Sri Lanka’s 16th parliamentary elections, which were originally scheduled to happen on April 25, later postponed to 20 June and finally rescheduled to be held on August 5 in the wake of coronavirus outbreak in the country, are widely expected to spawn a new order in Muslim politics, particularly in the East. Electoral behaviour of Muslim voters in the East, which has been a reaction to election campaigns relentlessly advanced by all political parties for the impending national ballot, today clearly demonstrates that their community seeks radical changes in their existing “Muslim politics” that was uncrowned king for years in representing Muslim community politically.
Muslim Politics, which was advanced after 1980s by the late leader M.H.M. Ashraff through his political party Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to politically educate his scattered Muslim minority community across the country and win its rights and legitimate interests, has toady started losing its clout steadily among Muslim mass under the current leadership of his SLMC. A political tradition that solely dictated the political fate of own people for virtually 40 years has started heading towards its death slowly. Why?
Impotence of the current leadership of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is one reason that triggered this decline. Over the past 20 years, a wave of systematic attacks was being directed sporadically at Muslim minority in different forms threatening their existence, damaging their economies and hurting their religious and cultural lives. It was in the period of 2015 – 2019 that such anti-Muslim violence remained at peak after the so-called “government of good governance” formed by Maithri–Ranil alliance assumed power. Innocent Muslims were burnt alive, their businesses looted and set ablaze, their worship places damaged, and their attires and other cultural life scoffed in these riots that staged in the good governance government.
The SLMC was a key political partner in bringing this good governance government to power and the party leader, Rauff Hakeem, was a powerful cabinet minister and his party ranks were deputy ministers of this government too. However, SLMC and its leadership did nothing in immediately stopping this calamity, which continued unabated for days, and protecting their people who believed their leaders to be a bulwark for them at this juncture. Neither their ministries, deputy ministries nor their political partnership with government helped to restore their normal life for the victims. They could not even bring prime Minister or President and directly show the vulnerable situation of their affected people and their violent-ridden places. While Muslim people were losing everything at the hands of violence and struggling to return to their normal life, these leaders were competing for getting more ministries from government at the expense of tears and losses of their people. All they could do was only to issue some senseless condemning statements in public and deliver meaningless speeches in parliament, which was their absolute political weapon used whenever necessary to placate their hapless people and ensure their support for their political existence.
While it has failed to shield its own people and their interests from renewed anti-Muslim violent campaigns, SLMC leadership of Muslim politics has also purposely created problems within its community itself. These problems, alongside some kinds of protracted problems like regionalism that already remained in the community destroyed Muslims’ unity, nurtured mistrust among them, made them one the other’s enemy and ruined relations between their neighbourhoods. In addition, they even gave countless hollow/ false promises to each Muslim neighbourhood during election campaigns in the past, but they still remained unfulfilled. They employed these problems and promises better political vehicle to rally votes of innocent Muslim people to go ahead with their opportunistic politics and fill their pockets.
Today, Muslim people began to realise: their politics and its (SLMC) leaders totally failed in winning their political rights and aspirations, they were betrayers and political brokers who mortgaged their entire community for perks and positions, and they were no longer fit to look after them politically. Therefore, they want real changes in Muslim politics that could guarantee their security and interests. Growing younger generation of Muslim community is another serious aspect in Muslim politics today. This generation, who are educated, active social media users, sometime living abroad as migrant workers and well connected with contemporary globalised world, has strong presence in the political sphere of Muslim community today. They totally reject the current trend of what is called “Muslim politic.” They seek a new political order for their community, in which they want to find themselves to be true Sri Lankans who are educationally, economically and socially equipped and cohabiting with other communities sticking to democratic value of unity in diversity.
In this context, the National Congress of Mr. Athaullah has drawn unprecedented attention of Muslim people, largely younger generation in recent times. Mr. Athaullah vigorously campaigns national unity, ethnic amity, co-existence, development for people beyond racial and religious differences throughout his rallies in this forthcoming election. The young members of Muslim community, new voters who at the time are the political decision makers of their families, see NC Leader as a vehicle to make their desired changes in politics for their community. Unprejudiced political commentators who closely follow Muslim politics in recent time opine that Muslims in the East will likely vote for Mr. Atha and his men on large scale in this August Parliamentary poll and elect them as part of their effort “let’s make yet another order” in our politics for ourselves.
*Dr. Salithamby Abdul Rauff, Assistant Professor, teaches psychology and social work at Dhofar University, Oman