Muslim politics after Pottuvil – Article by Santhiya Moorthy

It was heartening to note that all major Muslim political party leaders addressed the community together, after the police firing that claimed a protestor’s life in Pottuvil. This does not mean anything per se as to the future of Muslim politics in the country, but it was time that community and political leaders read the writing on the wall, and acted accordingly – that is, united.

It is possible that a ‘grease devil’ or ‘mystery man’ was attacking women in particular. Reports of similar incidents had come from elsewhere, too, including one from Batticaloa a few days later. But that such incidents should lead to protests and mob violence, requiring the Government to declare curfew and call in the army, should reflect the fragile nature of the ground conditions.

The first major incident of the kind in the post-war East owes it to a rumour or what otherwise should have been treated as a minor incident is both a happy and sad coincidence. Having spread his net wide and far, the ‘grease devil’ has proved that the security apparatus cannot prevent his emergence and can only contain the fallout of his mission, if any.

Immediately after the end of the ethnic war, the East witnessed sporadic incidents of violence involving lower-level Muslim leaders and erstwhile LTTE cadres, rebranded as the TMVP of the newly-elected Chief Minister, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan. Those incidents had both a past, and political reasons and overtones to them. Not this time round, when man/men painted in grease were targeting women did the rounds – and so did the rumours around them.

For Senior Minister A.H.M Fowzie, and Ministers Rauff Hakeem and A.LM Athaullah, to have overcome their political and personality differences and go to their community together, to restore normalcy should be welcome. Rauff Hakeem spoke about ‘reprehensible rumours’ that were at the bottom of the incidents and were floated with the “idea of putting the Government into difficulty”.

Fowzie was reportedly more forthright when he mentioned that the rumours related to the “mystery man being the creation of the Government”. According to him, the rumours had it that President Mahinda Rajapaksa “needs blood of females in order to reign forever”. Reports also have Minister Fowzie as saying: “People who don’t want to see Sri Lanka returning to normalcy are creating problems outside the country and now they have moved within the country.”

It is not a coincidence that all different political parties identified with the Muslim community are now with the Government. It is also true that all of them have been losing heavily in elections in their traditional bases. Rauff Hakeem’s SLMC, for instance, lost Kathankudy, the identifiable Muslim citadel in the country, in the Local Government elections. The less said about the other Muslim parties in the East, the better.

In the North, the All-Ceylon Muslim Congress (AIMC) of Minister Rishad Baithudeen did well in the parliamentary polls, yes. Certain calculations also showed that Tamil-speaking non-Muslims too may have voted for the party in numbers. But that did not happen when the party sought to seek a new identity as ‘All-Ceylon Makkal Congress, or ‘People’s Congress’, again known by the abbreviation ‘AIMC’, in the subsequent Local Government polls.

Muslim leaders need to ponder over this and other difficulties that they have been facing on the electoral arena after they allowed their personal egos to run riot over larger community interests. After the post-war elections to the Eastern Provincial Council in 2008, the community could hope to have a Muslim Chief Minister in future. But subsequent series of elections have not justified that optimism of the Muslim community.

This has consequences for the nation as a whole. In the midst of the now-stalled devolution discourse involving the Government and the TNA, leaders like Rauff Hakeem and Rishad Baithudeen have been talking about the concerns of the Muslim community and sought a role for them in the ethnic dialogue.

With the community expected to show a higher headcount at the end of the ongoing Census-2011, continuing frivolity on their part would only encourage fringe elements that had been witness to past violence against Muslims to assume self-appointed leadership roles, as the current crop is being seen as failing the community, time and again. Senior Minister Fowzie’s observation that ‘people outside the country are creating problems’ could then assume new and even more dangerous meanings and interpretations.

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