around this time, knowledgeable Muslims began losing faith in the SLMC that built up an image as a political party by simply joining the winning side to suit its leader’s personal agenda. There were many who started to openly criticize the SLMC, stating that the community’s interest would have been better served if the SLMC has not come to the political scene and allowed the Muslims to be in different political parties and work together with the other communities.
In the 1994 elections, the SLMC won seven seats and it so happened that the Peoples’ Alliance also needed seven seats to form the government. Thus, the SLMC seats became indispensable. 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 the majority community, especially the hardliners.
In his hour of unprecedented glory, Ashraff failed to read the mood of the majority community and his irresponsible statements irritated many. For example, in an egotistic statement, Ashraff publicly claimed that the “SLMC has emerged as the kingmaker and without its support the government could not be formed”. This unwarranted statement also angered many Muslims.
Muslims who were attracted by his Islamic slogans and supported him began to question the credibility of these slogans especially in the context of his lifestyle as minister. The situation deteriorated so much that a large number of senior members of the SLMC started distancing themselves from the party turning the SLMC into yet another political party in the country.
Ashraff’s sudden death triggered off the inevitable leadership crisis within the party which was thrown into doldrums with no one groomed for leadership. The leadership struggle was confined to Rauf Hakeem and Mrs. Ferial Ashraff.
According to some in the SLMC circle, President Chandrika Kumaratunga exploited the confusion in the SLMC to her own advantage by making Mrs. Ferial a minister leading the NUA.
Subsequently both Rauf fHakeem as the SLMC leader and Mrs. Ferial Ashraff as the NUA leader were in the cabinet holding ministerial portfolios. There was an invisible power struggle that started brewing between the two at party and ministerial levels, causing further divisions and much disillusionment to the SLMC members.
While this unseen power struggle was underway there was confusion everywhere. In the midst came the anti-Muslim riots at Mawanella. President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s handling of the Mawanella riot strained relations between the government and the SLMC. This growing split ended up with Rauff Hakeem leaving the government and crossing over to the opposition together with A.L.M. Athaulla and few others. He later signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNP. But Mrs. Ferial Ashraf remained in the PA government as minister leading the NUA.
In the subsequent 2001 general elections, the UNP won and Rauff Hakeem was made Minister of Ports and Shipping, Muslim Religious Affairs, Eastern Development and Rehabilitation. Some senior SLMC members led by Athaullah accused Rauff Hakeem of grabbing all ministries for himself and not sharing it with them.
This triggered off yet another power struggle within the SLMC which ended up in the second split. Athaullah formed his own party – All Ceylon Muslim Congress Ashraff Group.
Meanwhile in the east the Muslims, especially professionals and others were enraged with Rauff Hakeem for his failure to protect the interest of Muslims in the Ceasefire Agreement, and with Ranil Wickremaeinghe for ignoring the Muslim interests when he signed the CFA in February 2002. Muslims were also seething with anger with the Wickremesinghe government for turning a blind eye to LTTE atrocities against them. Under such circumstances, they questioned, why did the SLMC, supposed to be working for the interest of Muslims, join Ranil Wickremesinghe?
In the subsequent general elections, the SLMC contested as three different factions- Rauf Hakeem with the UNP, the National Unity Alliance led by Mrs. Ferial aligned with the PA and the third, led by N.M. Shaheed, one of the deputy leaders of the Muslim Congress. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government was defeated and the People’s Alliance led by Mrs. Kumaratunga was elected and Mrs. Ferial, Rishard Bathiudeen, Athaulla, Cegu Issadeen, Anver Ismail, Nagib A Majed, Ameer Ali were all made ministers .
Rauff Hakeem and his team ended up in the opposition.
Almost a year later there appeared the fourth splinter group led by Hafiz Nazeer Ahmed, the Director of SLMC International Affairs division during the time of Ashraff, forming his own political party – Democratic Unity Alliance [DUA].
Once again dissension started brewing within the party after the Pottuvil massacre. Then came LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham’s death and Rauff Hakeem’s condolence message that infuriated the Muslims further. Into this mess, losing whatever faith left within the community, the SLMC once again joined the Peoples Alliance government in early 2007 and Rauff Hakeem was made Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
On the eve of joining the government, on 28 January 2007, there were heated discussions at a politburo meeting on whether to join the government or not. There was no invitation but some SLMC members invited themselves by initiating the move to join the government, and again, not to serve the community but to look after themselves.
They negotiated, before joining the government, not as a bloc but as individuals and groups and got ministerial portfolios and associated perks. By now the Sinhala leadership has come to know that Muslim politicians could be manipulated and the community could be made voiceless. This is happening even now.
This happened at a time when the community faced burning issues in the east such as land grabbing, colonization of Muslim-owned lands with Sinhalese brought in from outside, the longstanding problems of northern Muslims in refugee camps in Puttalam and other such issues.
In the midst Rishard Bathiudeen left the SLMC and started his own party paving the way for the sixth division.
The efforts of many Muslim individuals and organizations to bring these Muslim parliamentarians, especially those from the East, together to jointly take some measures to deal with issues that threatened the livelihood of Mutur Muslims proved futile.
They were also silent when Muslim businessmen and others were kidnapped for ransom. The question raised at all Muslim gatherings was “what are these Muslim parliamentarians doing? Can’t they get up and raise the plight of Muslim businessmen? Whom are they working for?”. It was only Rauff Hakeem who raised the question of abductions of Muslim businessmen while other Muslim parliamentarians virtually abandoned the community to please the government.
The SLMC is not like any other party. It came with the slogan of Islam and, attracted by these slogans, Muslims voted in large numbers in the hope of guidance to the community. Those who voted for the SLMC expected impeccable moral principles and integrity, as emphasized by Islam, from their leadership. In fact the SLMC, which claims that its constitution is based on the Holy Quran and Hadees, should have set an example to other national parties for honesty, integrity, moral character, dedicated services and all such values which their slogan, “Islam” propounds.
However to the contrary the SLMS today, Known for allegations of corruption and opportunism, greed for power and positions, factional fighting, shameful scandals and the tendency to betray their own colleagues for positions, has ended up as the mythical Greek Tragedy
As a result the SLMC has become an unfortunate liability on the community.
This was the sorry state of affairs that Muslim politicians have brought upon the community especially at a time when nationalists and neo-nationalists from the majority community in the government are hell-bent on implementing their agendas against the Muslim community.
The general feeling among the Muslims is that the SLMC is today a liability.
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