Sri Lanka: Muslim Congress Betrayal— Muslims should join national parties

Sri Lanka’s Muslims had been averse to a community-based separate political party. It was the then UNP leaderships’ indifference towards Muslim issues that pushed them to form a party.


by Latheef Farook

( February 26, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A spate of controversies involving the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has underscored the call that the Muslims in Sri Lanka should reassess their politics and withdraw themselves from this party which many accuse of betraying the community for positions and perks.

The SLMC came with the slogan of Islam and unity. However this slogan was abandoned at the inception itself. It had been a one-man show by its founder, the late A.H.M. Ashraf, and had been beset by many a controversy.

The SLMC’s history has been one of compromising the community’s interest for positions. The latest controversy involving SLMC parliamentarians and its leadership points to the lowest moral depth to which they have descended to.
With unity in disarray and principled politics rarely seen, how can they claim themselves to be Muslims?

With unity in disarray and principled politics rarely seen, how can they claim themselves to be Muslims?

They have tarnished the good name of the community. The emerging consensus is that the party should wind up as early as possible.

I had highlighted these scandals in many of my articles. Ten years ago, in my book “Nobody’s People: The Forgotten Plight of Sri Lanka’s Muslims”, I said: “Muslims were fed up with their SLMC politicians known for autocratic leadership, allegations of corruption and opportunism, greed for power and positions, factional fighting, sex scandals and the tendency to betray their own colleagues for positions.

I had highlighted these scandals in many of my articles. Ten years ago, in my book “Nobody’s People: The Forgotten Plight of Sri Lanka’s Muslims”, I said: “Muslims were fed up with their SLMC politicians known for autocratic leadership, allegations of corruption and opportunism, greed for power and positions, factional fighting, sex scandals and the tendency to betray their own colleagues for positions.

“The general feeling among the Muslims, especially among professionals, intellectuals, religious scholars and even businessmen and others, is that the SLMC has let down the community.”

Sri Lanka’s Muslims had been averse to a community-based separate political party. It was the then UNP leaderships’ indifference towards Muslim issues that pushed them to form a party.

Since the early 1980s, the Muslim community had been deeply disappointed with the then UNP government. They were longing for a forum to voice their grievances.

For example, in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, President J.R. Jayewardene ignored Muslim politicians and the community when he told them that they could leave the government if they did not agree with his decision to establish an Israeli interest section in the United States embassy in Colombo.

Thus, Jayewardene’s dismissal of Muslims, the overall disappointment with the UNP, the atrocities of Tamil militancy and India’s manipulations in local politics combined well with Ashraf’s political ambitions to produce the SLMC.

However, many Muslims advised Ashraf to confine the party to the East and not to make it an island-wide one. They warned that such an island-wide Muslim party could harm traditional good relations between the Sinhalese and the Muslims.

Exploiting the mood of the community, Ashraf carried on with the SLMC. The then Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga formed the UPFA Government, with the SLMC’s support, providing the party with an unprecedented bargaining power which was not to the liking of hardliners in the majority community.

In his hour of glory, Ashraf failed to read the mood of the majority community. His irresponsible utterances such as his claim that “the SLMC has emerged as the kingmaker and without its support the government could not be formed” angered both the Sinhalese and the Muslims alike.
The Digavapi land issue and the unwanted public debate with Ven Soma Thera adversely affected Sinhala-Muslim relations.

Unfortunately, his hubris made him blind to the realities around him. Those who were close to him accused him of inaccessibility, arrogance and ill-treatment. There were even allegations that he treated shabbily his own supporters who helped him climb the political ladder. This led to a large number of senior members distancing themselves from the party.

Ashraf’s policy of exploiting Islam as a platform to enhance his personal political agenda damaged the image of the Muslim community in the eyes of other communities. In the midst, and in the most unexpected moment, Ashraf was killed together with eleven others in a helicopter crash in September 2002 in Mawanella.

His death triggered a leadership struggle between Rauff Hakeem, who was not a founder of the SLMC, and Ashraf’s wife Ferial. The Sinhala leadership favoured one group and heaped on it ministerial portfolios and perks to further weaken the party. The result: The party broke into many splinter groups. And subsequent events drew accusations that the Muslim MPs were only interested in positions, perks and privileges.

Muslim parliamentarians joined the then government as individuals and small groups. They negotiated, before joining the government, not as a bloc but as individuals and groups and got what they wanted: ministerial portfolios and associated perks.

In the process, they played into the hands of the Sinhala leadership who knew they could manipulate and mute the Muslim political voice. This is happening even now. Early this month, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga told a group of Muslims that Muslim parliamentarians had failed to raise education, jobs, land problem and resettlement and issues affecting the community.

Muslim parliamentarians in the Government need to raise Muslim issues with one voice and pressurise the Government to bring about a just solution. Such a united stand would push the Government into action because it needed the support of these parliamentarians for its own survival. But unfortunately these Muslim ministers opted to remain silent, earning the wrath of the community.

In the August 2015 general elections, more than 95 percent of the Muslims voted for the United National Party which had lost more than two dozen elections and brought it into power. However, it appears that the UNP-led Government has abandoned the Muslims and started rolling out the red carpet to Israel which is usurping the Palestinian people’s land and turning West Asia into a killing field.

A debate is underway for a new Constitution for the country. Isn’t it the responsibility of the SLMC to take necessary steps to ensure that the rights of Muslims are guaranteed in the new Constitution?

Many Muslim individuals and organisations tried to bring these Muslim parliamentarians together so that they could in one voice push for measures to safeguard Muslim interests. But their efforts have proved futile.

It was under such circumstance about four years ago that eighteen national organisations got together and formed the National Shura Council which is striving to establish better ties with other communities while helping the community to deal with various issues. The unanswered questions are: “What are these Muslim parliamentarians doing? Whom are they working for?”

Speaking out on behalf of the community and still remaining in the Government is a difficult task in this highly commercialised, criminalised and corrupted political environment. Thus, they prefer to abandon the community rather than antagonising the Sinhala leadership. The Muslims have lost confidence in the SLMC’s ability to protect their interests. The SLMC has not only failed to make its own contributions to national issues but also dragged the Muslims away from national parties. As a result the Muslim community is left out in almost every important policy debate.

This is the sorry state of affairs that Muslim politician have brought upon the Muslim community, especially at a time when hostile local and international forces are here working against their interest and hell-bent on implementing their evil agendas against the Muslim community.

The need of the hour is for Muslims to return to national parties. It is up to national party leaderships to absorb the Muslims into the mainstream politics if they are sincere in their call for a united Sri Lanka. Under the circumstance, the only option left for the Muslims is to strengthen civil society to safeguard the rights and the interests of the community.

(The write is a Senior Journalist)

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