Remembering a great leader late M. H. M. Ashraff, P.C. - M. M. Abul Kalam

This article is published to commemorate the 100th day (24th December) of the sudden demise of late Al-Haj Muhammad Hussian Muhammad Ashraff, President’s Counsel, Founder Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Founder of the National Unity Alliance and former Minister of Ports, Ports Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and Assistant Secretary General of the World Islamic People’s Leadership. Author of this article is a senior member of the SLMC high command/politburo, Director - Constitutional Affairs of the SLMC and its former National organizer and an Attorney-at-Law.

16th Saturday, September 2000 was a very fateful day for all of us. Regrettably, more so for me, because I not only lost my leader, mentor and gem of a man Muhammed Hussain Muhammed Ashraff but also lost my classmate A. M. Nihmathullah and my nephew S. M. Rafiudeen along with 12 others under mysterious circumstances in the air when they were bound to Addalaichennai, my adopted township.

I was with our leader on 15th Friday at his residence getting ready to launch the National Unity Alliance manifesto on the 23rd September at the first National Convention of the NUA that was to be held in Ampara. Mr. Niharnathullah and Mr. Rafiudeen came to see the leader at his Colombo residence all the way from Maruthamunai - my home town upon the Minister’s invitation and had been waiting to fly with the Leader back home as per the minister’s request. Fate decreed otherwise and they all left us behind for ever.

The late leader was never scared of death. Being a true Muslim, he was always prepared to face death whilst taking all protective precautions. He was used to say that every additional day that he lived was a bonus granted for him by the grace of The Allah, the Almighty.

He had told his family to await his dead body any time whenever he left home. It was evident from the way his only son Aman Ashraff who is 20 years old conducted the whole affairs including the leading of the funeral prayers and the last rites. His wife Mrs. Ferial Ashraff, (presently the Minister of Development, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction of the East & Rural Housing Development) has been courageous enough to acknowledge the will of The Allah Almighty and also leading the whole affairs after the demise of the leader carefully whilst adhering to the compulsory Islamic mourning period.

The late leader had even prepared his party stalwarts to acknowledge his death any time. This was crystal clear in one of his poems written nearly 3 years ago. He had requested them to bury him as soon as possible after his death without shedding tears and to carry forward the march which he pioneered for the salvation of the people from political division and to work towards nation building.

I had been working with him for the last 15 years both professionally and politically. However, I cannot forget the last few days I was with him in organizing the SLMC/NUA 2000 parliamentary general election works. The speed at which he was working tirelessly as if he was getting ready for pilgrimage to Mecca, considered to be the final journey proved that he had some premonition about his untimely demise. I was working with him until 15th evening and on 16th morning he had gone. We are yet to recover from this shock and sorrow although 100 days have gone.

Mr. Ashraff had escaped three attempts on his life in the past. But he wouldn’t have expected his death under such cruel and mysterious circumstances. Leave alone him, no one would have expected it in such a way and in such a hurry. But according to our belief in Islam we have to accept The Allah’s will. However, we hope and pray that the master conspirator The Allah Almighty will one day unearth the mystery behind our late leader’s sudden demise.

When Mr. Ashraff formed the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at Kattankudi in 1980 he was not taken seriously by the people who mattered. Again when he declared the SLMC as a political party in 1986 in Colombo the very people thought that he was committing political suicide.

Two years later the SLMC was recognised by the Commissioner of Elections and soon after that the SLMC contested the first Provincial Council elections outside the Northern and Eastern provinces and secured three seats and political analysts took him seriously. However, the critics opined that the SLMC should be confined to the Eastern province only. Nevertheless, the late leader was unruffled and unmoved by this criticism and forged ahead with his political march forward. Thereafter the late leader never looked back in politics.

The SLMC won seventeen seats in the Northern and Eastern province election and became the main opposition party in that provincial council. The 1989 Parliamentary General election gave 4 seats to the SLMC for the first time and thereby the SLMC and late leader Mr. Ashraff made history in Sri Lankan politics. Before this election he proved that the SLMC was a deciding factor in electing the executive President in 1988. Although the SLMC had the opportunity to join the UNP government, the late leader opted to sit in the opposition in the 9th parliament.

In 1994 parliamentary general election with 9 SLMC MPs, he helped the People’s Alliance government to come to power after 17 long years of UNP rule. Late Minister Ashraff did immense services to his people and all Sri Lankans in general using his political authority. He played a prominent role in finding a lasting solution to the ethnic problem acceptable to all communities.

He had a vision of his own in his political career and ability and courage to lead the SLMC to the mainstream politics. His leadership was a thought leadership and he made brainstorming impact in his parliamentary speeches.

By the formation of the NUA in 1998 he wanted a system democracy without opposition. He never wanted people of this nation to be divided in the name of Westminster system into two camps namely the ruling and the opposition. He spelt out his political programme for this goal at the SLMC annual convention held in Colombo in 1998 attended by both President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the leader of the opposition Ranil Wickremasinghe.

It is in this background the NUA/SLMC contested the October general elections along with the People’s Alliance and secured 11 seats in the 11th Parliament. Unfortunately our leader is not there to see that the fruition of his dreams.

In the run up to the last general elections, the SLMC not only lost its leader and 13 others in the helicopter tragedy but also one candidate late Mr. Baithullah in Trincomalee district and 26 others who were killed by an LTTE suicide bomber in Muttur on the 2nd October. We have lost 40 innocent lives within two weeks in our political struggle.

May The Allah Almighty bless our late leader and all others killed with Jennathul Firdouz and shower His choicest blessings on all Sri Lankans and to our motherland.