[Avdhash Kaushal, Chairperson of Dehradun-based NGO Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra]
If the agenda doesn’t suit me, I will quit – Kaushal
Q: Reading some of your comments in the media, you seemed to be ‘biased’ in your approach towards the Tamils, but highly supportive of the government’s approach. How then can you be in the panel of experts probing missing persons appointed by the President?
A: I am not biased. What I say is, please respect a nation’s sovereignty. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a democratically elected President. I say this to all nations. It’s not about whether he is good or bad.
Q:However, critics think you are a very good friend of the President and therefore your contribution would be biased. What have you to say?
A: I invited the President to lecture at my ‘Khendra’ on disappearances and he also said it was bad. I invited him as Sri Lanka is part of the SAARC region. I am against any crime and any violence. Even emotional violence is not good. When I said people should believe in the ballot, which means democracy, and not the bullet, I did not mean violence. I said that to all. I also said no country should behave like an elder brother dictating terms. You cannot order, because no one likes to be ordered. That will not work with anyone. These are taken in the wrong context. India, in many ways has been bad to Sri Lanka. When I was a little boy I was taught that Lanka was full of Rakshas (demons), while Indians were pious people (devtas).
Q:Five experts, including yourself, have been appointed as advisers to the missing persons probe panel, but you are the only one who extensively expresses views on Sri Lanka’s politics. Why?
A: I assume they are not approached properly. I never spoke as a member of the advisory panel. I have only voiced independently. Even now, I have not met the panel. I never spoke on the disappearances or on the war. I am getting educated in that field as a concerned human being.
Q:Sri Lanka rejected the UN panel of experts’ application to enter Sri Lanka. Do you agree to that?
A: I don’t agree. We should let them come. There should be a transparent approach. Tomorrow (Saturday, 20 September, 2014) Colombo should respond to this question.
Q:What kind of support does Colombo want from you?
A: This is a preliminary meeting. They explained what has to be done, how to go about and what our limitations are. These were explained.
Did you table your terms and conditions, too?
A: Yes. It’s still too early to tell what conclusions we have arrived at. I should also say, if I am not happy with any of their proposals, I will not come again. I will quit.
Q:Can you be precise?
A: From what I gather, they want us as advisers to function whenever they want advice only. It’s still not clear whether we can give our ‘own’ advice. So, in that case, it’s a waste of time. It’s a preliminary round however. I feel that ‘theory’ should be expanded. I don’t know how successful that would be.
Q:Why can’t the five eminent experts work closely with the UN panel of experts?
A: Even that could be suggested, as I know Asma Jahangir, who heads the Panel of UN experts. I can suggest this too.
Q:Do you see the reconciliation process tough in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes, it is. We can’t give a clean sheet to Prabhakaran or the LTTE. They were also having their own mission and agendas set by outsiders. Tamils should consider themselves as Sri Lankans. ‘Good’ days are gone. They cannot think there is a separate State.
Q:What is the alternative if the panel of experts, appointed by Rajapaksa, fails to find a successful solution to the missing persons problem that leads to reconciliation?
A: the best alternative is for the TNA and Rajapaksa and company to try and sit down together and solve the national problem.
Q:What is the core issue to sit and discuss about?
A: Prabhakaran is dead. TNA should get rid of their ‘imaginary fear.’ In fact both parties should get rid of it. Nothing can be solved otherwise.
Q:Please correct me if I am wrong. A minority community having an ‘imaginary fear’ is not an unusual scenario… but the government having an imaginary fear, having all powers, can’t they overcome such fears?
A: The government has their ‘imaginary fear’ that the LTTE will regroup, make a comeback, Tamil Diaspora’s funding..,,those are their fears.
Q:What should the government do to get rid of its ‘imaginary fear’?
A: I say, till the TNA gets rid of their fear, the Government will also have this fear in them.
Q:What do you think of the 13 A where the government is not sharing land and police powers?
A: Power has to be shared, that is democracy. India too wants it to be implemented in letter and in spirit.
Q:Tell us, in this tug of war between the Government and TNA, who should give in to move forward?
A: There are two ways: Power has to be shared. But at the same time, you cannot share power with a decoy or with people who work to divide or disrupt the country.
Q:Are you calling the TNA decoy or separatist?
A: With the TNA I address their imaginary fears. Also, my mission is not politics, but to bring peace and tranquility.
Q:But the imaginary fear you are stating is based on some sort of a buried truth that needs to be addressed. Aren’t you supposed to find out what it is and why it is so?
A: The Tamils must create the situation. It’s not about being negative or positive but to create a healthy situation on both sides to be able to sit at one table and discuss.
Q:Do you think your advisory panel would bring about a successful operation?
A: I don’t know. We five have not met yet.
Q:Are you coming again?
A: Myself and my Pakistan counterpart Soofi are here. We shall be here again in November.
Q:Do you intend to meet the victims’ families?
A: I want to be self educated and be convinced with first hand experience. I also need to be updated.
Q:Do you like to function only as an adviser to the panel?
A: I am going to request to expand my duty. I have not met the other panel members yet. I still speak to you as a well wisher of Sri Lanka.
Q:Do you agree there are human rights violations as alleged by the Tamils of Sri Lanka?
A: Maybe. I am going to ask Asma Jahangir to educate me on this issue and to prove it with evidence.
Q:The UN panel is preparing a report on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes and Sri Lanka is also preparing a similar report. What is the purpose of the Colombo report?
A: It’s too early to comment. At this moment Only God knows.
Q:Do you like President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: I like him? I know him for a long time. A good human being. He never thought he would become the President. He has been to my house many times.
Interviewed by By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Courtesy -Ceylon Today