Al Haj Bakeer Markar Memorial Oration delivered by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya
A well known Sinhala adage states that ‘Example is more valuable than precept’. If a society or a country is to be rebuilt its leadership should be exemplary.
Late Al Haj Bakeer Markar was a person who highly valued the Sri Lankan identity and put it into practice throughout his political life. I personally feel that it was his family background as well as the living environment, education and the intellectual environment he associated with which made him act in such manner.
His birthplace, the ‘Hakeem Villa’ residence in Beruwala was a famous house of medicine which was open to one and all. His father’s great social service would have undoubtedly made a mark and provided valuable examples to Bakeer Markar. He witnessed within his home that communal, religious or other petty differences had no distinction when it came to ailments within the human body. As such he would have received the training to look at everyone as human beings. After learning the initial letters from the Holy Quran, he started schooling at the Muslim Balika Vidyalaya at Maradana, Beruwala. In 1924 he entered St. Sebastian’s College, Colombo and was subsequently admitted to Zahira College Maradana under the guidance of late Dr. T.B. Jayah with the entitlement of a super scholarship award. Meeting late Dr. T.B. Jayah was a turning point in the life of late Al Haj Bakeer Markar as it was a major factor which contributed to his achievements in later life. This is clearly evident from his biography. Bakeer Markar received the opportunity and the blessings to enter politics through the guidance of T.B. Jayah who was a founder member of the United National Party. Bakeer Markar was an eloquent speaker in all three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English. He had a good knowledge and understanding of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. He had also learnt Pali in depth, due to his interest in Buddhism. He learnt Pali at the feet of late Ven. I-leenatiyangala Revatha Thera. While engaged in the legal profession he entered politics at the request of the people and began his public and social service as a member of the Beruwala Urban Council and subsequently as its Vice Chairman and Chairman respectively.
Bakeer Markar was an epitome which set fine examples to whichever field he entered. As a lawyer he offered his legal services to the poor and downtrodden masses free of charge. His appearance on behalf of clients in maintenance cases free of charge set a fine example to the members of the Kalutara Bar.
When there was a clamour for Sinhala to be made the official state language he not only supported the ‘Sinhala Only’ movement but also provided it with further impetus by publishing and distributing a book titled “Why Sinhala”. This may be considered as a further step of late Al Haj T.B. Jayah’s opinion that “All should stand together in demanding independence for the Country”. After winning the Beruwala seat in Parliament he visited every village in the Beruwala electorate to thank the people at their doorstep for their support quoting the stanza “Nahee Verena Verani” from the Dhammapada which means “hatred begets hatred”. Most of his speeches encapsulated the meaning of stanzas in the Dhammapada. It emphasized that hatred could be overcome through love and compassion. Elected to Parliament in 1977 late Bakeer Markar was bestowed with the post of Deputy Speaker. He was unanimously elected Speaker of Parliament to fill the vacancy created in 1978 with the Cabinet reshuffle. Making his inaugural speech as Speaker he said he hoped for the blessings of Almighty Allah and the noble Triple Gem to carry out his functions without hindrance. He had the distinction of the last Speaker of the Parliament which concluded its sittings at the Galle Face Parliament Building and the first Speaker to preside over the Parliament shifted to the Sri Jayawardenepura Parliament Complex.
He had been instrumental in taking many steps which safeguarded the dignity of Parliament. He found that the financial matters of Parliament were not subjected to Government Audit and considered it as a major discrepancy. He therefore instructed the Auditor General to do so inquiring as to why it had not been done. The Auditor General answered that Parliament was not subjected to Government Audit because it was a fully independent and autonomous institution but it could be done provided the speaker gave him instructions to do so. He therefore called upon the Auditor General to start the audit thereby setting another good example to the nation. He also masterminded the introduction of a uniform to Parliamentary Staff to ofter them dignity for their profession.
I wish to state here with a sense of gratitude that the manner in which he always acted to safeguard the supremacy and honour of Parliament and the dignity of the post of Speaker is a fine example and a source of guidance to the present day. The post of Speaker is third in line in the state hierarchy next to the President and the Prime Minister. When the President is unable to carry out his functions due to a visit abroad or some other reason his functions devolve on the Prime Minister and the Speaker. Al Haj Bakeer Markar had the distinction of performing these functions in the capacity as speaker for the first time in Sri Lanka when both I-us Excellency J.R. Jayawardene and Hon. Prime Minister R. Premadasa were out of the country together on visits abroad. This was an unique incident in the country’s history as well.
When late Al Haj Bakeer Markar relinquished office as the Speaker, the late President R. Premadasa entrusted him with another responsibility by appointing him as the Governor of the Southern Province. When he held this post as the representative of the President he took correct decisions according to his own conscience because he wanted to learn by example more than any other thing.
When a crisis situation erupted in the Southern Provincial Council under the Provincial Council System he ably faced it by giving way to the democratic decision of the people and I think the practice he gained in the post of Speaker enabled him to take such a decision.
Although he received mingled with kings and rulers he never lost the common touch because he was a person with simplicity. Al Haj Bakeer Markar spent the evening of his life with joy, encircled by his loving family and relatives. He was able to live such an unencumbered life due to his dedication to service as a true Islam devotee. The word Islam meant obedience, linkage and peace. Bakeer Markar always acted awarding to his conscience. He was closely wedded to the people of his country seemingly relegating his own family into second place. He endeavoured to spread the message of peace among all Sri Lankans irrespective of communal or religious differences. What we should commemorate and announce to the country is the vision of a great man of his caliber who aspired for unity in diversity.