Centenary birth anniversary of Bakeer Markar
The late Bakeer Markar was a politician and gentleman par excellence, a man worthy of emulation. In 1978, when I served as OIC Crimes of the Mannar Police, Mr. Markar as Speaker of Parliament visited the Mannar Peninsula and that is when I first set eyes on this distinguished gentleman. My older brother, Ibrahim Hamid, who later retired as a Senior Superintendent of Police, was attached to the Presidential Security Division and informed me that Mr. Markar wanted a bachelor and teetotaler for his Security Division. Since I had served in the North and East from 1973 to 1979, I felt it best to take a break and be close to my family in the process.
In 1979, I was transferred from Mannar to the Ministerial Security Division as Personal Security Officer to the Speaker. I reported for duty at ‘Mumtaz Mahal,’ the official residence of the Speaker, and met his Private Secretary Mr. Azwer who introduced me to the Speaker in his office. Having first surveyed the inner and outer perimeters of the residence, I became well-acquainted with the place and able to carry out my duties. We had a team of five Police officers, a backup security jeep and motorcycle escort from the Traffic Police Headquarters. On our first visit to Parliament, as required, I did a thorough survey of the inner and outer perimeters of Parliament to gain first-hand knowledge for security coverage.
On the day after my arrival at the residence, I noticed a large crowd waiting to meet the Speaker, most of them from Beruwela. I briefed my men on their duties and proceeded to the office where the public were allowed to call on the Speaker. Some of those who were closely attached to the Speaker were unhappy about the security arrangements adopted by me as they were used to coming and going as they pleased and being scattered all over the residence. When we reached Parliament, I was summoned by the Speaker to his chambers. I was told that although he was satisfied with the security detail, it was necessary for me to ensure that the public were made comfortable when visiting for without them he would not have come to that position. It took some time for me to adjust but in time, I was gradually able to gain the confidence of those who visited the residence.
In accordance with tradition, Speakers were required to visit Parliament only when Parliament was sitting; in the first and third week of every month. However, Bakeer Markar visited Parliament regularly except for weekends and public holidays. Parliamentarians, who were under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Parliament, gradually began to adjust to seeing the new Speaker constantly in Parliament and he won the hearts of all except for a few.
The Speaker was quick to detect some discrepancies in Parliament and made a written request to the Auditor General to have the Parliament audited. This was long overdue and to the surprise of the Parliament staff, all matters started functioning smoothly after the auditing.
All parliamentarians delegated to go abroad on official visits came under the purview of the Secretary General of Parliament. However, once Mr. Markar took charge of this subject, a roster was drawn to ensure that equal opportunities were given to all MPs to travel overseas on official duty. One day while in Parliament, the then Galle MP Mr. Albert Silva requested to see the Speaker and I accompanied him to the Speaker’s chamber. Mr. Silva bowed at the Speaker’s feet and was promptly asked to stand up. He then thanked the Speaker profusely in Sinhalese for the opportunity given to him to go abroad, bowed again and left smiling broadly. On one occasion, a senior Cabinet Minister requested permission from the Speaker to join a delegation proceeding to Geneva so he could visit a close relative. However, he was informed that his request could not be complied with and he would have to await his turn on the roster. The minister then fell out with the Speaker and did not speak with him till his term was over.
The routine of the Speaker was to visit Parliament on week days and the Beruwela electorate on weekends. Large gatherings from all walks of life were constantly seen at his Arab Road residence in Beruwela and each individual need was attended to, to their complete satisfaction. He was an extraordinary humanitarian, visited close friends and relations, attended weddings and funerals and went wherever and whenever he was needed. As President of the Muslim League Youth Front ‘Youth at Heart,’ he travelled to the four corners of the country, continuously meeting people and giving redress to their needs. All petitions and requests were perused in his chambers and the relevant ministers were summoned to deal with and give redress to the humanitarian problems of all concerned.
While the new Parliament was under construction at Kotte, the Speaker visited whenever time permitted to look into its progress. While it was half way through, it was observed that according to the Construction plan, there was no floor allocated for the Speaker. This was brought to the notice of the President and Prime Minister who obliged by allocating the first floor to the office of the Speaker. When the new Parliament was convened at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte in 1982, many meetings were held pertaining to high security matters, chaired by the Speaker. On matters of security, the then ASP Mr. Milroy Cruz informed that in the old Parliament, police personnel were able to obtain meals at their convenience but this was not possible in the new Parliament due to security reasons and suggested that meals be provided by Parliament. The then Secretary General flatly refused to accede to this request, which made the Speaker question what duties were performed by the Police, which the Secretary General had to concede was providing security to Parliament. The Speaker then questioned whether that did not include providing security to all of us. The Speaker then made a ruling that the Parliament Police Division were to be given meals by Parliament. The entire Police Department thanked the Speaker profusely for this magnanimous humanitarian gesture.
Mr. Markar was the Founder President of the Iraq-Sri Lanka Friendship Association and held this position until his demise. He was closely connected with President Saddam Hussein and through that connection convinced the Iraqi Government to build the ‘Saddam Hussein Village’ in Eravur for the cyclone victims in the Eastern Province. Mr. Markar was personally invited by the Iraqi Ambassador in Sri Lanka to participate at the annual Bath Party Anniversaries on behalf of President Saddam Hussein.
One evening in Parliament, the Speaker informed me that the President had summoned him for an urgent discussion in an hour and we had to proceed to the President’s House. Half an hour after our arrival, the Speaker came out with a big smile and when I asked him on the way back what had happened, he informed me that the President had requested him to submit his resignation as Speaker to accommodate a Senior Cabinet Minister and that he had done so. I instantly replied that he should have contacted his supporters to get their views before making such a decision. He laughed at my naiveté and said he strongly stood by Party decisions. After his resignation, he was sworn in as Minister without Portfolio and moved into one of the Stanmore Crescent residences. Though numerous calls and efforts were made to contact the Secretary to the President, we were eventually informed that he was not available. Finally, Mr. Markar told me that enough was enough and he was quite content to serve as Minister without Portfolio and serve the community at large.
After Mr. Premadasa became President, Mr. Markar was appointed Governor of the Southern Province and his staff started to shift his residence to Beruwela which turned out to be the Governor’s Residence too.
When the UNP returned to power in 1989, Mr. Imthiaz Bakeer Markar was sworn in as State Minister for Housing and used to visit Beruwela on weekends to meet members of the public. One morning, the Governor summoned me and in the presence of the State Minister requested me to take care of his security detail as I had done for him. I was aghast, my eyes filled with tears and I was speechless. I then said that when I get a capable officer to take charge of his security detail only, I would take the security of the minister. That was when I realised that the reason the Governor wanted me to do this was so I would be close to my family members in Colombo. This was yet another facet I discovered in you Sir, a man among men, a humanitarian act which I will never forget in my life, or the quintessence of the gentleman who performed it.
Sir, you epitomised a ‘gentleman’ in every sense of the word, thank you for what we are today because of what we learned from you. You taught us not to limit our challenges, but to challenge our limits!
(RTD.) SENIOR SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE