By Latheef Farook –
The 17 August 2015 parliamentary elections brought Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, SLMC, and its more than half a dozen splinter groups to the end of the road as most of them entered parliament through UNP Muslim votes. This happened more than a quarter century of SLMC’s wheeler dealer politics of taking the community for ride with long list of lies, deception and hypocrisy for positions and perks.
Violence and hooliganism in Kattankudy within twenty four hours after the elections, disputes between SLMC and its splinter groups, disputes within splinter groups for power, positions and perks, long history of compromising and ignoring community’s interest and the never ending allegations of corruptions and deal resulted in the current pathetic performance of SLMC in this month’s parliamentary elections
The SLMC has won only one seat while the other SLMC members managed to enter parliament through the United National Party with which the SLMC has entered into an agreement, perhaps a deal, as usual to ensure positions and perks and not seek solutions to burning issues of the community.
Commenting on the performance of the recent elections Dr Ameer Ali who hails from the east and now resides in Australia had this to state in an article;
“If members of a political party surrenders that party’s original manifesto and symbol and embrace those of another party to win entry to the legislature, and possibly to the cabinet, what does it convey to that party’s dedicated supporters and to the supporters of the party that now accommodated them? Aren’t they a bunch of traitors to their own party and birds of passage to the accommodating party? Who can trust these instant-party-switchers or turn coats?
These are questions that now arise regarding the position of SLMC and towards its future. With one or two exceptions almost all SLMC candidates who won in this week’s elections did so under the UNP symbol.
In doing so, did these contestants embrace only the UNP symbol and not the manifesto of the UNP? If they had only embraced the symbol for the sake winning the contest, then UNP should not accommodate any of them in the new cabinet because they have no commitment to UNP manifesto. On the other hand, if these birds of passage had accepted the manifesto of UNP and its symbol, then they had treacherously betrayed the trust placed on them by those Muslims who believed in SLMC as the only hope for the community’s political survival.
The time has come to take a serious stock of the current status, costs and benefits of SLMC. Muslims are betrayed by their own politicians and exploited by all to suit their agendas. The selfish politics of the SLMC and its more than half a dozen splinter groups have brought nothing but disaster. As a result Muslim politicians have become irrelevant. In fact this has been the more than a quarter century history of SLMC.
When the late SLMC founder M.H.M. Ashraff first mooted the idea of a separate political party for Muslims more than quarter century ago Muslims in general were against it as it was bound to strain Sinhala Muslim relations.
The party came into being in the aftermath of the Indo-Lanka Accord which paved the way for the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces and the establishment of provincial councils. Several senior politicians from the area said, that the Indian High Commission in Colombo handed over cash donations to Tamil militants and the SLMC.
The 1998 provincial council 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.
Ash raff claimed that “Holy Quran, Shariah and Unity” were the slogan of his party. However Islam and Shariah disappeared at birth. Since inception it was the case of wheeler dealer politics hood winking the community.
For example in the 1988 presidential elections, the SLMC agreed to support the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, but at the eleventh hour supported the UNP candidate, causing deep disappointment within the SLFP circles
This won the wrath of the SLFP towards the Muslim community. 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 late President Ranasinha Premadasa.
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 Muslims began losing faith in the SLMC that built up an image as a political party joining the winning side to suit its leader’s personal agenda.
In the 1994 elections, the SLMC won seven seats and 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.
Ashraf’s sudden death triggered off the inevitable leadership crisis between Rauf Hakeem and Mrs. Ferial Ashraf. According to reports President Chandrika Kumaratunga exploited the power struggle in the SLMC to her own advantage by making Mrs. Ferial a minister leading the NUA.
On the eve of joining the government, on 28 January 2007, SLMC members negotiated as individuals and groups and got ministerial portfolios. By now the Sinhala leadership has realized that SLMC politicians could be bought over and manipulated to serve their interests.
For example, according to speculations, it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa used Rishard Bathiudeen to form a splinter group and further divide the SLMC by offering a ministerial portfolio and other incentives.
The community was raging with anger at the SLMC and its splinter groups for refusing to leave former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government despite its atrocities towards the Muslims culminating in the Aluthgama pogrom. Speculations were that they were bribed to be with the government.
They continued to remain with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and in the eleventh hour began supporting Maithripla Sirisena during the presidential context on 8 January 2015. The allegations were that they supported the Maithripala Sirisena camp following a better deal.
As a result Muslims were fed up with SLMC and its splinter groups.
During this month’s parliamentary election campaign there were intense nationwide discussions on burning national issues. However SLMC and its splinter groups were more interested in infighting and humiliating each other rather than airing Muslim viewpoints in these discussions.
However this very same discredited lot has got into parliament once again through UNP. In the nationalist too SLMC nominees were selected and many Muslims feel that it would have been better if a UNP Muslims given the chance especially in view of the increasing Muslim votes for UNP all over the island and especially in places such as kurunegala, Kalutara and Puttalam electorates.
Thus the time has come for mainstream Sinhalese political parties to deal with their Muslim supporters and attend to community’s burning issues.