Rise and fall of Nazeer Ahamed in the Muslim Congress

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Enjoying political power as an MP and later as Cabinet Minister, Nazeer Ahamed became “hubristically” defiant biting the hand that fed him

The landmark verdict delivered by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the first week of October has brought “glad tidings of great joy” to most Sri Lankan political parties in general and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in particular. The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Padman Surasena, S. Thurairajah and Mahinda Samayawardhena heard a petition filed by former SLMC Deputy Leader Zainulabdeen Nazeer Ahamed challenging his expulsion from the party. The unanimous Supreme Court ruling dismissed the petition and upheld the expulsion.

Nazeer Ahamed had been elected to Parliament on the SLMC ticket from the Batticaloa district at the August 2020 elections. He had in April 2022 been appointed the cabinet minister in charge of environment by the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The SLMC’s apex body known as the High Command (Athi Uyar Peedam) had taken a decision to vote against the 2022 Budget (Appropriation Bill) but Nazeer Ahamed breached party discipline by voting for it. The SLMC had expelled him after going through the due process of calling for an explanation. Nazeer Ahamed’s petition challenging the party decision had been dismissed by the Supreme Court in a 62-page judgement.

The significance of the Supreme Court ruling was that it upheld the right of a political party to expel a member for flouting party discipline. An undesirable feature of the Sri Lankan political landscape in recent times has been the ease with which MPs defied party leadership and broke party ranks. Several crossed over with impunity to the Government from opposition. It has been possible for these MPs to get away without censure due to favourable court rulings. Since this “impunity” had become the norm, many political parties had given up hope that they would ever be able to penalise errant party members.

In that context the 5 October SC verdict was like a refreshing breeze blowing in the musty legal corridors of Hulftsdorp. As a result of the ruling, Nazeer Ahamed lost his seat in Parliament. The vacancy has been filled by the SLMC’s Seyed Ali Zaheer Moulana who has been sworn in as Batticaloa district MP. He polled the second highest number of preference votes on the SLMC list at the 2020 hustings.


M.A. Sumanthiran

After the ruling was issued Jaffna District MP and President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran who appeared for the SLMC in the case told the media, “This is a historic judgement in the sense that we’ve seen in the last several years – 20-25 years – that several MPs who crossed over to other parties have remained MPs because they have come to court and got judgements that their expulsion was invalid… This judgement is holding that if you violate party discipline, and cross over, then you lose your parliamentary seat.”

The SC ruling was a double delight to the Muslim Congress. The SLMC has over the years established itself as the premier political party representing the Muslim people of Sri Lanka. While the party has an island-wide membership, the SLMC’s stronghold is the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces, it is the East that has the largest concentration of Muslims.

Unfortunately, the SLMC has in the past been plagued by defections and cross-overs mainly from Eastern Province party stalwarts. Even though the SLMC rank and file along with supporters remain faithful to the party and its “Tree” symbol, such loyalty has not been displayed by some frontline leaders.


Rauff Hakeem

Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem has been struggling to cope with this breakaway tendency and maintain party discipline. The SC ruling and consequent fate of Nazeer Ahamed will no doubt strengthen the hands of leader Rauff Hakeem and the party hierarchy in the future.

When this column requested Kandy District MP and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem to comment on the case and its implications, he responded as follows – “The judgement by their Lordships have very lucidly compared and contrasted both local and foreign judgements relevant to the ‘Audi alteram partem’ rule and have concluded quite convincingly that duplicitous conduct by the Petitioner in deliberately avoiding to provide a written explanation for his conduct as a precursor to an inquiry by itself absolves the Party in that it had given the Petitioner the fair opportunity to be heard as required by the rule.”

“Though there was precedent for this in Gamini Disanayake case 30 years ago, it was frustrating experience for affected political parties ever since then as technicalities, procedural lapses and failure to follow the dictates of the party constitution had been cited by the judges to invalidate expulsions.”

There is no doubt that the SC ruling upholding the expulsion of Nazeer Ahamed and its consequent unseating of him as MP is a shot in the arm for the SLMC and its leader. A prickly thorn in the flesh has been removed. Nazeer Ahamed like Humpty-Dumpty has had a great fall and been cut to size.


Chequered history

However it remains to be seen as to whether Nazeer Ahamed will not rise again from that fall. The chequered history of Nazeer Ahamed within and without the SLMC is one of phased resilience. The Nazeer Ahamed’s political rise, fall, rise and now fall, is.an interesting saga worth recounting.

Zainulabdeen Nazeer Ahamed hails from Eravur in the Batticaloa district. Born on 16 April 1961, Nazeer obtained a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He also reportedly received higher education in Cairo, Egypt. Nazeer Ahamed was also highly proficient in the Arabic language. After graduating Nazeer Ahamed associated himself with some Saudi nationals and engaged in entrepreneurial ventures. He was quite successful and had widespread business contacts and access to funds.

Besides being commercially astute, Nazeer Ahamed was spiritually inclined too. He is often referred to as “Hafiz”. There is a mistaken impression among non-Muslims that it is one of his names. 

That is not so. Hafiz is a title of respect given to someone who has memorised all 6,236 verses of the Holy Quran. 

The female equivalent is Haziza. Besides memorising the verses, Hafiz Nazeer Ahamed is also capable of reciting the Holy Quran in seven appropriate modes.


Leader M.H.M. Ashraff

It was his knowledge of the Holy Quran and Arabic that brought Nazeer Ahamed close to legendary Muslim Congress leader M.H.M. Ashraff. Ahamed had become acquainted with Ashraff when the latter became a cabinet minister in President Kumaratunga’s Government in 1994. It is believed that Ashraff’s trusted confidante M. Rafeek had made the introduction.

According to well informed party sources “Thalaiver” (leader) Ashraff had been highly impressed by the smart and intelligent Nazeer Ahamed. What drew Ashraff close to Ahamed was the latter’s knowledge of the Quran. Some persons close to Ashraff say that one of the regrets in the SLMC leader’s life was his inadequate knowledge of Arabic and his inability to recite the Quran in the correct mode.

Nazeer Ahamed helped fill this self-perceived lacuna for Ashraff.

So M.H.M. Ashraff would ask Nazeer Ahamed to recite the Quran to him and the young man would oblige. If and when Ashraff referred to a particular chapter, Ahamed would immediately recite it relying on his memory. Ashraff would also gain a better understanding through discussions with Ahamed. At times when the SLMC leader was distressed or worried about something, he would request the Hafiz to recite some passages. This would soothe his troubled mind and calm him down.

Gradually Ashraff began to trust Ahamed greatly and rely more on him. He was also taken up by the young man’s intelligence and efficiency. Thus Ashraff’s affinity and trust towards Ahamed reached a very high level. Nazeer Ahamed became a trusted confidante of M.H.M. Ashraff within a remarkably short period of time as opposed to several others who had been associated with the SLMC leader for much longer periods. Ashraff used to tell SLMC stalwarts that Nazeer Ahamed was special and had to be respected as he ‘carried the holy book inside his head’. 

Such was the respect and trust Ashraff had for the Hafiz that the SLMC leader appointed the newcomer Nazeer Ahamed along with the then party secretary Rauff Hakeem to the executive board of the “Leader’s Obligatory Trust for Unity and Sri Lankan Identity” (LOTUS). It is this trust that retains ownership of several properties including the SLMC party headquarters “Dharussalam” on Vauxhall Lane, Colombo 2. In 1998, the “Unity Builders (Pvt) Limited” was incorporated for the party’s welfare. Nazeer Ahamed was appointed to the Unity Builders board of directors also. This company acquired ownership of a property adjacent to “Dharussalam” from Carson Cumberbatch.


Lord Shiva’s snake

In Hindu mythology Lord Shiva has a cobra around his neck as a garland. Being in an exalted position under the benign protection of Lord Shiva enabled the cobra to defy and mock its arch-enemy the “Karudan” (kite). Likewise Nazeer Ahamed enjoyed a special status within the SLMC akin to the snake around Lord Shiva’s neck. 

M.H.M. Ashraff formed the National Unity Alliance (NUA) ahead of the October 2000 Parliamentary poll. It was strongly speculated that Nazeer Ahamed would be appointed a National list MP after the election. But “Kismet” or fate decreed otherwise. The SLMC leader along with 14 others, was killed in a helicopter crash on 16 September 2000.


National List MP

After Ashraff’s demise, his party got divided. One faction functioned under his widow Ferial Ashraff as the National Unity Alliance (NUA). The other continued as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress under Ashraff’s deputy Rauff Hakeem. Initially Nazeer Ahamed went along with the NUA but parted ways when not made a National list MP. Thereafter he tried to team up with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress but soon fell out with Rauff Hakeem supposedly over the issue of a National list MP post


Democratic Unity Alliance

In 2004 a breakaway group of the SLMC formed a new party called Democratic Unity Alliance (DUA). The acronym DUA is significant because it means a supplication to “Allah” or God. The livewires of DUA were A.J.M. Muzammil and Nazeer Ahamed. The NUA fielded a candidate at the 2005 Presidential elections. The DUA also contested a few local authority elections and won a few seats.

Soon Nazeer Ahamed was embroiled in legal cases with the SLMC over issues of ownership and control of properties belonging to LOTUS Trust and Amity Builders Ltd. These included party headquarters “Dharussalam”. An underlying thread in this bitter legal acrimony was the negative relationship prevailing between Rauff Hakeem and Nazeer Ahamed.


Rauff and Nazeer

Events took a turn for the better in 2012 with Rauff and Nazeer burying the hatchet. The DUA merged with the SLMC and Nazeer Ahamed was appointed Deputy Leader of the SLMC. The protracted legal wrangling too came to an end.

According to Muslim Congress sources the Dharussalaam land and building ownership was restored to the Party. Nazeer Ahamed vacated the floors he occupied in Dharussalam and handed over possession voluntarily to the SLMC. By doing so Ahamed avoided unpleasant confrontation with restive party rank and file and also re-established goodwill with SLMC membership. All remaining legal impediments between the SLMC and Nazeer Ahamed were resolved. 


The rise

Thereafter things began working out positively for Hafiz Nazeer Ahamed. He contested the Eastern Provincial Council elections in 2012 and was made a Provincial Minister. In 2015 Nazeer Ahamed became the SLMC Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. In the 2020 Parliamentary elections, Ahamed contested in Batticaloa district on the SLMC ticket and was elected. In 2022 April the Hafiz was appointed cabinet minister.

This was indeed a remarkably rapid rise in politics for Nazeer Ahamed. But unfortunately there was a price to pay – “Hubris” 



In classical Greek tragic drama hubris was often a fatal shortcoming that brought about the fall of the tragic hero. Overconfidence led the hero to attempt overstepping the boundaries of human limitations and assume a godlike status. Inevitably the Gods humbled the offender with a sharp reminder of their mortality. The ancient Greeks, considered hubris a dangerous character flaw capable of provoking the wrath of the gods. The English Language picked up from Greek, both the concept of hubris and the term for that particular brand of cockiness.


The fall

Enjoying political power as an MP and later as Cabinet Minister, Nazeer Ahamed became “hubristically” defiant biting the hand that fed him. He flouted party discipline with a brash cockiness and impudently refused to adhere to required party norms. This ultimately led to his fall. The intricate details of that fall and the manner in which it happened will be related in the second and final part of this article next week.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected].)

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