Rajeewa Jayaweera, in Island, 27 October 2019, with this title “Hakeem-Bathiudeen United Front”
That the Rajapaksas were responsible for the political advent of Rishad Bathiudeen (RB) and his All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) is a widely believed theory. It was supposed to counter the political monopolization of the Muslim community by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and its leader and Rauff Hakeem (RH). Nevertheless, recent events indicate that may not be the case. When push comes to shove, they seem to be operating in unison, protecting and defending each other.
Hakeem is the current Minister for City Planning, Water Supply, and Higher Education. He recently came for criticism after a video recording of a meeting between himself and chief Easter Sunday bomber Zahran went viral. The non-declaration of his interactions with Zahran, when appointed as a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to investigate into the Easter Sunday Bombings, is being rightly questioned.
Bathiudeen is the current Minister for Industry & Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Co-operative Development, and Vocational Training & Skills Development. Addressing an election campaign in Sammanthurai, the ACMC leader had stated, “We vehemently condemn such false allegations. We will not allow Hakeem to be falsely accused in this way.” He further claimed, “The allegations are false and made to tarnish his public image. We strongly condemn such false accusations. We are also ready to forgo positions and benefits to ensure the safety of our community. This election is a battle for justice and injustice. “
Readers will recollect some serious charges leveled against RB in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings. It resulted in opposition members deciding to bring forth a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) in Parliament against Minister Bathiudeen. Many Catholic and Christian MPs were expected to vote together with the Joint Opposition MPs. The motion’s passage was a foregone conclusion.
RH prevented the NCM from reaching fruition by convincing all Muslims holding cabinet, deputy, and state ministerial positions to resign en masse. He was ably supported by the UNP leadership, who proposed an NCM against the government instead. No UNP, Catholic, Christian, or otherwise would vote against their government. Leading the pack, RH announced, “Resigned from my cabinet ministerial portfolio along with my Muslim fellow parliamentarians with the paramount interest in safeguarding the international reputation of our motherland Sri Lanka and the protection and wellbeing of all people of our country.”
In a case of extreme absurdity, the group gave the government one month to complete investigations. Suffice to state, the PSC in which RH was a member, took over three months to doodle over and submit an inconclusive report.
The group’s resignation had nothing to do with protecting the motherland’s reputation or the wellbeing of people. If that be the case, he and all others who were ministers owe an explanation for not resigning after anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama/Beruwala in 2014. The same would apply after riots in 2018 in Ampara, Kandy District, Teldeniya, and Digana.
Having resigned, all of them continued to enjoy all ministerial perks, including residences and vehicles. Their handpicked henchmen holding top positions in state organizations did not quit either. It was a matter of waiting out the one-month ultimatum; at the end of which the heat against Bathiudeen would have subsided, and it would be safe for him to return.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. After the alleged video went viral, there were calls from some quarters to demand an explanation from RH. Given his past contacts with Zahran and its non-disclosure, his position in the PSC is questionable.
Hakeem has come up with a cock and bull story. He claims Zahran had been present during meetings to discuss instances of political violence suffered by a group of Muslims in Kattankudy. Supporters of another Muslim politician MLAM Hizbullah had been responsible. It is a case of “yanne koheda, malle poll” (when asked where you are going, the response being I have coconuts in my sack). This nattily dressed Royal College-educated Attorney-at-Law armed with an LL.M degree from the University of Colombo must know better. He should have disclosed being present at meetings involving Zahran for whatever the reasons, at least at the time of his appointment to the PSC.
Bathiudeen, who now owes his ministerial position to the resignation pantomime orchestrated by Hakeem and others, has risen to the latter’s defense.
From a different perspective, it is a commendable effort by politicians of the Muslim community across party lines to come together at a time when one of them is in trouble.
Regrettably, it is not a fete that can ever be duplicated by the majority community. Disunity within the Sinhalese community goes back to the days of King Vijayabahu VI of Kotte or even earlier.