BlogMan of dignity and national integrity
BY: M.R.M Fouzi
(This article was published in the Daily News of 7th September 2009, in honour of late Al-Haj M.A.Bakeer Markar’s 13th death anniversary).
The life of late M.A. Bakeer Markar is one to be emulated by our younger generation, who have the aspiration to do good to humans by being humane. All of us who had either close contact working together or was merely an acquaintance, will vouch for M.A.Bakeer Markar’s humble, amiable, tolerant, humane character.
The first time I saw youthful Bakeer Markar was as the bridegroom, on the occasion of his marriage to his bride Sithy Kadija, the eldest daughter of late “Wairooshi” Mohamed Raphaie (Raffai) of China Fort, Beruwela. I am one of those fortunate in knowing him from my childhood, as one of his youngest brothers-in-law and as his immediate neighbour in China Fort, Beruwela. He was then the Chairman of the Beruwela Urban Council, being a budding, up-coming young politician and an active practising lawyer of the Kalutara Bar.
He was of the firm belief, that the beauty of Sri Lankan democracy is in how the majority community treat, honour and respect the minority communities. The yeoman service he rendered during the unfortunate riots of July 1958 is ample testimony to his understanding of human suffering and the need for mutual co-existence.
The scanty Tamil population that resided within Beruwela at that time comprising teachers, clerical hands and businessmen were harassed, attacked, wealth looted and properties set on fire. At this critical time, late Bakeer Markar was at the forefront protecting this small helpless population. The local leaders of Beruwela, both Sinhalese and Muslims rallied round him providing relief and shelter to these suffering affected Tamils. These affected Tamils were then provided makeshift shelters at the upstairs of our ancestral house and in few other locations in China Fort, Beruwela.
He was always quite accessible to everyone. I have enjoyed working with him as a constituent and as a staunch supporter throughout his political career. He was a close friend of the media too. Journalists who moved with him knew his bounty.
His was a far reaching vision which brought about the success story of his political career. His mission was friendly co-existence with all the communities but this did not deter him from displaying his Muslim identity.
Although he kept to his community identity, he was most endeared, honoured, admired and hailed by all as a national leader. The way he won the Beruwela Electorate in the Parliamentary Elections of 1977 speaks volumes about his credibility and popularity amongst all communities in Sri Lanka. In that General Elections, he was elected as the First Member of Parliament for Beruwela with an overwhelming record majority of more than 26,000 votes (they were not the Preferential votes- ‘manapes’- of the present system) , over his closest rival candidate S.G Samaranayake from the majority community, who was placed as second Member of Parliament for Beruwela. In 1977 late Bakeer Markar was elected Hon. Deputy Speaker of the Parliament. He was a fluent speaker in Sinhalese, Tamil and English. He had a strong belief in the united mix of ethnicities but was a vehement opponent of racism. He loved Sri Lanka most but remained an ardent Muslim, to the last. He was also popularly known as “Sinhala Bakeer” in his constituency. He strongly advocated that “Ceylon belonged to anyone who claimed to be a Ceylonese”.
The very next year, on 21st September 1978, he was unanimously elected to the exalted position of Hon. Speaker of the Parliament, proposed by the then Minister of State Hon. Dr Anadatissa de Alwis, and seconded by Hon.M. Sivasithambaram, Member of Parliament for Nallur. Thereafter he became the first Speaker of Parliament to preside over the Parliamentary proceedings at the newly built Parliamentary Complex in Sri Jayawardena pura, Kotte. He firmly believed in a functioning democracy.
He was very particular that the three pivotal positions enshrined in the Sri Lankan Constitution, namely the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker are well defined.
A novel constitutional aspect of his Parliamentary career was that, when he was Speaker, he had the rare privilege of presiding at the Oaths-Taking Ceremony of two Ministers and as such handed over acting ministerial appointments to Hon. W.L.Wijemanne and Hon. A.R.M.b.Attanayake, as acting Ministers of Plantation Industries and Higher Education respectively; whilst President J.R.Jayawardene and Prime Minister R.Premadasa were simultaneously away from the country in 1981, to attend the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
He maintained a very good rapport with the diplomatic community. He was honoured with invitations of official visits to the United Kingdom, South Korea, Indonesia, Cuba, Iraq, Philippines, Bangladesh and Maldives. During these overseas official visits, he played the role being the Head of the Parliamentary delegations and at the same time being goodwill ambassador, binding strong ties of international relations. He believed in strict protocol. He, therefore accepted these overseas invitations only from his counterparts or else from the Heads of States of these friendly nations.
After the civil disturbances of 1983, there was a call for Speaker Bakeer Markar’s resignation.President J.R.Jayawardene summoned the Speaker to the Presidential Secretariat and told him that he was under pressure from the ‘Maha Sanga’ to appoint a Buddhist to the Office of Speaker.
The President further added that he wished to appoint Hon. E.L. Senanayake as Speaker of Parliament because the Party was under deep debt to Hon. E.L. Senanayake for the part he played in bringing about major electoral victories for the Party in Kandy District.
In this instance, the President probably overlooked the significant political contribution made to the Party by late Bakeer Markar.
However, Speaker Bakeer Markar submitted his resignation abiding the command of the President.
This is all history now! That was how the illustrious career of Bakeer Markar was shelved permanently before he could bloom into the much wider national arena, with statesmanship qualities of par excellence!
It has been rightly said that the life of late Bakeer Markar has been inscribed into public memory: “The public memory is overwhelming of a self-effacing political figure of great charm, high integrity, total incorruptibility and dignity”.
He, therefore comprise the handful who possessed the vision to look far beyond the horizon for a peaceful united Sri Lanka. This was because “Unity in Diversity” was his Strength”.
In his own words, in his farewell Speech to the Members of Parliament on 9th June 1988, he declared that: “It is my regret that I will no longer be with you when you add chapter after shining chapter in Sri Lanka’s history”.
In keeping with late Markar’s illustrious national image, let me in conclusion quote the following lines from the poem written by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, a former British Ambassador:
“I vow to thee
The love that asks
no questions “.