Despite a coup attempt, leader Rauff Hakeem holds party from breaking up
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) seems to be heading towards another split, apparently due to a rift between a small group headed by the Party’s Chairman Basheer Segu Dawood and its General Secretary M.T. Hassan Ali on one hand and the rest of the party led by its leader Rauff Hakeem on the other.
Interestingly cracks have begun to appear in the main Muslim party in the country at a time, when an idea about a broader Muslim political front has been floated by an interested group of Muslim journalists.
The conflict that has been simmering for the past several weeks came into the open when the 19th Convention of the SLMC was held in Palamunai in the Ampara District on Saturday.
The two main office bearers, the Chairman and the General Secretary were conspicuous by their absence at the official segment of the Convention.
Chairman Segu Dawood came late and participated only in the ceremonial segment held with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and the leaders of various other parties.
General Secretary Ali boycotted the entire convention.
Contrary to the suggestions by the Tamil websites, especially those run by Sri Lankan Muslims prior to the convention about an open rebellion by groups loyal to the two top office bearers at the Palamunai event, both the segments of it went smoothly in spite of Hakeem scathingly lashing out at the duo. A controversial politician and a strong critic of the SLMC, Azath Sally had said that the rebels had failed to deliver as Hakeem had invited both the President and the Premier to the convention in order to avert an embarrassing situation.
In fact, there seems to have been a conspiracy before the convention against the party leader and it has now been reported that a secret meeting had been held in Colombo recently in order to hatch the coup.
However, a rebel among the rebels has reportedly videoed the meeting and handed over the footage to Hakeem, who in turn had suspended two moulavis from the party membership over the issue on the very day the convention was held.
One of them who hails from Sammanthurai in the East is said to be a member of the High Command and the Chairman of the Soora Council of the party. The other one is from Hakeem’s own District, Kandy and said to have participated in the convention without knowing that he had been suspended.
The anti-Hakeem group or groups claim through social media that the leader had failed to deliver in major issues that affect the Muslim community.
However, Hassan Ali, after the convention had told media that he boycotted the Palamunai event since the leader had failed to keep his promise to return the powers that had been usurped from him as the General Secretary months ago. But, in fact the bone of contention for the rift between Hakeem and the group or groups led by Segu Dawood and Ali seems to be the two national list slots the party had got from the United National Front for good Governance (UNFGG) under, which the party had contested as a coalition partner at the Parliamentary election held in August last year.
Dozens of people aspired to be appointed to those two seats soon after the election citing various grounds, some of which were ridiculous. This compelled the party leader to appoint two of his confidantes – his brother Dr. A.R.A. Hafees and M.H.M. Salman – for the posts temporarily, before the constitutionally stipulated deadline for the appointments. They were to be replaced by two others later. Dr. Hafees who is the Press Secretary to City Planning and Water Supply Minister and the party leader Hakeem resigned from the Parliament in January, citing personal reasons, apparently without a prior arrangement by the party to nominate someone in his place.
Later, to the disappointment of so many people, former Deputy Minister M.S. Thawfeek was appointed to fill that vacancy. Hakeem’s promise to replace Salman is still to be fulfilled. Whomever he might appoint to the slot, the problem would not be resolved as there are so many aspirants, including Segu Dawood and Hassan Ali.
Hakeem had stated that the two main office bearers would be served with letters calling for an explanation for their absence from the convention, before taking action was taken against them.
He had told at the convention that Hassan Ali should resolve his issues within the party without going public with them by way of media statements.
Ali in his turn questioned in a media statement after the Palamunai meeting, as to how it was justifiable for the leader to go public with the same matter at the convention, before it was resolved within the party.
However, Hakeem seems to have consolidated his position and is in full control of the party as he had lashed out at the duo without any protest from the audience even at the official segment of the convention where only the party members participated. He said those who made the party kneel down before Mahinda Rajapaksa were now laying claims for the posts. He was apparently referring to two past situations. On one occasion, after an initial withdrawal from the Mahinda Rajapaksa government the SLMC was compelled to rejoin it, in order to prevent a split in the party, as Chairman Segu Dawood had been then prepared to join that government breaking ranks with the party.
Again after the anti-Muslim campaign which, in the eyes of many Muslims, had the blessings of the Rajapaksa regime, the SLMC was compelled to remain in the Government against the wishes of the community, as Segu Dawood had reportedly preferred to remain in the Government.
In fact it is a shame that all splits and rifts in the SLMC since its inception have been centred on posts and portfolios, unlike those in many leftist parties.
A group of pioneers of the LSSP broke away and formed the Communist Party in 1939 over a theoretical issue, the Stalin- Trotsky conflict in the USSR, while the NSSP was formed in 1964 after a conflict over the famous 21 demands.
N. Shanmugathasan broke ranks with Communist Party in 1963 in line with the theoretical differences between the Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Communist Party.
In fact S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who resigned from the UNP formed the SLFP in 1952 in order to cater to the aspirations of the newly emerged local wealthy class.
Before the Palamunai convention Hakeem was asked by some of the SLMC supporters to call on all the past breakaway groups to rejoin the party and he had replied that they were at liberty to rejoin as all of them left the party due to conflicts over portfolios and not owing to any political issues.
He was correct. It is appropriate to place here an interesting remark by a witty senior journalist from Kattankudy who summed up the everlasting crises in the SLMC over posts and portfolios.
When former Minister A.L.M. Athaullah left the SLMC in early 2003, I asked him as to what conflict was all about. He replied “The leader (M.H.M. Ashraff) has gone after infusing greed in all, by way of giving opportunity to ordinary people, and now we are reaping the fruits.”
If the SLMC is to continue with its infightings over posts and portfolios Muslims might be pushed to a point where they would ponder as to whether any historical role left for it to play.