Veteran politician and Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), Veerasingham Anandasangaree is a moderate who has not only consistently shunned extremism in Northern and the Southern politics, but also closely associated with Tamil and Sinhalese leaders for as long as he has been in politics. In an interview with Ceylon Today, Anandasangaree expresses his candid views on the 13th Amendment, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) polls and the current state of Tamil politics.
Following are excerpts:
Q:What are your views on the 13A?
A: The 13 A is a commitment between India and Sri Lanka to bring all stakeholders in the Sri Lankan crisis together and create a conducive climate to address the political aspirations of the people in the North and East. It was only a basis for a durable solution and was not considered a permanent solution. With the 13 A, the call for a separate State was given up and the process was introduced for greater devolution, with the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Despite claims by certain politicians in the South, the 13 A was not aimed at separating the country. It only gives guidelines for devolution of powers.
Q:The government has put forward a Cabinet paper aimed at bringing changes to the amendment. What do you think about that?
A: I personally feel this is unwanted. Instead of making changes and meddling with the amendment, we should explore ways and means of how best to enhance the aspects in the amendment. Soon after the end of war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa assured the leaders of the international community, including India, he would go for a solution based on the 13 A. The President should stand by what he assured and harness the good efforts made in the direction of finding a solution.
We should remember that in 1947, when the Soulbury Constitution was introduced, the Tamils in the State Council voted for it. If one member had voted against it, the integrity of the country would have been in peril at that time. The then Prime Minister, D.S. Senanayake, thanking the Tamils said the Sinhalese will never let down the Tamils. I would like to remind the Southern politicians, who are opposed to devolving powers to extend their support to fulfil the political aspirations of the minorities, instead of spoiling every effort taken to settle the ethnic question.
Q:Could you explain the efforts made to bring about the 13 A with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987?
A: The TULF was at the forefront and the late A. Amirthalingam and M. Sivasithamparam were constantly in touch with the Indian and Lankan leaders. Along with senior TULF leaders I had taken part in a series of talks with the Lankan leader, and Indian and Lankan officials. However, it is unfortunate that the good efforts of the Indo-Lanka Accord and the devolution of power under 13 A didn’t deliver the anticipated outcome to the North and East crisis.
Q:Do you think changes to the 13 A would have an adverse impact on Indo-Lanka relations?
A: The Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment were introduced to resolve the issues of the Tamils, and India had to pay a heavy price for getting involved in the Lankan crisis. India is our immediate neighbour and a regional superpower. Lankan refugees are still in India. The international community also interacts closely with India with regard to the Lankan issue. Since the end of the war, India has been frequently emphasizing on the need to expedite the political solution. Lankan leaders have also assured the Indian leadership they would find a solution based on the 13 A and 13 Plus. So, the 13 A is an undertaking by the Sri Lankan Government, respecting the accord between the two countries. Therefore, it is obvious that India would be annoyed by the interpretations and comments made with regard to the amendment by politicians, who were nowhere when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed.
Q:What are your views on the North and East merger, land and police powers to the Provinces?
A: We had the North and East merger. As majority of Tamil speaking people live in the North and East, devolution of powers could be carried out in a constructive manner to the provinces. As the call for a separate State is no more, there is no need to worry about the merger and powers could be devolved in a manner that satisfied the political aspirations of the Tamil speaking people in the two provinces.
When talking about the land issue, we must understand that every ethnic group in the world, want its traditional homeland. The North and East historically being the traditional homeland of the Tamil speaking people in the island, they will agitate for the rights of their lands and habitats in the North and East. It is a pity the lands of the internally displaced in the North have been acquired by the Security Forces, and the people have been kept away from their original lands.
As far as police powers are concerned, we should understand that police are basically a civil force. There were instances where several incidents occurred in the North and East in the past with the police being instigated by politicians in the South to create violence under the guise of maintaining law and order. Political leaders in the North and East, though represented in Parliament, didn’t have any say over controlling the police. Since the end of the war, several youth from the North and East have been recruited to the police force. Political leaders from the North and East, in Parliament as well as in local bodies, must have a say over the police force, as it is a civil force that maintain law and order.
Q:What is your view on the promised NPC polls?
A: It is the need of the hour. The NPC elections were postponed with lame excuses. There were elections in the past when the war was in progress. If the Eastern Provincial Council polls could be conducted following the end of war, how come the one in the North could not be conducted? The last democratic parliamentary election was held in 1977. Thereafter, everything has been dictatorial with Parliament losing its prominence. Even the LTTE played a key role in the polls in the North. The NPC Polls should be conducted with more emphasis on civil administration and not with the help of the Security Forces or the stooges of the government.
Q:Do you think the Tamil political parties, especially the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), are in the right form to face the NPC polls?
A: Since the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) takes the lead role in the TNA, using its house symbol, the other parties have been made voiceless. The ITAK has been revived fraudulently by the present leaders and using the house symbol is merely a betrayal of other four constituent parties in the Alliance.
By Ananth Palakidnar