By Faiszer Musthapha
The Provincial Council election campaign has now shifted to top gear in all three provinces but it is the Eastern province which has become the cynosure of all for several reasons. Firstly, the government having carried out development projects investing billions of Rupees and enhancing the quality of life of the people in a manner unprecedented in the history of the country looks forward to a decisive victory.
Secondly, the TNA is testing its strength in the East where the political landscape has drastically changed as a result of the post conflict economic and social changes. Thirdly, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which contested under the umbrella of the UNP at the previous PC election is contesting as a separate grouping under its own symbol.
Fourthly, the UNP has fielded its own list despite the strife within the party but is campaigning on a low key. The striking feature of the lists submitted by the main parties is that the TNA and SLMC lists are mono-ethnic whilst the UPFA and UNP lists reflect a balanced mix of candidates representing all three major communities. As ‘reconciliation’ is the prime concern of everybody irrespective of ethnic or other differences it was widely expected that the Muslims comprising the major community in the East would take the lead in this regard.
Unfortunately, according to reports from the Eastern province the SLMC in portraying itself as the sole representative of Muslims is exacerbating communal feelings. It has created divisions within the Muslim community; instead of unity. In this backdrop it is imperative to look at the situation in the correct perspective based on the teachings of Islam which emphasises the need for unity.
Unity, like charity should begin at home. In the present context relating to the provincial council election in the East, the Muslims should take the lead in ushering unity and peaceful co-existence among the people. However, divisive politics espoused by certain communal parties have placed obstacles in the path towards building amity among communities. It is not difficult to identify the conflicts in politics doing much harm to the people.
In the aftermath of this scenario the entire Muslim community , particularly the Muslim voters in the Eastern province should consider the prudence or otherwise of his actions vis-a- vis safeguarding the interests of the Muslim community.
Yet, Muslims have to face tragic situations created by extremist elements as we recently witnessed in Dambulla. Everywhere in the world, among all communities we could find extremists and fundamentalists. In our country too we have a fair share of problems created by such elements.
We have seen many Buddhist organizations arranging Ifthar rituals within their temple precincts, during the past few weeks. It also must be remembered that only a few months ago that the President attended the opening ceremony of a Mosque at Nuwara Eliya.
Thus , it would be seen that the present government has created space for inclusivity and cohesion. Hence while condemning the misguided extremists such as those responsible for the Dambulla incident and other protests against mosques we should not lose sight of the fact that such extremist elements constitute only a minute fraction. Unfortunately, they are vocal and the silent majority should assert themselves.
At present, the government and the people are working hard towards building a secular society. Therefore, the responsibility of the minority communities should be to understand this reality and strengthen the lobby pursuing cohesion and peaceful coexistence. In this context, it is imperative to consider all options and arrive at the best proactive and pragmatic plan of action to address the issues of all communities in the Eastern province within the broader spectrum of promoting and fostering unity among all communities.
Eastern Province offers a fertile field for building national reconciliation due to the fact that all three major communities are almost equally represented providing an ethnic balance. Furthermore, the Eastern Province has gained the largest share of peace dividends by virtue of the fact that it had been under civil administration even before the end of the armed conflict in the North. As a result the people enjoy the benefits of development which was far from their imagination before it was liberated from the clutches of terrorism.
In this backdrop of events no right thinking person will ever think of going back to an era of suffering. Instead the people will look forward to continuing the development process unabated. The Muslims being the most affected and the largest community in the Eastern province is called upon by historical circumstances to take the lead in safeguarding the fruits of post conflict development. For this purpose it is beholden on them to defeat all machinations initiated by forces working against the national agenda.
As a result of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the LTTE, Muslims are still languishing in camps in Puttalam as IDPs. In this exercise the prudent plan of action should be to ensure that Muslims retain their position in mainstream national politics and work in unison with the Sinhalese and Tamils on a programme for social integration and national reconciliation with the ultimate goal of building a Sri Lankan identity.