Chairman of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Abdul Majeed speaks to The Nation this week on how the current political situation is perceived by the SLMC and the Muslim people.
He stated that while the SLMC and the Tamil National Alliance shared similar sentiments on various issues pertaining to the problems faced by the minorities, there were still aspects that needed to be openly discussed.
He stated that the TNA needed to consider the aspirations of the Eastern Muslims when making demands to the government.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q. How do you view the current political scenario?
The minorities and the minority parties continue to hope that both parties in the government would solve this long standing national problem in the country. But there is a question as to how this government would win the trust of the people.
Each party has given priority to its own survival than looking at solving the issues of the people. What we see is that the government has shown some sort of reluctance in pushing towards solving the problems of the minorities.
We don’t see much of a difference in this government from the previous regime with regard to addressing the ethnic issue. Therefore, I have my doubts on how this government would go forward to solve this issue.
Q. The SLMC is part of the current government. Have you raised your concerns with the government?
Yes, we are part of the government. We have continued to raise our views and concerns to the government. But the SLFP and the UNP seem to be expressing conflicting views on key issues including the national question. I feel that this issue will drag on for some more time.
There is also the issue of what the TNA wants and whether the government would agree to its demands.
During the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the TNA had insisted on a solution within a merged North and East. But, a few months ago Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar urged the TNA to move away from the ideology of a merged North and East Provinces.
In such a situation, we are not sure whether the government would be agreeable to the demands of the TNA.
Q. Will the SLMC agree to a solution where both provinces are merged?
There are widespread discussions within the SLMC on this matter. We do have concerns if both provinces are merged. There are many doubts as well.
During the TNA May Day rally in Ampara which was held in the presence of R. Sampanthan, Parliamentarian K. Kodeeswaran said that grievances of Tamils in Ampara should be addressed. At the same time he said that the TNA was not supportive of the SLMC’s calls that Ampara be recognized as a separate coastal district and for a South Eastern Provincial Unit.
He made these statements in the presence of Sampanthan himself. These statements have created a sense of fear and doubt among the Eastern Province Muslim population. How can the TNA expect to merge the North and East if it cannot be agreeable for a separate coastal district? These fears among the Muslims should be removed.
I was a member of the North Eastern Provincial Council under Varatharaja Perumal. I felt that Muslims faced several discriminations during that time as well. The Tamil leaders should also look at the interests of the Muslims as well.
Q. Have there been steps taken to iron out these differences of opinion?
The political leaders of both communities may talk about this and discuss the issues at length. But that is not important. What is important is that these discussions should be held at the grassroots level, among the people, the local government officials and community leaders.
Q. But there are certain issues where the TNA and the SLMC have agreed to work together.
Yes, there is a lot of understanding between both parties on many issues and aspects. That is mostly at a higher level. As I said, the dialogue should focus on the grassroots level.
Q. What do you have to say about the current Provincial Council system?
The powers of the Provincial Councils must be implemented to the letter. There were instances where some Sinhalese people were settled in lands owned by Muslims in Thoppur. A few months ago the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) constructed a Buddha Statue in Iraikamam, Ampara which had caused some unrest. We view this as encroachment.
We have problems in implementing laws when it comes to religious leaders encroaching into lands. The law clearly says how issues pertaining to land should be handled. The implementation of police and land powers to Provincial Councils would help the minorities from issues like these.
If the government is genuine on reconciliation and equality, then it should implement both the powers.
Q. There were some changes in the party. You were appointed as the new Chairman during these changes. Has it impacted negatively in terms of public support?
No. In fact, the SLMC has strengthened its presence among the people. There are reports of a split within the party owing to these changes. But there is nothing like that. There are different opinions put forward but there is nothing that has split or weakened the party.