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Problems of Muslim community can be resolved – Hassan Al

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By forming an alliance with UPFA: Problems of Muslim community can be resolved – Hassan Ali : Veteran parliamentarian, a moderate Muslim political leader and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) M. T. Hassen Ali told the Sunday Observer that they are confident that the problems of the community can be resolved and political aspirations can be achieved under the UPFA administration.

Before joining the UPFA, SLMC leader, Minister Rauff Hakeem, held detailed discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and was convinced of his commitment towards addressing the problems of the community. Although they are now part of the Government and its development programs, they have not abandoned the policies of the party and retained the right to take independent decisions on matters concerning their welfare and this was agreed to by the Government as a pre-condition before joining, he pointed out

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: A majority of the political parties representing the Muslim community, including the SLMC, is now in the UPFA alliance. Does it imply that you have endorsed the policies of the UPFA with regard to the minority communities and believe that the UPFA is a better option than your former ally, the UNP, in fulfiling the aspirations of your community?

A: Joining the UPFA does not mean that we have either abandoned our independent policies with regard to our community or that we have fully endorsed the policy of the UPFA. We have joined the UPFA on certain conditions and we retain our independence to voice our concerns when something detrimental to the intrest of the community takes place. For instance when the Bill on electoral reform to the LG elections was taken up a few days ago in the House, we expressed our concern over certain clauses and got the voting postponed for the next session so that we can take up the matter with the Government and have it sorted out.

The UPFA certainly is a better option than the UNP to fulfill our aspirations. The UNP is in disarray and in-fighting is endlessly. We contested the Eastern PC elections on the UNP ticket, when we were in alliance with them and several malpractices detrimental to the interests of our community took place. Their contribution to the polls campaign was very poor. They never came to address meetings or for propaganda work, in spite of repeated requests. They are disorganised and this reflected in all the elections.

So, when it comes to the question of stability within the party the UPFA, definitely, is the best option and we are optimistic of achieving our aspirations with regard to our community. Our leader, Minister Raufff Hakeem, has held detailed discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on this issue and the President has given an assurance regarding the welfare of the Muslim community.

Q: Your comments on the development projects that are being implemented by the UPFA Government for the Muslim community, particularly in the Eastern province?

A: We joined the UPFA Government only recently and are yet to involve ourselves with the development programs and projects of the Government. So far it has been pretty good, the Government has included us to contribute our mite and engaged us in all these programs. We have submitted several proposals and have been assured that these would be considered favourably. There are also some shortcomings with regard to development programs. For instance, in Irakkamam the Government has asked farmers to start cultivating sugarcane immediately. Paddy cultivation in the last season was affected extensively due to incessant rains and they have not recovered from the loss which they incurred. They are heavily indebted. They cannot suddenly take to sugarcane cultivation which will take at least 18 months.

They need a respite and monetary assistance for subsistence. Certain government authorities are very rigid in their approach and indifferent to the problems of farmers. Since we are with the Government we are in a better position to take up such issues. On the whole we have become a part of all development programs.

Q: Your party formed an alliance with the UNP after laying down certain pre-conditions with regard to the welfare of the community. Was your defection and crossover to the UPFA prompted by the UNP’s failure or inability to adhere to those conditions?

A: We, as a community, have problems. We joined the UPFA because we encountered pressure from within the party to join the Government in an effort to have those problems sorted out. So we held consultations with grass-roots level organisations of the party and with the party high command and then decided to join the Government. There were no major issues with regard to our pre-conditions with the UNP. But we considered one particular incident as deliberate marginilization. Our party Chairman, the present Deputy Minister, Basheer Segu Dawood was the then opposition leader of the Eastern PC. But the UNP leadership denied this slot to our party when a vacancy arose after he contested and won parliamentary elections. Our members started revolting against this decision.

Q: Your party has over and over again reiterated on the need for devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking people of the North and East and an independent unit of devolution for the Muslim community, annexing of the non-contiguous areas of their domicile, after the merger of the two provinces. But in the UPFA alliance there are political parties, including Muslim parties, that are opposed to the merger of the two provinces and devolution of powers on a broader level, maintaining the stance that the minorities have no problems as such and there was only the terrorist problem which is now over. Your comments on this?

A: The North-East merger, even under the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Agreement of 1987, was a temporary merger. The de-merger was confirmed in terms of a Court order. We have a clear cut policy set out by our founder leader M. H. M. Ashraff who spoke of it clearly in parliament and elsewhere. He emphasized that both a permanent merger or de-merger should be conditional and it should form part of the devolution arrangement. The term ‘Conditional’ implies that the grievances of the Muslims should be addressed within the process of merger or de-merger.

The Tamils have problems and the Muslims too have their own problems. That is why the APRC talks were held earlier and the LLRC sittings were held till recently. These are in recognition of the fact that there are problems.

But we are happy that we have won the war against terrorists. Peace has been restored and the people are moving around without any fear. We can’t say there are no problems. The President has also agreed that there are problems.

Although the other political parties of the minorities may have adapted themselves to the policies of the UPFA, the mandate given to us by the people is different and we have our own principles on all important issues. In recognition of it, the Government even permitted us to contest over 22 LG bodies independently on our party’s tree symbol, implying that we are a separate entity having our right to uphold our own policies.

Q: In the Ampara district in the Eastern province you have captured four local government bodies although you contested for many more on your own ‘Tree’ symbol. Do you consider that your vote bank in the district is strong?

A: As I said earlier we joined the UPFA Government very recently and we had contested earlier elections while in the alliance of the opposition. Our party supporters may not have been able to adapt themselves to this change in a short period. But on the whole we have done well in the Ampara district. In Sammanthurai, where we contested on our own, we lost to the UPFA. But last time we won the PS while in the alliance of the UNP. But Irakkamam was part of that PS electorate then. Now Irakkamam is a separate PS and we have won that.

Q: Your party has lost the Pradeshiya Sabhas in the Batticaloa district to leaders of other Muslim parties in the UPFA alliance. What reasons do you attribute?

A: There are many reasons for our defeat in Batticaloa, particularly the Kathankudy PS, where we fielded an independent group. We have convened an election review meeting and about 150 delegates are to participate. The reasons for our defeat will be examined in the meeting. But I believe regional politics plays a major role in LG body elections unlike in the parliamentary elections.

Q: Can we consider it as the people having voted in favour of development programs being implemented in their areas?

A: Development does not play an important role in our areas when it comes to elections. Unlike in the Southern areas. We have observed that the TNA has won with an overwhelming mandate although they have not been party to the several mega development programs that have been implemented in the North and East. The people in these parts think in terms of minority issues.

Q: Are you still persistent on a separate unit of devolution consisting of the non-contiguous geographical areas of domicile of the Muslims of the North and East as a solution to the grievances of the Muslim community?

A: Yes. There is no change in our stance on that. But it is subject to change and compromise during at any future negotiations. The Tamils have now stepped from their original stance.

Q: Some Muslim leaders are opposed to that demand on the ground that it will lead to more problems between the Tamils and the Muslims?

A: No such thing as they imagine will ever happen, this will be only for administrative purposes and there will be no physical divisions, like in Pondichery Union territory in India.

Q: What is the SLMC stance on the US-sponsored military intervention in Libya?

A: The people of that country have the right to revolt against anarchy and demanding democracy. Their government resisted them. But that is their internal problem. The military intervention by the US and its allies is not the right approach to resolve it. We believe that it is because of the Jewish lobbying. They are waiting for the first available opportunity to capture a country in the Middle East. The US has taken advantage of this opportunity with ulterior motives. The US has nothing to do with the internal problem of Libya and that is the stance of the SLMC on that matter.-.Sundayobserve  By P. Krishnaswamy


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April 11, 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in Muslim news

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