A People’s Speaker
Deshamanya Alhaj M. A. Bakeer Markar - the Humanist

Deshamanya Alhaj M.A. Bakeer Markar was a towering personality and one of the most renowned sons of Lanka. He was a political leader par excellence who was an exemplary political leader. He was also a Humanist in its own terms.

I had the rare fortune and distinct privilege to serve him as his private secretary for more than a decade when he was Speaker, Minister and Governor. I saw in him qualities that were rare in many human beings. There were indeed a source of inspiration for me and helped me in good stead in my political career as well.

He entered parliament for the first time in March 1961 after winning the Beruwela electorate. Thereafter, he entered parliament for the second time in April 1965.

Hon. Alhaj M. A. Bakeer Markar was an accomplished parliamentarian and it was no surprise that the exalted position of the Speaker of Parliament was bestowed upon him in 1978 after being the Deputy Speaker for a period of one year since 1977, when the UNP Government won a landslide victory in 1977. It was a unanimous decision by the House, after the new constitution was passed in 1978. This was a reflection of the confidence every member of parliament had in him, despite their political affiliations.

This honour was further strengthened when the new parliament building was opened in 1982 at the new administrative capital, Sri Jayawardenapura, Kotte. At the main entrance to this picturesque building, his name has been inscribed as its first Speaker. Being the humble person that he was, he would have never basked upon this glory, but for us the present parliamentarians it is a source of pride and joy to observe that the name of one of our distinguished and most loved leaders has been immortalised in the annals of Sri Lanka’s political history.

History would also vividly record that he attained uniqueness by being the last Speaker of last parliament and the first Speaker of the new Parliament.

It was a fitting tribute to a person who adorned the corridors of our Legislature for 16 years and 1 day, and more than five years at its helm as the Speaker.

In the House since 1960, he delivered many a useful speech - 42 in all. He spoke on issues ranging from constitutional matters, price control, labour matters, youth problems, problems besetting his own people in Beruwela, issues relating to varied international affairs and condolence votes on eminent Sri Lankan personalities.

On 22 April 1960 Bakeer Markar made an epoch making speech on race relations. He pointed out that both the majority and minority communities have their own rights and responsibilities and that they should join hands in the task of nation building. His speeches reflected an extraordinary foresight and wisdom.

It fell to my lot to compile these speeches into a monograph entitled "Supremacy of Parliament 200l,’ which was released on the 85th birth anniversary of this illustrious leader on 12.05.2002.

He showed tremendous interest in education, especially the significance of Sinhala education for Muslim children. He made many proposals regarding this, chief among them being making Sinhala compulsory in Muslim schools. He also did not approve the government takeover of Muslim schools. This action, he pointed out in Parliament, was tantamount to taking revenge.

He was a model unto others, who would use the exalted position when he utilised his official vehicle with the National Flag fluttering in the air, whisking every corner of the Island to meet people personally and afford redress to their grievances. Their problem was his problem as well. He also knew most of the people from his Beruwela electorate:by their first name. On most occasions, he would also refer to their parents, relatives, brothers, sisters and others by their names. Therefore, the Beruwela people always loved him to the extent that they would always frequent his residence. It was a common sight at that time. He would always treat the Maha Sangha and other religious leaders with extreme respect. The temple - mosque - kovil - church were all familiar places to him.

He was especially a friend of the prelates of the famed Kalutara Temple and ‘Kandey Vihara.’ The well-known prelate Malewana Gnanissara Thero too was his personal friend.

He was in close touch with the people and it was very much in evidence when he brought to the Speaker’s Chambers every bit of paper presented to him by the common man and summoned the relevant Ministers and the (then) District Ministers to seek solutions on behalf of the masses.

He was truly a people’s Speaker!

It was a significant factor to recall that before the escalation of war, he was the last leader from the South who was accorded a civic reception in the North by the Jaffna Municipal Council, attended by the Mayor, community leaders and all the Tamil parliamentarians of that time, when he visited the Peninsula.

Many tributes have been paid to Deshamanya Alhaj M.A. Bakeer Markar by Muslims and non-Muslims alike - that he was pious, a devout Muslim, humble, kind-hearted, honest, a strict disciplinarian, never left the common touch, concerned for the well being of his people especially the needy and so on.

The ideals of such an eminent person should be cherished for the benefit of future generations.

It is in this light that we are organising various programmes with a view to contributing towards nation building. The Memorial Lecture - 2002 is a part of this programme.

Hon. Bakeer Markar was essentially A MAN OF PEACE. He campaigned vigorously for peace, harmony, unity and national integration of this country following in the footsteps of his mentor and political guru, that freedom fighter, Dr. T. B. Jayah. He believed that Muslims have a vital role to play in this process. We follow this path. The realisation of Hon. Bakeer Markar’s dream is not far away - Insha Allah!
Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer, M. P.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs