Al Haj M.M. Musthapha – First Muslim Finance Minister

The late Al haj M.M. Musthapha who rode like a colossus the political arena of the Eastern Province for well over three decades passed away on October 3, 2000.

Since he shunned politics for quite some time the younger generation, especially those below 40 years may not be aware of the signal role played by him in politics.

Al haj M.M. Musthapha

Musthapha was born to an influential family in Nintavur on July 16, 1924. His father was Meeralebbe Podi Vanniya and his mother was Meera Ummah. The post of Vanniyar then was next in importance to the Provincial Government Agent. Reputed engineer Ismail and Chief Education Officer Mohamed Ali were his brothers.

He received his elementary education in Nintavur, then entered Baticaloa Methodist Central College and subsequently obtained a first class pass at the London Matriculation Examination. He entered the Sri Lanka Law College and passed out as an Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court with distinction. He followed it up by passing the Inter-Law Exam of the London University.

Higher education

He began his practice as a Lawyer in Batticaloa in 1948 and gained much popularity. M.H.M. Ashraff, PC too was born the same year. Musthapha married the eldest daughter of Gate Mudaliyar M. S. Kariyapper – former Justice Minister. Musthapha’s stature in the Eastern Province rose further with this marriage.

He made his debut in politics by winning the Pottuvil seat in the 1956 general election. His maiden speech in Parliament kindled much interest about him in the political circles and in the press.

In recognition of his oratorical skills and political acumen, late Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike offered him the post of Deputy Finance Minister in his Cabinet. Following the assassination of Bandaranaike, Dr. W. Dahanayake who took over as Prime Minister made Musthapha the Finance Minister. Thus, he became the first Muslim Finance Minister.

Following his success in the 1965 and 1970 general elections, he was made the Deputy Social Services Minister and Deputy Justice Minister respectively. As a longstanding member of the Eastern University Council situated in Vantharamulla, Batticaloa District, Musthapha had rendered his selfless service towards higher education.

It was a time when trying to obtain funds from the government for electoral development work was arduous. The decentralized budget system was not in force.

The powers for dispersing of such funds rested with some Colombo based ministries. But Musthapha, due to his own capabilities was able to get sufficient projects in the Nintavur-Pottuvil electorates.

It is pertinent to mention here some of the projects carried out in this Addalaichenai village alone during his time.

* Building a concrete bridge over the Konawatha River. Separate inauguration of the Divisional Secretariat and the Pradeshiya Sabha Division.

* Construction of a rural hospital in 1957 (The hospital remains in the same position after 45 years)

* The status of the C grade Sub Post Office was raised to Grade One fully-fledged post office. The practising school was raised to the status of a Maha Vidyalaya in 1970.

* Obtained government recognition for the East Ceylon Arabic College through the good offices of the Education Minister Dr. W Dahanayke who visited the college in 1957.

* Prevailed upon some philanthropists in Beruwela to obtain 12 acres of paddy land for the Arabic College.

* Inaugural work was carried out in respect of ‘Pavankai Road’ on September 15, 1975 on a Shramadana basis. Supplied electricity to the village in 1967. Paved the way for many improvements in the Addalichenai Teachers’ College and helped enroll more trainee teachers.

* The inauguration of the Sambualappu drainage project.

* Started an Agricultural Instructor’s Division.

In short, it is no exaggeration to state that it was Musthapha who put Addalaichenai on the social, political map of Sri Lanka.

Veteran politician

The TULF held a historic meeting in Trincomalee in 1958 when Dr. E.M.V Naganathan put forward a proposal that there should be a federal system of government in the North and East.

Musthapha proposed that Muslims in the North and East too should have the right of self-rule in such an eventuality. The motion was seconded by A. Amirthalingam.

Here we see how far-sighted Musthapha had been.

The contribution made by Musthapha to cement the Tamil-Muslim relationship was immense. He was in the forefront of bringing about an amiable solution when there was a friction in the Tamil-Muslim relationship in 1988-1991. He joined the National Muslim Council founded by the late Dr. Badi-udin- Mahmoud and travelled with him to India to take part in talks aimed at ushering in an era of amity between the Tamil-Muslim communities.

It may also be noted that at a later stage, he threw in his lot with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and worked closely with the late leader M.H.M. Ashraff, PC for the social uplift to the community.

When I served as Divisional Secretary at Nintavur in 1992, I approached him and requested him to donate a plot of land to put up a school in Addappalam where about 140 school going children at that time were deprived of any school facilities. Musthapha having complied with my request handed over a plot of land in Addappalam to the Department to put up a school building.

Today, there are 370 students with a teaching staff of seven serving at the school.

The demise of Musthapha the former minister and veteran politician is an irreparable loss to the Muslim Community in particular and the country at large. Musthapha created history as a community leader, Attorney-at-Law and a Speaker par excellence.

The Muslims of this country cannot forget his services.

May Almighty Allah grand him the best place in Jennathual Firdous.

(The writer is a Retired Divisional Secretary, Addalichenai)

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