By Latheef Farook –
Muslims want solutions to their problems: Not ministerial portfolios for discredited politicians
Muslims who voted for President Maithripala Sirisena as a whole seems to be a disturbed lot today. They voted in the hope of solutions to their burning problems and not reward their discredited politicians with ministerial portfolios.
Their spontaneous decision to vote for President Maithripala was the result of their losing confidence on their politicians who, true to their past record, once again failed to raise issues concerning the community.
This has been the main topic of discussion in almost every gathering, from dinner parties to wedding parties, and that too at all levels ever since Muslim politicians were awarded with ministerial portfolios for joining Maithripala Sirisena camp.
Their common grievance is that Muslims throughout the country voted for this government on their own, without being influenced by their politicians or any others, to free themselves from the atrocities unleashed by state backed racist elements such as Bodu Bala Sena.
They were not only fed up with defeated president Mahinda Rjapakse government for its open support to saffron gangs who terrorized the community but were also fed up with their own politicians for clinging on to the very same government which protected these lawless elements.
Time and again Muslims of all walks of life expected their politicians to either get their government to solve their burning issues or leave the government to send a message that they are concerned about community’s interest. However they failed, but continued to be constituent members of the Rajapaksa government which openly allowed racist mercenaries to continue their attacks on Muslim religious places, business establishments and other such places aimed at crippling the community.
As a result helpless and voiceless Muslims were left with no one to turn to. This is the reason why the community rejected their politicians and voted for President Sirisena.
On the other hand these politicians were weighing the pros and cons of clinging on to the then government and joining the then opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena till last minute. Finally, days before the 8 January 2015 presidential elections, they realized the growing countrywide support to Mr. Maithripala Sirisena camp and joined them leaving the government. Thus they supported President Sirisena for their own benefits and not in the interest of the community or the country.
“Under such circumstance why should they be rewarded with ministerial portfolios which are of no use in solving community’s main issues? This is the question Muslims all over the country ask.
Many point out that the policy adopted by the Tamil National Alliance, TNA, which supported President Sirisena, but did not accept ministerial portfolios as they were keen solving serious issues faced by Tamils.
Thus from the time they decided to support Mr. Maithripala Sirisena they were calling for solutions to Tamil problems. This strategy started to work with President Sirisena himself calling for the need to return lands illegally acquired by the previous government.
A senior Tamil journalist told me in Colombo that it is a welcome sign that the government began taking confidence building measures. He cited, in this regard, the appointment of a Tamil as chief justice, a Tamil as governor of the Western province, a Tamil as governor of central bank and other such measures such as stopping land about to be acquired just after the elections.
Besides there were other positive developments too. For example the military governor was removed and a civilian was appointed as the new governor in the north. Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran assured that she would specially concentrate on more than 8000 women who became widows due to the war in the North and Eastern Provinces
Added to this Minister of Resettlement and Reconstruction and Hindu Affairs D.M. Swaminathan disclosed that the government has assured that its utmost priority under the 100 day program is the resettlement of the remaining Internally Displaced People, IDPs, and repatriation of Tamil Refugees living in India. He assured that he would take necessary steps to resettle them in their places of origin with the required facilities.
Added to all these Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph said that President Maithripala Sirisena assured him that Tamil political prisoners who were languishing in prison would be released within a year without any action being filed against them.
These are all positive developments welcome by all those who are keen on reconciliation and communal harmony.
Now the question Muslims in general ask is why not Muslim politicians take up serious problems faced by the community and help solve at least urgent ones within the 100 days.
1- Around 130,000 Muslims, according to some latest estimates, evicted from north by the LTTE quarter century ago, are still awaiting resettlement. Rajapaksa government, with a hostile agenda towards Muslims, took no initiative to solve this problem and virtually turned blind eye to their plight. Today they remain abandoned.
2-In the east Muslim owned cultivable lands forcefully taken over by Tamils during the LTTE war are yet to be returned. However no one is interested and the victims continue to suffer.
3- Muslims who lived in small villages around Batticaloa during the ethnic war moved to Batticaloa for safety. These Muslims wanted to return to their lands, but unable to do so with no one taking any interest in their plight. There are such disputes in many areas awaiting settlement.
4-Land issue, involving more than 30,000 acres, remains the most burning one in the entire east affecting relations between communities and thus the urgent need for settlement to pave the way reconciliation.
5-This situation was further aggravated by Rajapaksa government’s sinister Sinhalisation program under which Muslim owned lands were acquired by armed forces under the guise of security purpose.
6- Muslim owned land acquired by the armed forces in Pulmoddai and the hardships caused to them there. Muslims in the area also explained the implications involved in the utilization of these lands for various purposes.
7- Muslim owned land forcibly acquired in other areas.
6- Five hundred houses built by Saudi government for Muslim tsunami victims in a model village in the Akkaraipattu district gather dust covered with growing jungle as they were not allowed to occupy. It was built as a model village with all facilities. However the project remains a symbol of discrimination and chauvinism. This was especially so in the context of the shameful and heartless robbing by the system of billions of dollars of aid flowed into the country to help tsunami victims .There are Muslim tsunami victims still living in huts ignored by all?
7-Fishermen in the area face numerous problems due to obstacles they face ever since Oluvil Harbour was built .This issue needs immediate solution to ensure fishermen’s livelihood.
Muslims expect solutions to these problems and so far no Muslim minister or parliamentarian took up these issues. This is the reason why the Muslim community is convinced that ministerial portfolios are of no use to them.
However there is a general feeling among Muslims that even in the forthcoming parliamentary elections they would vote for President Maithripala Sirisena’s candidates as they are convinced that, though an uphill task, yet he is the only leader who could bring about reconciliation and move the country ahead for the benefit of all.
Though Muslim ministers and parliamentarians failed to attend to these needs the National Shoora Council, the umbrella organization of 19 different organizations, had submitted a memorandum to all highlighting some of the major issues which need urgent attention.