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FeaturesNewsA climate of fear and intimidation has been re-imposed and has now escalated in the North – C.V. Wigneswaran

A climate of fear and intimidation has been re-imposed and has now escalated in the North – C.V. Wigneswaran

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C.V. Wigneswaran (photo: Nation.lk)
Wiggie wants Mahinda to walk the talk
“Going as part of President Rajapaksa’s entourage would give the impression that all is fine between the Northern Provincial Council and the Government of Sri Lanka, when in fact it is not,” said Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran.
Wigneswaran, who hit headlines last week following his refusal to join a Presidential delegation to New Delhi to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, pointed out: “It is unfortunate that public affairs have become an exercise in tokenism. We act for world consumption but not with sincerity. I declined the invitation because I did not want to become a party to tokenism.”

In an email interview with the Daily FT, the former Judge turned politician stressed: “Sinhalese leaders make a lot of fanfare attempting to speak in Tamil but do not recruit adequate translators in Courts. There are cases which have languished for more than 20 years purely because there are no translators. Tamils are not allowed to sing the National Anthem in the language they understand. We try to take shortcuts and attempt to sweep the main issues under the carpet.”
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Why did you reject President Rajapaksa’s invitation to join his delegation to India’s Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony?
A: As indicated in my letter to the Minister of External Affairs, I declined the invitation because I did not want to become a party to tokenism. It is unfortunate that public affairs have become an exercise in tokenism. We act for world consumption but not with sincerity. Sinhalese leaders make a lot of fanfare attempting to speak in Tamil but do not recruit adequate translators in Courts. There are cases which have languished for more than 20 years purely because there are no translators. Tamils are not allowed to sing the National Anthem in the language they understand. We try to take shortcuts and attempt to sweep the main issues under the carpet.
Going as part of the President’s entourage would give the impression that all is fine between the NPC and the Government, when in fact it is not. A parallel administrative structure has been set up by the Governor and the Chief Secretary. Constitutional provisions have not been followed. A climate of fear and intimidation has been re-imposed and has now escalated. I serve the people who elected me – they have not elected me to run around the world to serve other people’s political projects.

Going as part of the President’s entourage would give the impression that all is fine between the NPC and the Government, when in fact it is not. A parallel administrative structure has been set up by the Governor and the Chief Secretary. Constitutional provisions have not been followed. A climate of fear and intimidation has been re-imposed and has now escalated. I serve the people who elected me – they have not elected me to run around the world to serve other people’s political projects

Now the Government has started placing obstacles in our way to tell the world that though we were elected, we cannot proceed, but only they could. In other words, even the few rights given under the 13th Amendment are being withheld from us to somehow keep us immobile. The 13th Amendment is so weak that it can be stultified by the Government with ease. The irony is that through its actions the Government is confirming the case of the TNA that the 13th Amendment is inadequate!
The most important thing we should bear in mind is that it is the acts of Sri Lankans and the Sri Lankan Government that have the greatest effect on Sri Lanka. If we are committed to the rule of law, justice and equitable power sharing, we need not worry about the effects of the coalition partners of our neighbouring countries. Your question, however, is ominous – for it seems to imply that we are not committed to those three!”
Q: Don’t you feel rejecting the invitation will further damage the poor relationship between the TNA and the Sri Lankan Government?
A: I don’t think so. I think as a mature politician with 44 years in politics, the President will not take my refusal personally. It is a matter of principle. He is a person who went to Geneva with Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara amidst great intimidation and hardships 25 years ago to protest against human rights’ violations. I act on the basis that he will respect my decision.
Q: If the invitation was made with good intentions, do you still feel it would have been right to join the President since the invitation was extended to the President and not for a Presidential delegation?
 
A: That is a matter to be answered by the protocol experts of the Ministry of External Affairs!
Q: Indian media reported President Rajapaksa’s move to attend the ceremony was a ‘step towards reconciliation in his own country and defusing anger among Indian Tamil parties over his visit’. Your comments?
A: I am not aware of these media articles, but I cannot understand how the President’s visit to India is a step towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Steps towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka will have to be taken in Sri Lanka. Further it is the very fact that he is going to India for the ceremony that has created anger among Tamils and others. I like to see these Indian media articles.
Q: The Government of Sri Lanka recently celebrated the fifth Victory Day but banned commemoration of LTTE cadres who were killed during the latter part of the war. Your comments?
A: I do not think your question is properly worded. It should read “……but banned commemorating the death of those who were killed during the latter part of the war”. Every person has the right to commemorate the death of his or her kith and kin. When tens of thousands of people of a community have died during a short period of time, it is natural that their surviving relatives seek to commemorate the deaths of their beloved together. Imagine telling the survivors of a tsunami not to have public commemorations! Rituals and ceremonies help the living deal with their loss. They help survivors get over issues like survivor’s guilt. This kind of ban demonstrates a complete lack of empathy towards the psycho-social welfare of the people.
 One wonders then, whether the Government and the Military are terribly scared of our dead? Perhaps they feel any attempt on our part at remembering our dead during the period a massive number of them were killed would resurrect them, and they might come and give evidence before the international probing institutions!
Q: The Government has said since the LTTE is an internationally-banned organisation, there is no wrong in stopping commemorating LTTE heroes. The Government has further said that such commemorations would cause a threat to national harmony. Your comments?
A: This is ridiculous and in logic is known as setting up a straw man. The question is not about the LTTE, for the LTTE is dead. Let us say for argument’s sake that there are persons who are sympathetic to the separatist ideas of the LTTE here or abroad. If so, catch them. Why witch-hunt those who remember our dead at the end of the war? Even if such a person who died was an LTTE cadre, he was a son or a brother or a husband of someone still living. What is wrong in their remembering their dead? Is not the Government interested in making this into an issue for political purposes? If Rohana Wijeweera could be remembered, or if 5 June 1971 could be remembered, without any obstacles being placed on those functions, why this difference with regard to our dead?
Q: What are your views about the present situation in the north?
A: Very critical. We may have to enter into a more intense period in our political agitations. The Army is taking over lands arbitrarily and bringing in people from outside the province to settle them there. Lands are being taken over by the military and cultivated for their benefit. The owners of such lands are internally displaced, unable to get back their lands. Quarrying is going on unchecked and our resources are in danger of being overexploited by outside forces to such an extent that those resources may be completely exhausted. Fishing is another area where serious attention is needed. Most importantly, the public have been intimidated and threatened by the suffocating security arrangements, after the military put up a story of Tiger regrouping, taking us back to an earlier era of checking and arrests.
Q: TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran has said that you are the most suitable common candidate to contest at the next presidential election. Your comments?
A: I have said I am not interested in the most unequivocal terms. Quite apart from my disinterest and disinclination for any such venture, you have to understand the difference between suitability and electability. Sumanthiran may have considered me as suitable as a person. But presidential elections are not contested by persons in Sri Lanka any more – they are contested by Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims.
Q: Some media quoted you saying the NPC is powerless and not capable of catering to the needs of the Tamil people. Did you make such statement? Why?
A: There are two matters. Firstly there are serious inherent shortcomings in the 13th Amendment. Quite apart from that, there is an issue of even those limited powers being stultified and frustrated by a non-cooperative Centre. The present NPC is unable to function with any reasonable success owing to the Government’s recalcitrance.
 For instance, the Provincial Councils Act says the Chief Secretary shall be a person appointed by the President with the concurrence of the Chief Minister. Our Chief Secretary was not so appointed. She was the handmaid of the Governor and the President before we came into the scene and continues to be so, metaphorically speaking.
 The office of the Chief Secretary is an important office. Presently the Governor and the Chief Secretary have set up a parallel administration and she has filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking to divorce the Provincial Council from the parallel administration arbitrarily set up by the Governmental machinery. The stultification by the Government proves one of the fundamental flaws of the 13th Amendment – i.e. it depends on the largesse of the Centre to function.
Q: The TNA insisted on and demanded NPC elections, but now says it is powerless. Why?
A: The TNA was quite aware of the shortcomings of the 13th Amendment. We contested the election with utmost good faith to ensure that we could do the maximum for the people who were suffering. We wanted to cooperate with the Government and take all urgent steps to cater to the immediate needs of a war-torn society. The TNA consistently stated that it would advance the issue of proper power sharing independently. We contested the election so that the people could give their clear mandate. Our elections did show what our people thought and they gave an overwhelming mandate to the TNA.
 But now the Government has started placing obstacles in our way to tell the world that though we were elected, we cannot proceed, but only they could. In other words, even the few rights given under the 13th Amendment are being withheld from us to somehow keep us immobile. The 13th Amendment is so weak that it can be stultified by the Government with ease. The irony is that through its actions the Government is confirming the case of the TNA that the 13th Amendment is inadequate!
Q: What is the point of being in power if you are unable to fulfil the needs of your own people?
A: What do you mean by “being in power”? Your question is like saying, “what is the point of being the Queen of England when it is Parliament that wields power?” The power that we have in terms of the law is minimal. What we are allowed to exercise in reality is far less. So the assumption in your question is incorrect.
 However, we are in a position of influence. Even though we have been able to have little success in the economic area, we have done a lot in other areas. We have brought a sense of unity and integrated awareness among our people. The people are no longer scared of the Army as they were prior to the elections. In fact our brave women have questioned Army intrusions into civil matters.
 I believe the storytelling that took place recently about a Tiger regrouping had taken into consideration the newly-found freedom among our people. They needed an excuse to go back to their old tactics of keeping the people mute and scared. We have had occasion to publicise the sufferings of our people. We have also made advances in other more concrete areas, though our achievements in those areas are modest. We have carried out a six monthly review and are publishing brochures on the work carried out by our ministries.
 We are the voice of our people and they need our support. We shall not let them down. We will continue to do our best.
Q: Is it true that you will withdraw from your position and the TNA will boycott the NPC?
 
A: The NPC is run by the TNA. I am a part of it. I have no knowledge of any boycott.
Q: What do you think about the victory of the Baratiya Janatha Party (BJP)?
A: We expect the new Prime Minister to look at problems not from parochial standpoints but from practical and pragmatic standpoints. He has a very impressive track record in Gujarat and has been an amazing mobiliser of people. In fact, when we assumed office in the NPC in September last year, I cited Shri Narendra Modi’s vision about people-centred governance as being worthy of emulation.
Q: What kind of impact will it have on Sri Lanka?
A: That remains to be seen.
Q: When India has a strong government, minorities such as Jayalalithaa Jeyaram will lose their bargaining power. How will this affect Sri Lanka?
 
A:  That depends on the approach adopted by the new Indian Government. If they seek to act in cooperation with their allies in different States, they may enhance their power further and consolidate their gains. The most important thing we should bear in mind is that it is the acts of Sri Lankans and the Sri Lankan Government that have the greatest effect on Sri Lanka. If we are committed to the rule of law, justice and equitable power sharing, we need not worry about the effects of the coalition partners of our neighbouring countries. Your question, however, is ominous – for it seems to imply that we are not committed to those three!

FT

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