"To be or not to Be" S.M.M.Bazeer - The Island (1/1/2003)

Opinion To be or not to Be The Third round of peace talks between the government of Sri Lanka and LTTE has just finished in Oslo. The fourth round of talks is due to begin in early January 2003.In the midst of the ongoing peace talks it appears that the Muslim dimension has been put to strict test of definition. Peace is definitely the last resort, but not at the expense of the Muslims of the North and East who have all the legitimate rights to stake a claim in the peace dividends. Mr. Rauff Hakeem , the leader of the SLMC, assured prior to the first round of talk that he would act as the leader of the Muslim congress and not as a delegate of the government of Sri Lanka when substantive issues of Muslims were on the agenda. It was a tactical move that the LTTE has reinforced their position at the talks by nominating two of their key military AND POLITICAL figures, namely Col.Karuna and Tamil Chelvam, at the second round of talk in Thailand in which Mr. Hakeem participated alone. Then the Oslo talks took place in early December, without Mr. Rauff Hakeem but fortunately with Mr. M. I. M.Mohidden , a non SLMC vociferous Muslim delegate and a provisional advisor to Mr. Hakeem. But the wider spectrum of Muslim representations from the North east once again were ignored let alone Mr.Hakeem had been replaced by Mr. M. I. M. Mohideen. Had he not been there it was obvious that there could have been no voice for Muslims even to the extent of serving "curry leave" status. However at the end of the talks the agreement reached between the parties skilfully glossed over the Muslim dimension as Tamil speaking "peoples" in lieu of Tamil Speaking "people", a rhetoric of the Federal party in the sixties has now been re-enacted in the official document of the millennium peace deal in Oslo. The Governments and The SLMC It has been ensured by the SLMC leader that Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe would take care of Muslims and see that they would be treated on a par with the other communities. Mr.Rauf Hakeem is trying to emulate his former leader , the late Mr.Ashroff by giving him a saint image to justify his political decisions thus gratifying the Eastern Muslims. Mr.Ashroff had also enormous faith in former president , the late R.Premadasa and the present president Chandrika kumaranatunga ; and this faith has been renewed subsequently by Mr. Rauff Hakeem and the only difference is that the prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe has replaced Premadasa. Although the late Mr.Ashroff gave a Fatwa in his 1989 Election Manifesto that it would be Haram ( unlawful.) for the Muslims to cast their votes to the UNP. He later became a kind of close associate of R.Premadasa. But now Mr.Hakeem sees the UNF as the saviour of their own very existence. Unlike all other parties the SLMC under the leadership of Mr.Hakeem has resorted to help from the Premier to iron out their own party in-fighting, It is equally paramount for the Premier to ensure that the SLMC stands undivided in order for the survival of his UNF government. This was the case where Mr.Hisbulla the then SLMC M.P forged a relationship with the then the late President Premedasa and prevented Mr.Ashroff taking any effective action against him. This followed his sacking from the SLMC in or about 1991 for failing to resign from his parliamentary seat as promised to pave way for the second man from Oddamavady ( Mr.Mohideen Abdul Cader, the present deputy minister of fisheries ) , to succeed him on the basis of the party ‰Û÷s gentlemen agreement. He later vowed to take revenge on the Leader of the SLMC and joined the UNP with the blessings of former Minister of Trade and Commerce Mr. A.R.M.Manssor. Ironically the former returned to the SLMC to become a M.P in 2000 whilst the latter joined the SLMC to become an ambassador. It is alleged that Mr.Hakeem has failed to handle the matters prudently since the internal crisis ensued after the death of Mr. Ashroff. Mr.Ashroff had the knack of winning over his political enemies and pulling them into his fold. Nevertheless, it was sad that Mr.Ashroff never apparently thought about death thus failing to create an atmosphere for a successor. There came the mediators between the factions. Mr.Faiz Musthaffa P.C has been closely associated with both the late Mr.Ashroff , his friend and Rauff Hakeem , his junior. That mediation, however failed to bridge the gap between Ms.Ferial Ashroff and Mr.Hakeem. but it continues now between Mr.Hakeem and Mr. Athaullah . Although Mr.Hakeem abruptly left Oslo he never failed to drop in at the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK to discuss with Mr.Musthaffa ( Government Servant ?) concerning his sacking from the leadership and the party and the legal hitch that he needed to over come once returned to Sri Lanka. Since the SLMC dissidents embarked on boycotting the parliament all that they could do with the prime minister was that they pushed him into appointing a committee to deal with the affairs of the Muslims in the North and East , with Mr.Junaid , a senior civil servant being appointed as a member of the Committee . Unfortunately it appears that there is no so called Muslim senior civil servant from the North and East to deal with their own affairs!. Despite the fact that Mr. Hakeem played down the issue of dissention which posed a tangible threat to the very existence of his leadership the dissidents claimed a kind of victory without their leader‰Ûªs command. But again this has been the strength and weakness of the SLMC. I recall with disappointment as to how Mr.Hakeem played down the Muslim issues at the meeting with the expatriate Muslim communities in the UK, held in Hilton Hotel , Marlebone London on the 23 March 2002. However he claimed unequivocally that the meeting was sponsored by the SLMC the hotel had listed it as the meeting arranged by the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK ,The government officials who accompanied Mr.Hakeem to London were also present in the meeting and apparently had nothing to do with the Muslim national question. It was the time, coincidentally that Karikalan the Batticaloa- Ampara leader of LTTE declared that the Muslims should believe in Prabakaran. Those who met Mr.Rauff Hakeem from The Council of The North and East Sri Lankan Muslims, reiterated that they were not prepared to believe even in the leader of the SLMC if he did not ensure security for the Muslims. Two distinctive political dimensions of Muslims Unlike the Muslims who live in the south the Muslims who live in the (North) and East enjoyed political power and authority in terms of their own demographic concentration and geo political administration , let alone their land based economic activities. They feel that they are somewhat in a strong position in the Digamadulla District alone in the so called autonomous Tamil region. Until Mr.Ashroff, there was nobody among the North and East Muslims to be recognised as a Muslim political leader at the national level. They looked to the south for leaders like , Sir Razic Fareed, Marcan Markar and Dr. Badiudin Mahmood who were able to establish their political base in the east. Thus history has repeated itself by electing Ms.Ashroff as one of the representatives of the Digamadulla District. It appears that Mr.Rauf Hakeem still needs standing ovations, and shoulders to carry him to prove that he is the only leader for the Muslims of the entire Sri Lanka. He may be right to be the leader of the southern Muslims, but for those in the North and East Muslims they really need someone among them who understands their ordeal that they suffered in the past, and look to the future with the respect for the Muslims rather the prospect of peace. There will be no peace should there be no cohesion between the communities who identify themselves as different and distinctive entities. It appears that people of the North and East tend to believe that they have and will have no leaders to deal with their affairs after Ashroff, and there can not be any other party to lead them in the correct path other than SLMC . The political clout that the Muslim community has enjoyed in the last decade especially in the North and East ,by sticking together is enormous in terms of representation but not in terms of safeguarding the actual interest of Muslims. This is because the SLMC has become an" election party "that boasts itself helping into form the governments , thus satisfying their supporters with their personal ambitions. The two significant leadership pandemonium that occurred in the SLMC in the last couple of years has brought about the so called Muslim unity into disrepute. The headquarters of SLMC "Darul salam" (House of Peace) has become "Darul Ma`a rikh". (House of Fight") But unlike the last time, this division now may create a space for democratic and intellectual Muslim forces to emerge in the east to face the challenge of the time. The leadership sacking and allegations of conspiracies in the SLMC point to "Et tu, Brute " scenario but this is indeed "Et tu, Benito" scenario . A civil society. free from the political tyranny should emerge even among the Muslims. Leaders are not born but they are made. Whatever political climate prevails in Sri Lanka now the Northeast Muslims have to secure their positions by thrusting their claim upon the protagonists without any reservations. The demand of the LTTE for a federal state that comprises the North and East has not addressed the question of Muslims. The recent development is that the Muslim Majlis of the South Eastern University has put across their message to the Prime Minister and the SLMC hierarchy as to how they should deal with the Muslim issues in the peace process. Mr. Hakeem has been loyal to Government and cast his doubt over the dissident’s support to the UNF government. He accused them of conspiracy ‰Û÷‰Ûªå with the ultimate aim of destabilizing the governmentå ‰Û÷‰Ûª . Although being late and extremely adamant Mr.Hakeem has now reversed his position and forwarded a letter to the Prime Minister, in which he seeks to clarify the Muslim interest in the peace process. This is exactly what the so called dissidents and the people of the North and East have been asking for. If Mr. Hakeem had played his part well as the distinctive representative of Muslims since the inception of peace talks the rifts in the party could have been averted. It is also noted with concern that the pull out of Muslim support to the UNF government will probably be replaced by the Tamil Front. Nevertheless it seems to be a ‰Û÷‰Ûªå Catch22 ‰Û÷‰Ûªsituation for Muslims , so does the UNF Government itself. The Muslim interest should not be scarified for the sake of the SLMC being the partner to the Government. It looks that the Muslims in the North and East are not sanguine about their share of dividends in any solution reached in the middle of their own leadership struggle. The Community should be placed before the personal political ambitions and positions of the parliamentarians . Mr.Hakeem is unashamedly hard-line and obdurate in ignoring the legitimate claim of his one time lieutenants. This is the point in time, all the Muslim academics, religious organisations and political parties, all Muslim parliamentarians irrespective of their persuasions should come to terms to work together within positive, pragmatic and realistic frame work . S.M.M.Bazeer Attorney-at-Law Activist of the Council of North East Sri Lankan Muslims (U.K) NEWS | FEATURES | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS | MIDWEEK

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