The reasons to commemorate the brilliant traits of a leader can be many, and lessons to be learnt from such leadership and foresight are often invaluable. The lessons learnt become a lasting legacy, which blossoms to be emulated in the future. This, in a nutshell, tells about the vision of the late Deshamanya Alhaj Mohamed [...]

Sunday Times 2

A Sri Lankan, deep in his heart


The reasons to commemorate the brilliant traits of a leader can be many, and lessons to be learnt from such leadership and foresight are often invaluable. The lessons learnt become a lasting legacy, which blossoms to be emulated in the future. This, in a nutshell, tells about the vision of the late Deshamanya Alhaj Mohamed Abdul Bakeer Markar, which we now think in terms of “Vision for an inclusive Sri Lanka”. His peace building initiative was purely based on genuine consensus building. He lived Sri Lankan most, but remained an ardent Muslim.

The late Bakeer Markar

I saw the former Speaker Bakeer Markar for the first time as the bridegroom, when he stepped in to marry my eldest sister Sithy Kadija, the eldest daughter of Wairooshi Raffai. Then, I was a schoolboy just ten years old.

The ancestry of Mohamed Abdul Bakeer Markar is traced to the Arab trader and traveller Sultan Sheik Jamaldeen Al-Mahdoom, who was the official physician of the Ceylon Royal family, who settled in Beruwala. The lineage of Haleem Aliya Marikar Mohamed is linked to this official physician of the Royal family. M.A. Bakeer Markar was born on 12 May 1917.

Bakeer Markar received his early education at St. Sebastian’s School in Hulftsdorp, Colombo. At school, he excelled in the activities of the school literary society, displaying fine debating ability and becoming the best debater. As a student, his knowledge of the Sinhala language surpassed that of many of his colleagues. In the friendly debate between St. Sebastian School and St. Mathew’s College, he was chosen to captain his school team, as the regular captain of the debating team failed to turn up. This was a god-given opportunity for the young boy Bakeer to display his debating prowess and he did remarkably well, making his team win in the debate. His school Principal remarked, “Like Bismarck saved Germany, our team was saved by Bakeer”. Here we see young Bakeer taking gentle initial steps; perhaps to accomplish more in the future!

Thereafter, when Dr. T.B. Jayah was Principal of Zahira College, he joined Zahira College, Colombo, to continue his studies. At Zahira, he excelled better. He was twice elected Speaker of the Students’ Majlis (Council), and was also the Chief Editor of “The Crescent”, the school magazine. He successfully completed his London Matriculation Examination at Zahira College, Colombo.

In 1939, he joined the Ceylon Law College to pursue his legal career. He would attend lectures in the morning, and in the afternoon he worked as tuition master to make ends meet. World War II disrupted his studies, as schools as well as institutions were closed down for over two years. He had to enlist and serve in the ARP, the Air Forces Security Service, after receiving training in Hyderabad, India. In 1949, he was able to resume his studies at the Ceylon Law College. He passed out as a lawyer and commenced his legal practice at the Kalutara Bar in 1950.

Guru, Dr. T. B. Jayah

His initial steps into politics, were in 1946 when he was sub-warden at Zahira College, Colombo. Then Dr. T.B. Hayah contested the Labour Leader A.E. Goonesinghe at the General Elections of 1946, to the State Council. Bakeer Markar was entrusted with the task of carrying out Dr. T.B. Jayah’s Election Campaign, which he carried out successfully. Dr. T.B. Jayah was elected Member of the State Council. The Leadership of Dr. T.B. Jayah was laudable. In the State Council, Leader of the House Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike paying tribute to T.B. Jayah’s contribution on the Soulbury Report said: “Credit for the attainment of independence should undoubtedly go to T.B. Jayah for his historic speech in passing the Dominion Bill”. With this kind of inspiration, experience and the taste of political nectar, Bakeer Markar followed in the footsteps of his Political Guru Dr. T.B. Jayah, to be elected member of the Maradana Ward of the Beruwala Urban Council, uncontested, in his very first attempt in 1949. This opened the avenue for him to tread successfully in the wider political arena.

When he was Chairman of the Beruwala Urban Council, Bakeer Markar owned his first vehicle, the two-door Bug Fiat, bearing registration number EY 1210. I recall his travelling in this vehicle to Colombo with his wife Sithy Kadija, to attend the ceremony held at the Town Hall, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, when the Queen visited Ceylon in 1953.

Sinhala Bakeer

At Beruwala Urban Council, he was instrumental in moving the resolution to recognize Sinhala Language as the official language, which was voted by majority of the members. This was the first ever local government council to adopt such a resolution. Even at the All-Ceylon Muslim Organization Conference, he earnestly propagated Sinhala language to be recognized as the Official language. In fact, for his stance, he was nick-named and affectionately called “Sinhala Bakeer”.

He was for the use of Sinhala language by the Muslims from his youth. As a nation, Muslims must unite with the Sinhalese. In his own words “Though I belonged to the minority community, I was able to enter the national and international arena only because I was able to go forward with the majority community”. He was passionate in his noble thoughts. He believed in unity for the sake of peace, coexistence and, above all, for the development of the nation, with Unity in Diversity. We are reminded of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s precious words: “Ceylon belongs not only to the Buddhists but to anybody who claims to be Ceylonese”.

His persevering efforts to serve the voters of Beruwala more effectively paid manifold dividends with his active participation and contribution made at the Delimitation Commission of Thalgodapitiya and Tittawala. As a result, the new electorate of Beruwala was carved out, composed of a mixed population of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.

Sri Lankan in outlook

Bakeer Markar always thought as a Sri Lankan. In his address to Parliament on the Appropriation Bill on 24th August 1965 congratulating Finance Minister Wanninayake, he said: “I should like to do it in a more unorthodox way because I think the man to be congratulated is the Hon. Prime Minister, for he chose as Minister of Finance, a person who is Ceylonese in every sense of the word”.

Again, speaking on the Special Allowance to Plantation Workers on 6th October 1965, he spoke on behalf of the estate workers, referring to them: “If we are Ceylonese, they are Ceylonese; if the Sinhalese are Ceylonese, they are Ceylonese; if the Muslims are Ceylonese, in the same way the estate Tamils are Ceylonese”.

He believed and espoused the true spirit of equality to everyone.

These go to show his vision: One Identity under One Nation – has his vision impacted positively on the citizenry? How far are we looking at his progressive outlook today?

Democracy at district level

Bakeer Markar made contributions even to the smooth and effective functioning of democracy at grassroots level. During the Parliamentary debate on June 13, 1968, on the Establishment of District Councils, he submitted a memorandum to the Home Affairs and Rural Development Minister, recommending reforms to be introduced to the provincial administration. He wanted provincial administration to be reformed and reconstituted at district level, to give the much needed new look.

He felt that district machinery should be under the supervision of the Member of Parliament, nominated by the Prime Minister. This was to form the basis of the District Coordinating Committee.

Decorum of Speaker’s office

On his elevation to the position of Speaker, he stood by the great traditions and decorum of the Speaker’s Office. He did not want to be a nominal Speaker, merely presiding at Parliamentary Sessions. The Office of Speaker was made most significant. The Mace was not any more mere symbolic, placed long before the entry of the Speaker to the Chamber of the Parliament. The Speaker’s Mace was made the due symbol of authority, being carried with solemnity by the Serjeant-at-Arms and placed at the appropriate place, as the Speaker came to preside at the Parliamentary Sessions. The Speaker’s traditional robe was reintroduced, which to this day has its glamour. We have seen the majestic appearance of the Hon. Speaker and witness this being continued to this day. Dignity was restored and redefined to the Speaker’s office during his tenure. Above all, Speaker Bakeer Markar saw to it that the annual audit of the Parliamentary administration was brought under the direct supervision of the Auditor General, making parliamentart affairs and administration transparent. It is only hilarious and ironical that we see today the unruly behavior of some Members of Parliament inside the well of the Parliament, attempting to grab the Mace and run away.

Farewell speech in Parliament

In his farewell speech in Parliament on 9th June 1988, he declared “I am proud to be a Sri Lankan, for here in Sri Lanka a man can freely worship God in his accustomed fashion”. He strongly believed in reconciliation and coexistence. But soon we find the sad tone in his address to Parliament. He poured out, when he said:

“It is my regret that I shall no longer be with you when you add chapter to shining chapter in Sri Lanka’s history”. He dreamt further, when he said “the time is not far off when Ceylon will sit in the Assembly of Nations, as a well-developed country and take its rightful place there and play its role”. All these go to show that Deshmanya Bakeer Markar was Sri Lankan, deep in his heart, and was a Leader with the sincere message to all of us, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims to think – Sri Lankan.

Let me end with the words of Bismarck, who said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best”. This is food for thought!

- M.R.M. Fouzi

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