Naushad Majid represents the Muslims from
the east in the political affairs committee
of the United National Party (UNP). He is
also the eastern province convenor for the
party and brims with confidence that the UNP
could not only successfully contest the
eastern provincial council election but also
win it. In this interview, Naushad Majid
explains how the UNP could turn the eastern
provincial council election into a huge
political success for the party. He says
the conditions that prevailed in Batticaloa
will not be applicable to the provincial
council election as there are two other
districts coming into the equation where
mostly Sinhalese and Muslims dwell.
By Mark Indika Samarasekera
Q: The government held elections for nine
local bodies in Batticaloa early this month.
But some people in the east claim that they
had no opportunity to cast their vote. In
your opinion, what would have happened?
A: An election does not mean just
the polling day. It is unfair to just
assess the situation on a particular day and
declare the election process a peaceful
one. We should consider the period
commencing from the calling of nomination to
the declaration of results.
Since nomination, an infamous Tamil militant
group began threatening those were opposed
to them of dire consequences if they dared
to vote. These terrorists demanded people to
either vote for them or refrain. This is
how Pillayan group prevented different
political views from being expressed during
the election. There was coercion,
intimidation and suppression.
In that backdrop, nobody dared to risk their
lives by exercising their franchise. Given
the conditions that prevailed, how can
democratic political parties expect their
cadres to be exposed to violence and
intimidation of a terrorist group that
brooks no opposition? Due to obvious lack
of democracy in the entire process, we lost
out a chance to seek public office.
Q: However, both the UNP and the JVP are now
gearing to contest the provincial council
election. Has anything changed since the
Batticaloa local election?
A: If the UNP is contesting the
provincial council election, the contest is
not confined to the Batticaloa District.
This election is applicable to both
Trincomalee and Ampara Districts as well. In
those areas, there are Sinhala and Muslim
inhabitants. They form the majority in both
districts. Together they form the provincial
majority. That will also change the equation
in the province.
The conditions prevailing in Batticaloa
won't be applicable to the other two
districts. The TMVP wields no power in the
other two districts.
Though we did not contest the manipulated
and immoral local authority elections in the
Batticaloa District, the UNP will certainly
contest the eastern provincial council
election. We will certainly contest.
Q: Your party refused to contest the
previous election claiming there was no
democracy. Is it only fair to question what
has so drastically improved that you feel
confident about the PC poll?
A: Some things are different. For
example, when you take the entire province
as a whole, the situation is different to
what prevails in the single district of
Batticaloa. The results are out, and the
entire country does know how the election
was won. We predicted this long before the
election results were announced.
We won't allow the same thing to happen to
the entire province. We will do our best to
prevent militancy from spreading to the
entire province. For that, democratic
political parties must contest.
If you take Mannama South, Kalawanchikudi
and Wellawali-only 45% of the voters have
cast their votes. From that 45%, some 20%
got rejected. Generally, the rejected votes
in these areas would be around 2%-3%. But in
this poll - excluding Araipattu - in all
other areas over 12% of the votes got
What does this mean? People have gone to
the booths out of fear, but spoilt their
votes instead of voting in favour of a
barbaric military outfit. That's how they
silently expressed their protest. If only
45% of the voters cast their votes, what
happened to the other 55%? Why did they opt
not to vote altogether?
Q: What was the situation in the other
A: In most places, polling agents
were not there. The whole country knows
about the manner in which the Batticaloa
poll was conducted. The best evidence of its
undemocratic conduct is Minister Douglas
Devananda's report on the election. The EPDP
contested all nine local bodies as an
independent group. They are now crying foul
alleging this was a daylight robbery and not
an election. We predicted it would be so,
long before they went to poll.
Q: The SLMC is no longer a constituent
partner of the government. But there are
many SLMC breakaway groups currently working
with the government such as Segu Izzadeen,
M. L. M. Athaullah, Ameer Ali, and Rishard
Bathiudeen. Won't they share a common
platform with the government and the
Pillayan Group during this campaign?
A: This election will prove a huge
test for the names you just mentioned. They
all entered politics representing the SLMC.
They had no other political background.
They are in powerful positions thanks to the
That means, they should rightfully have a
problem in working with the Pillayan Group
that indiscriminately killed Muslims.
Naturally any Muslim political
representative should have a problem in
working with this group. I am aware that
these SLMC defectors have in unison
protested to the President that they cannot
work with the Pillayan Group in the
forthcoming election. They are also seeking
an opportunity to contest as an independent
But one thing remains the same. Whether they
contest as independents or not, they will
still align themselves with the government.
If such a course is taken, their collective
political future as Muslim representatives
will also be decided. I think this election
will therefore prove not only decisive but
be a sort of a litmus test for the Muslims
Q: Are you saying that the Muslim leadership
cannot work with a government that is
already in an alliance with the Pillayan
A: Of course. The eastern Muslims
cannot and will not accept their leaders who
ally themselves in anyway with the Pillayan
Group that has outrightly violated the
community's basic rights.
Q: What if they contest as an independent
group to retain their identity? Won't that
A: That will be yet another way to
hoodwink the people. These politicians will
eventually align themselves to the
government, whether they contest as
independents or not.
On the other hand, even if they contest as
independents, Muslims won't cast their votes
in their favour. The voters will not be
It is the Muslim community that plays a
principal role in eastern politics. With the
birth of the SLMC, the community is quite
conversant about their political rights as
well as their identity. East is the one and
only province where the Muslim community
gets an opportunity of demonstrating their
The SLMC was created largely due to the fact
that Muslim interests were not accommodated
when signing the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord.
The Muslims were excluded from that effort.
To solve the country's conflict, all three
main communities have to reach a consensus.
That can happen only if the Muslim community
has the opportunity to be a stakeholder in
Q: The UNP has announced its decision to
contest the eastern poll. What is the UNP's
plan this time?
A: At the present moment, it is only
the UNP that has strongly proposed a
political solution to the national question.
Also, we are the only political party that
represents all the communities making Sri
Lanka their home. We are a unique political
entity due to this.
I have proposed to the party that if we are
contesting the eastern provincial council,
then we should also nominate a Muslim as the
chief ministerial candidate. East is about
Muslim politics and the UNP is a multi
I made this proposal because by doing that,
the UNP as the largest and the strongest
political party in this country will be
setting an example. It will demonstrate that
we have the vision and the commitment to end
This means, we will prove our political
maturity. Tamil people can nominate someone
as chief minister to the
if and when elections are called. The
Sinhalese have the opportunity to elect
chief ministers for all other provinces. I
strongly feel that if we don't nominate a
Muslim as our chief ministerial candidate at
the forthcoming polls, it might have a
negative impact in the east which is a
Muslim dominant province. It might direct
The conflict was created by the political
deceptions before. That led the Tamils to
arm themselves and form themselves into
militant groups. We should take every
possible step to prevent a similar situation
amongst the Muslims. For that, we must make
prudent political decisions that would
uphold the rights of all communities.
Q: Do you intend to contest the eastern
election together with the SLMC?
A: We have invited not just the SLMC
but also all other political parties who
share our pluralistic vision to join hands.
Further, we have invited all others with a
strong desire to strengthen the democratic
processes to work with us. Together we can
strive to uphold the rights of all
communities and prevent militancy from
running the show.
Q: How confidant is the UNP of winning the
A: It is only the UNP that is capable
of culling the votes of all communities
living in the
That is a strength that no other party
enjoys. The UNP can win this election.
Q: Whatever the UNP's political strengths
may be, what would happen if the Pillayan
Group goes on a killing spree yet again?
What about state terrorism and acts of
coercion and intimidation by others? How
will the UNP face all that?
A: The only way to face the multiple
challenges is to rely on the strength we
have - the support we derive from the
people. We have to fight the terror with the
help of the people. In a way, this election
will also be about democracy and rights.
It does not matter who will be carrying arms
and ammunition, as long as the people remain
with the democratic forces and fight for
their due rights. People might even hit the
streets at this rate crying for democracy.
I am of strong faith that the people will
place their trust in the UNP. It is
immaterial what kind of groups will be
active and the kind of state terror that we
may have to encounter as long as people are
willing to work with the UNP to protect
Q: The present administration has proposed a
solution to the conflict based on the 13th
Amendment. What are your views?
A: I am completely shocked that the
government offered a two-decade-old solution
as a basis for a solution. The government
has begun to treat this national question as
This amendment is already a part of the 1978
Constitution. The problem is that it was not
fully implemented. There is no need to
amend it or propose new ways to implement
The LTTE took up arms and launched a bitter
war because the government did not honestly
conduct the District Development Council
It must be noted that none of the powers
contained in the provincial council system
have been devolved in their true sense to
any provincial council. Instead, parties
like the JVP and the JHU are extending their
support to the government purely for
political expediency but canvass against
power sharing. They are also against
devolving land and police powers to the
To solve the question, all three communities
will have to show true commitment and
overcome petty party objectives. If that is
not there, there will never be a solution to
Q: You might turn out to be UNP's chief
ministerial candidate for the Eastern
Provincial Council. There is a possibility
that the JVP and the JHU may accuse the UNP
of compromising the Sinhala heritage in the
east. What will be your response to such a
A: If someone were to make such an
allegation, that would be unfounded. The
east has Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim dominant
areas. There will be members elected from
those respective areas representing the
dominant communities. The council will
eventually be a multi party body. The chief
minister does not rule alone. He will also
have ministers who will reflect the
diversity of this province.
On the other hand, if the Muslims are not
justly treated in the east, then there is no
hope that their rights will be recognised
elsewhere in the country. Therefore it is
important that we give the Muslim community
the confidence they seek and deserve. This
is a golden opportunity to do just that.
Take Kantale and Seruwila. They are Sinhala
dominant villages. Around the two areas you
find scattered Muslim settlements. Ampara
are predominantly Sinhala areas. Then Damana,
Uhana and Dehiattakandiya will also have
more Sinhala inhabitants. Around these areas
we find some Tamil and Muslim settlements.
There had been no quarrel despite the ethnic
Then take this aspect into consideration.
Who protected the Dighavapi temple, a
revered Buddhist place of worship? The
Muslim inhabitants offered the monks alms.
It is they who looked after the temple and
During Ashroff's time, a bogus issue was
created about the Dighavapi temple. But
the truth is, it is Ashroff who created a
settlement in the area. An unnecessary
political issue was created. But the temple
was never harmed.
Without fear, I will always say that the
Muslim people of the area protected the
Dighavapi and its Buddhist heritage. There
is no basis to the allegations that were
abound at that time. Those were created by
communal elements seeking to disrupt the
racial harmony for which eastern Sri Lanka
is well known.