Leader of the Tamil National Alliance and veteran MP R. Sampanthan expresses his concerns on devolution, emergency laws and the Indian role, maintaining that no ultimatum was issued to the government on the ongoing talks or a decision to terminate talks taken. ‘All we ask is that before the next round of talks, there be a response to (our paper) to enable the talks to continue in a meaningful way,’ he adds.
THE LG POLLS
‘The Tamil people placed faith in a permanent solution and not development projects.’
Q: The government expresses its reservations about the TNA’s interpretation of the outcome of the recently concluded Local Government polls, claiming it a misunderstanding of the result to be one that provides you the mandate for extensive powers of devolution?
There was no misunderstanding. Whatever the govt. says it is subject to the fact that it carried out an extensive campaigning based on development projects and a misuse of its powers and the use of the armed forces to subject the voters to intimidation, or gift giving in a desperate bid to win. On the other hand we carried out a quite campaign on the plight of the displaced people and the many actions of the govt. that were harmful to the people, the militarization of the areas and the destruction of religious places etc. The presence of the High Security Zones ensures that normalcy has not returned.
But today the govt. is coming up with excuses for its own survival, totally inconsistent with the high profile campaign conducted with the President himself participating. They still lost because the Tamil people placed faith in a permanent solution and not development projects that they know can be stopped by any minister if they decide that they don’t want development in these areas. They want to be beneficiaries of development on an equitable life.
The people from the South are not aware of the culture of our people. They want democratic rights to be duly respected and granted. The elections are results of an extension of what has been happening since 1956. That position of the people has not changed. It is a consistent policy of the Tamil people. The government must be honest and make every effort to accommodate these policies.
THE INDIAN FACTOR
‘India merely coaxing SL to fulfill assurances made to help win the war.’
Q: You continue to be accused of running to India expecting a significant role by it for a possible solution. What is behind such compulsions?
All of us irrespective of being Sinhala or Tamil have our origins in India. The Buddha was possibly the most noble Indian ever. India is not only our closest neighbour but culturally closest too. India is not a stranger. But it is not only the TNA but every political leader including the Presidents of this country has done so. President Rajapaksa calls India his relative.
As a country India respects democracy and diversity. We have accepted India’s good offices as it has been playing a key role since 1983.
India helped SL win the war. There’s no question of it. If not for them SL wouldn’t have been successful. And SL gave certain assurances to India and they are merely coaxing SL to fulfill these now.
India doesn’t want SL divided but only to make Tamil people equal citizens. They want SL to redesign the Constitution to enable that. This may not be pleasant in the extreme nationalist sphere but the majority of the people won’t have an issue with this.
But today India is accused with all other countries that banned the LTTE and helped SL fight the LTTE. India only wants a feasible solution.
TALKING TO THE GOVT
‘We were disappointedand feel used.’
Q: You have always held your reservations about the commitment of the government on engaging the TNA in talks on a solution to the issue. Can this be a basis for a constructive approach?
I don’t want to accuse the govt. but after seven months of talks nothing has happened. They wanted a more extensive paper of our stand after the third round of talks; but after we placed that six more rounds of talks took place with the govt. not responding to our proposal. We were disappointed and feel used to give an impression to the world that substantial efforts were being made for harmony and good will of the Tamil people.
We didn’t issue an ultimatum nor wish to terminate talks. All we ask is that before the next round of talks, there be a response to enable the talks to continue in a meaningful way. It was based on the pace with which the talks were happening- twice weekly that we suggested and a two-week time for that response. This is not an ultimatum.
Q: Why do you refuse to see the Parliamentary Select Committee as a positive input?
We don’t want an extensive debate on the PSC. Everyone however is skeptical about it because of the plight of reports of such PSC’s before by successive governments. We want to examine the purpose of the PSC. If it’s to find a solution by devolving power that must be clearly stated. One can’t be ambiguous about it. The Terms of Reference of the PSC must clearly define the position of the government. We must be able to be definite that we’re prepared to co-operate on an evolution of a durable solution that will make the Tamil people equal citizens of this country and not make them second class citizens under the Constitution. Anything short of that we won’t go with.
Q: You have continued to be concerned about the stand of political parties with the government whom you claim are preventing a clear stand from being taken on the issue.
I don’t want to speculate or accuse, but if the President wants he has the mandate to push anything through. It’s his duty to do the right thing. He must deliver and play the role of Statesman and not small politician in this issue. If he can rise to the occasion he will always be recognized for this.
THE TAMIL DIASPORA
‘They may sometimes be overplaying their role.’
Q: The present role of the Tamil Diaspora is under severe criticism for its role in using various issues like Channel 4 to discredit the government, instead of joining the development process of post war Sri Lanka. Can there not be a more meaningful role for them today?
The Tamil Diasporas comprise of people who were compelled to leave the country after the 1956 riots. They left because of several such riots over several decades. If Sri Lanka had evolved a viable solution they would not have taken this position, but in fact helped in the development of the country. The SL government hasn’t created confidence so that they can join, which is why this continues.
They may sometimes be overplaying their role. I don’t deny that. But in the lack of trust to evolve a solution this happens. But, let’s not be foolhardy to think that these foreign governments are only influenced by the Diaspora. They have other sources of information and make independent judgments on what the government is doing.
Q: But can such international pressure really contribute positively to help matters locally?
Such pressure is purely consequential to SL’s actions. When the UN Secy. Gen came here there was a Joint Statement where an assurance was made on dealing with accountability issues. The UN merely wants that commitment kept. That statement also spoke of evolving a solution, which was also made to other governments. They want that kept today.
THE EMERGENCY REGULATIONS
‘Emergency laws are immensely harmful.’
Q: Your continued accusations against the Emergency Regulations being maintained has met with stiff resistance from the government on grounds of security, a position that must remain a concern even to you as a MP from the NE?
We’re the only Party that continuously opposed Emergency laws. Emergency is only required in emergency situations.
In normal times a country must be governed under normal laws of the land.
There is no justification for it today. The govt’s imaginary fears can’t be an excuse for its continuation.
It should’ve been scrapped a long time ago. It’s a repugnant law in many parts of the world. Today, no one would dare impose it as it enables security forces, police and even politicians to abuse it not only against minorities but also the majority community.
All these extra judicial killings and suppression of the media etc. takes places because of its continuance. Emergency laws are immensely harmful