Communal parties detrimental to national unity and reconciliation
One of the biggest challenges faced by the country after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 was the need to unite the different communities through a process of national reconciliation. Unfortunately the Mahinda Rajapaksa government did not have such a vision and hardly did anything to heal the wounds caused by the conflict.
Instead of using the opportunity to address the causes of the conflict, it adopted a triumphalist mind set and created another front in the communal divide by targeting the Muslims. Since around 2012 various organisations and individuals sprang up and began an Islamaphobic campaign creating insecurity in the minds of the majority about the Muslims.
After defeating the LTTE, curbing the activities of such discordant groups would have not required much effort from the Government. The fact that no attempt was made to do so gave credence to the view that the Government was directly or indirectly supporting these destructive Islamaphobic campaigns.
The fact that the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself declared open a training centre of the Bodu Bala Sena in Galle further confirmed this belief in the minds of the public.
In the context of “ Aagamwathaya “ and “Jathiwadaya” becoming the platform for election campaigns, as was evident in November 2019 and August 2020, the challenge for those interested in the future of the country is to identify and work against such forces that spew hate and insecurity among the people in order to come to power.
The country’s experience in the past few decades highlights the responsibility of the citizenry (voters) to exercise due diligence at elections to choose their representatives.
Based on the experiences of the past it is important that the minorities re position themselves and play an important role in the path that the country takes towards nation building. The Muslim community for its part needs to reflect on the political decisions taken by some of its representatives in communal parties in the past four decades.
It may be an opportune time for the Muslims, who have been facing unprecedented difficulties since the assumption of office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to reflect on where their politicians have led them.
Prior to the founding of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in 1986, the Muslims remained in the mainstream of local politics and sought to have their grievances addressed through the vehicles of the national political parties. During the country’s struggle for independence and thereafter Dr. T.B. Jayah, Dr. Badiuddin Mahmud, Dr. M.C.M Kaleel, Sir Razik Fareed, M.H. Mohamed, M.Bakeer Markar and others earned the respect of leaders of other communities working shoulder to shoulder with them in the national interest.
The advent of the SLMC changed all this resulting in an adverse impact on the Muslims. It withdrew Muslims from the political mainstream and sought to tread an exclusivist path of identity politics. Such a path was politically beneficial to the SLMC while resulting in long term repercussions for the community.
Even today the voice of SLMC Parliamentarians is hardly heard in Parliament. On the rare occasion they do speak it is on some parochial issue and there is no contribution to the debate on national matters. It is left to Parliamentarians from the National parties like Kabir Hashim, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, Mujib ur Rahman and S. M. Marikkar to speak on national issues.
In order to capitalise on the Proportionate Representation system of voting, the SLMC appealed to emotional sentiments of the voters rather than any policy considerations. This enabled them to switch their allegiances from one national party to another based on political expediency rather than principles.
If one examines the genesis of the SLMC and the methods it adopted during its early days it is evident that its leadership was driven by political needs than the welfare of the Muslim community. Soon after the SLMC was formed in 1986 it became part of an Alliance in the making under the leadership of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. It used its position to undermine the Muslim leadership in the SLFP in order to consolidate itself.
An example of this was the Draft Electoral Agreement that the SLMC wanted Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to sign in return for its support to her at the Presidential Election of 1988. The Agreement contained provisions that any Muslim candidate contesting from the Alliance at the Parliamentary Election that would follow the Presidential Election would have to be approved by the SLMC leader.
This would mean that senior SLFPers like M.Haleem Ishak, A. H. M Fowzie and Dr. H.M. Mahroof would have to be at the SLMC leader’s mercy in order to obtain nominations. Not surprisingly
Mrs. Bandaranaike refused to sign such an agreement.
Meanwhile unknown to Mrs. Bandaranaike and her allies with whom the SLMC had been working for over a year, the SLMC had been conducting secret negotiations with Lalith Athulathmudali on behalf of the UNP Presidential candidate R. Premadasa. Finally at the last moment the SLMC switched its allegiance to the UNP and supported R. Premadasa.
After doing so the SLMC did not take adequate care to ensure that its actions will not result in any adverse repercussions to the community. When Mrs. Bandaranaike toured the Eastern Province together with Dr. Badiuddin Mahmud and S. Alavi Moulana as part of her election campaign, the helicopter in which she was travelling was stoned and prevented from landing in Katankuddy by SLMC supporters.
By its reckless actions the SLMC showed that in the pursuit of its goals it did not care for any repercussions that may have been caused if the safety of Mrs. Bandaranaike and the others was jeopardised.
That the lack of a clear ideology has influenced the followers of the SLMC is evident from the path followed by the splinter groups of the SLMC. Although the SLMC claimed that its policies were based on the Qur’an and Hadith the actions of its representatives are a far cry from such values. The gold smuggling incident of Puttalam District Parliamentarian Aly Sabry only confirms that the SLMC is no different to other political parties in the country.
That the SLMC is unable or unwilling to identify the needs of the Muslim community or the country is clearly seen by the fact that its parliamentarians provided the votes necessary to make up the two third majority required to enact the disastrous 20th Amendment.
Veteran journalist Latheef Farook in an article published in the Sunday Times last week drew attention to the thinking in the Muslim community about Muslim political parties. He says “This has been the main topic of discussion at almost every gathering. Many point out that it is time for the sinking Muslim civil society to wake up and work towards the dissolution of the so-called Muslim political parties given the damage they have caused to the image of the Muslim community over the years.”
It is not very well known that even the founder and leader of the SLMC M.H.M. Ashroff in a statement made minutes before getting into the helicopter on his last fateful journey had arrived at such a conclusion. The Sunday Times of that week reported that he stated that he had placed the SLMC in an almirah and locked it up. Whether the SLMC leader had realized the damage caused to the community by the formation of the SLMC and was therefore repentant one does not know. However those who claim to be true followers of the SLMC would do well to act on their leader’s words.