The late A.H.M. Ashraff, founder Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) addressing a commemorative event of the late TULF Leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam, several years ago in Colombo said it was on the political forums of the Tamil Federal Party (Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi –ITAK) led by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam that he learnt the alphabet of politics.
Ashraff was in full of praise for Amirthalingam, and even went as far as to say that the Tamil leader was one of his political mentors. Until the militancy took centre stage in Tamil politics, there was hardly any difference between the Tamils and the Muslims in the minority political scene.
The first blow came in the form of misunderstandings between the Tamils and Muslims in the North and East when the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) initiated its Tamil Eelam resolution at the Vaddukottai (Vaddukoddai) Convention.
The resolution while fanning Tamil nationalism, distanced the other minorities, such as the upcountry Tamils and the Muslims at large.
The late Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) Leader, Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman, had openly told the TULF leaders that he will not support Tamil Nationalism as he represents a segment of people whose social structure is far different from the social system of the people in the North and East.
Thondaman had also gone on to say the people whom he represented in the hills were living outside the regions claimed by the TULF as Tamil homelands. However, the CWC leader had said his support for the Tamil question would remain unchanged and he would support the genuine political aspirations of Tamils.
Meanwhile, another veteran Tamil politician from the East, Chelliah Rajathurai, who claimed himself a disciple of S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, remained a staunch loyalist of Chelvanayagam and took part in almost all the non-violent protests carried out by the Federal Party Leader until his death.
In the early 80s C. Rajathurai was the first veteran Tamil Federal Party politician to stage a walkout from the TULF, claiming the separatist attitude of the party was not going to bring about a settlement to the Tamil question in the country.
It was in this backdrop the late A.H.M. Ashraff, who claimed he entered politics from the forums of the Tamil Federal Party, formed the SLMC, focusing on the grievances of the Muslims in the North and East .
The harsh attitude of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) towards the Muslims in the North – their eviction from the region and the Kathankudy mosque massacre – strengthened the stance adopted by the SLMC and helped stabilize the party.
The mainstream political stance of the SLMC, since its inception, has been very similar to what was followed by the CWC from the hills. With ministerial portfolios, the SLMC remained a party that was supportive of whatever national party that came into power.
However, with the ethnically identified political parties gearing up for the forthcoming Eastern Provincial polls, the decision by the SLMC has created a stir in the Eastern political theatre, with the party in a crises of sorts over its political stances. Since the untimely death of Ashraff, unity within the SLMC has been a questionable issue with the party becoming fragmented and even Ferial, the widow of Ashraff, forming her own political party.
The recent political stances of the SLMC make its stalwarts, such as the General Secretary, M.T. Hassan Ali and Masoor Maulana, one of the last of the politicians from the East to be under the tutelage of S.J.V.Chelvanayagam, understandably angry.
When the SLMC Leader, Rauf Hakeem first announced his decision to align with the UPFA, Maulana didn’t mince his words when he said, “ S.J.V. Chelvanayagam said now only God can save the Tamil, likewise with the decision Rauf Hakeem has taken, I say that only Allah can now save the Muslims.”
The SLMC being a party well rooted in the East, several seniors are of the view that they should contest the forthcoming Eastern Provincial polls as a singular party, determining the Muslim identity in the backdrop of recent incidents that antagonized the Muslims, such as the Dambulla Mosque issue.
As far as the recent political developments are concerned, it is becoming disconcertingly clear that the SLMC leader had decided to make the alignment at a critical juncture, simply saying it’s the need of the hour.
Even at the last Presidential polls the SLMC supported the candidature of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Hakeem was there, even at the scene two years ago when Fonseka was ignominiously dragged into custody by Security personnel.
However, Rauf Hakeem who was one of the first to condemn the arrest of Sarath Fonseka , a couple of months later did a `somersault’ and grabbed the portfolio as Minister of Justice in the Rajapaksa Government saying again that it was the need of the hour to safe guard Muslim interests.
Of course, as a Muslim political party , the interest of the Muslims should be addressed by the SLMC, but not in a mean way by dancing to the tunes of the people in power.
Though the SLMC leader has decided to align with the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the questions that emerge from the Eastern region and from other areas where Muslims are domiciled, is how best the population could express its stance with regard to the recent racial attitudes against them in the form of attack mosques and even raiding them in certain places.
Therefore, the SLMC Leader’s decision to align with the UPFA in the forthcoming Eastern polls appear not as something done in the interest of the Muslim people, but a selfish act done in the interest of furthering his own political agenda.