We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any others minorities. There are only two peoples in this country. One is the people that love this country. The other comprises the small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a lesser group” (President Rajapakse, May 2009)
With the ending of Tamil Terrorism in May 2009 and the subsequent declaration by the President that there are no longer religious minorities or majorities in Sri Lanka, but that there are only two groups – those who love their motherland and those who do not – or words to that effect, the hopes and aspirations of the SL Muslims were raised to such an extent that in the subsequent General Election and Presidential Election of 2010 they helped to sweep the incumbent and his Party into power for a second time with majorities of about 60% and 58% respectively of the valid votes polled.
However, the events that followed during 2012 – 2014, have resulted in the sharp polarization of the Muslim Community and the majority community.
The general feeling among the members of the Muslim Community, then and now, is that the instigators of these events, the Anti-Muslim Groups, were being actively or passively backed by the then President and his Government. The platform of Buddhist Majoritarianism which was being propagated by these Anti-Muslim Groups have resulted in the Minorities being pushed to the fringes of society and the gradual, setting-in of an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality in place of the ‘We’ mentality that existed fairly strongly until then. The Muslims began to ‘circle the wagons’ in response to the unprovoked attacks on Islam and it’s practices and on the members of the Community. The final nail on the coffin as far as the Muslim Community was concerned was when President Mahinda Rajapakse described the tragic events at Aluthgama which included the loss of life, property and livelihood of Muslims as “Sulu sulu siddheen …” (minor incidents).
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, ‘Safety Needs’ occupies the second level in the hierarchy and is only preceded by the more basic ‘Physiological Needs’ of an individual. Safety needs is defined as protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. The activities of the anti-Muslim Groups violated a basic human need – a basic human right of a community – the need for safety. The members of the Muslim Community were reduced to a state of helplessness and abject fear by the total lack of action on the part of the President and his Government to contain these virulent anti-Muslim Groups. The Muslims felt abandoned by the very persons who by virtue of being elected officials were responsible for their safety.
It is with therefore with a deep sense of alienation, hopelessness and fear that the Muslim Community participated in the Presidential Election 2015.
A ‘Hobson’s Choice’ is a free choice which offers just one option. A person has the choice of either taking that option or not.
When they chose to exercise their franchise on the 8th of January 2015, the Muslims were motivated by the single, unifying desire to achieve their basic need for physical safety. They refused to be trampled by Political Leaders who chose to destroy the Muslims Safety Needs to achieve their own selfish Self-actualization Needs. Thus, the members of the Muslim Community were faced with a Hobson’s Choice when they cast their votes at the last Presidential Election.
It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that, when deciding on a Candidate to vote for, the Muslims based their decision on what was seen as being best for the Muslim Community rather than what was best for the Country. This is exactly what the members of the Tamil Community have been doing for the past few decades. Since Independence, the Muslims have acted responsibly at all Elections putting Country before Self. “What is good for the Country is good for us” was the driving belief. This credo saw the vast majority of Muslims aligning themselves politically with one of the two major National Parties – the UNP and the SLFP – while the rest chose the Leftist Parties. Even the launch of a regional Muslim Party (SLMC) in 1981 failed to cause a serious dent in this trend nationally. Those were the days when Muslims voted with their heads. In future elections they will be compelled to vote with their hearts, placing Self before Country – a position they have been forced into by the propagators of Majoritarianism who, having driven the Muslim Community to the socio-political fringe, now accuse the Muslims of being ‘extremists’ in their religious outlook.
During the period just prior to the Presidential Elections, the popular view conveyed by the mass media and the social media was that the members of the Muslim Community were awaiting with bated breath the decisions of the various Muslim Political Parties regarding choice of Candidate before making their own choices. Nothing could have been more further from the truth than this stupid and ridiculous viewpoint. This may have been so in the case of supporters of such Muslim Political Parties, but within hours after the traumatic events at Aluthgama, more than an estimated 95% of Muslim Voters had already made up their minds firmly and resolutely as to which Candidate they will NOT cast their votes for at any future Presidential Election. The objective of Muslim Voters was not to express their rejection of MR or the acceptance of MS as the next elected President of the Country, but to express their burning desire to be permitted to live with dignity and self-respect as citizens of Sri Lanka.
At the end of the day, Mahinda Rajapakse lost the Presidential race by just 293,637 votes. Rather than attributing this defeat to the Muslims and other Minorities for their ‘anti-MR’ sentiments, it would be more correct under the circumstances to attribute it to the ‘anti-Minority’ personality traits that Mahinda Rajapakse had begun to exhibit by his inactions, rather than by his words.
For a politician, who had demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities buttressed by an equally strong internal locus of control, to resort to blaming external factors (i.e. the Minorities) for his defeat at the polls indicates either a serious strategic error on his part politically or that he was blindsided by trustworthy members of his own team.
As a political party which enjoyed the support of many left-of-centre Muslims, the SLFP should engage in some serious soul-searching as it plans for the next General Elections. If the ‘MR-effect’ has been passed onto the SLFP, then it will no longer be perceived by these Muslims as a Party that would fulfil their basic need for physical safety. Such left-leaning Muslims will then look at the JVP, as many have already started to do after the advent of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, as an alternative.