No Muslim minister appointed as Sri Lanka swears in new Cabinet

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, center, and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, left, after the ministerial swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2019

No Muslim minister appointed as Sri Lanka swears in new Cabinet

  • Local Muslim community unhappy over lack of representation
  • Caretaker Cabinet will only hold office until next year’s elections

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka appointed its smallest ever Cabinet on Friday. Caretaker Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed just 15 ministers — compared to more than 40 in the previous Cabinet — who were sworn in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — Mahinda’s younger brother. 

For the first time in the country’s history, the Cabinet — which will only hold office until next year’s general elections — does not include a Muslim minister.

The prime minister will hold several posts, including minister of finance, economic affairs, policy development, Buddha Sasana, culture, water supply, urban development, and housing, while another Rajapaksa brother, Chamal, was named minister of Mahaweli development, agriculture and trade.

Reacting to the new appointments, N.M. Ameen, leader of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told Arab News that there was “visible displeasure” in the Muslim community about the absence of Muslim ministers in the new Cabinet. 

He noted that since the country’s independence, there had always been “someone to represent the Muslim community in the Cabinet.” However, he added that he hoped the problem would quickly be rectified with the appointment of a Muslim MP as a minister or deputy minister.

Some diversity does still remain in Sri Lanka’s authorities: On Wednesday, President Gotabaya appointed a Muslim governor — who has ministerial powers — to the North Western Province, where there is a large Muslim population. 

And in the new Cabinet, Arumugam Thondaman and Douglas Devananda are members of the minority Tamil community.

International lobbyist and strategist Muheed Jeeran urged the Muslim community to remain calm, stressing that the Cabinet will only be in charge until next year’s general elections and insisting to Arab News that the Cabinet had been chosen to ensure representation from a range of political parties, rather than a range of communities.

One veteran Muslim politician, who asked to remain anonymous, also told Arab News that there is no cause for alarm, particularly considering the appointment of A.J.M. Muzammil as the governor for the North Western Province.

“At least one Muslim parliamentarian will be appointed as deputy minister on Monday,” he predicted.

In other news, it has been reported that 33 of the 35 candidates who contested Sri Lanka’s recent presidential election lost their deposits, having failed to receive five percent of the votes cast. Independent candidates had to pay a deposit of $500 to register, while candidates from a political party paid $270.

Only the winner, Rajapaksa, with 52.25 percent of the vote, and the New Democratic Front’s Sajith Premadasa (41.99 percent) retained their deposits.

Even the third-placed candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka from the National People’s Power party, only received 3.16 percent of the vote.


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.