Q: There have been numerous attempts to solve the so-called ethnic issue through initiatives such as the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord, the ISGA, and the CFA. What is your solution to this issue?
The first pact between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil leaders took place in 1958, which was the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam pact. This was also the first broken promise of the Sri Lankan government to the Tamil leaders. Thereafter, there was the Dudley – Chelva pact in 1966, Development Councils in 1981, All Party Conference in 1986, Indo-Lanka accord in 1987, the Mangala Munasinghe Committee in 1992, CBK’s Federal Package in 2000 and so on.
There is a list of agreements between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil leaders, all of which failed. Why? It was all because of one single reason; Sinhala resistance. Although the Sri Lankan government reached consensus with Tamil leaders regarding the so-called solutions to the problem, they failed to implement them due to resistance of Sinhalese led by Buddhist monks. This vicious cycle has repeated so many times during the post-independence era, it will do so in future as well.
The reason for this is that no solution can be forced upon the Sinhalese, not by the Sri Lankan government, not by regional superpowers such as India, not by western superpowers; nobody can force solutions upon the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese are ready to die, one after the other, to the very last man without succumbing to pressure.
Tamil leaders have used pressure tactics over the years to win their demands. They have never been able to come up with reasoning based on facts and figures, to justify their demands. They claim Tamils are a distinctive nation, and the North and East is their homeland, and they have a right to self-determination. All these demands have never been justified and reasoned with facts and figures. What they’ve done is apply pressure. From 1947 to 1972, they pressurised with non-violent instruments, under the leadership of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam. Their Sathyagrahas, Hartals, protest marches, all were non-violent, but they were all pressure tactics. Using pressure tactics does not justify demands. They have not been able to justify their demands with facts and figures.
From 1972 – 2009, under the leadership of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, they used violent pressure tactics; guns, bombs, massacres. They became the most ruthless and most powerful terrorist outfit in the world. But we didn’t succumb to their pressures. We decided to fight and defeat the terrorists.
Now in the post-2009 era, in this post-violent phase, they use international pressure instruments under the leadership of Mr. Sambanthan. They have used pressure through inter governmental organizations, through international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, through economic embargos such as the withdrawal of GSP + by the European Union, and through anti-Sri Lankan propaganda in the international media. These are pressure tactics used by Mr. Sambandan and the TNA to try to win their demands. But we have not succumbed to their pressures.
We are ready to face any situation and we will not buckle under pressure, because we are Sinhalese Buddhists. The mindset of the Sinhalese has been greatly shaped by Buddhism. Buddha has once preached in Kaalama sutra, “Don’t accept anything just because your teachers tell you, don’t accept anything just because your parents tell you, don’t accept anything just because I tell you, and don’t accept anything out of fear. Only accept if you are convinced.” That is the way of the Sinhalese. We are not ready to succumb to pressure, not because of the LTTE, not because of India. Even if the entire world came we will fight to the very last man. We will never succumb to pressure.
Tamil leaders should recognise this truth from their own experience. Rather than use these pressure tactics, they (TNA) should justify their demands through facts and figures. They should come to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). We are ready to go there with an open mind. We are ready to discuss not just the 13th Amendment, but also 13 Plus, even Tamil Eelam itself. We are ready to accept anything provided they can justify their demands through facts and figures. We invite the TNA, if they are so confident about their demands, to not go behind the Indians and the Americans, but to come to the PSC and prove their case. We are ready to accept anything provided they can prove it. They don’t have to go to New York or Geneva. We can solve this in Colombo itself.
Q: The LTTE is now physically defeated. Now there are rumours/stories spreading that it is starting to re-organise. Do you believe this to be true? Can such a thing happen again?
The LTTE is an international organization. Its symbol is that of a Tiger. This Tiger has its front legs on Canada and Germany. The back legs are on South Africa and India. The head is in the Nordic countries. Only the tail was in Sri Lanka. Thus the defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka only means that the tail has been cut off. Those days, the LTTE used its limbs across the world to wag its tail in Sri Lanka in a very destructive way. We were only able to cut off the tail. The Tiger, without its tail, is in fact more dangerous than what it used to be.
It is true that we were able to capture KP, who was appointed as the LTTE’s head soon after the death of Prabhakaran. Thereafter however, there are three factions who are very active throughout the world. One is Rudra Kumaran, who has participated in talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, is leading the biggest group. The second one is led by an LTTE leader named Vinayagam. The third faction is led by Father Emmanuel. All these forces are very active. They have never given up on their dream of Tamil Eelam, and they are present all over the world. That’s why western countries are mounting pressure on us.
For instance, the Global Tamil Forum led by Father Emmanuel, was granted state status during the centenary celebrations of the ANC in South Africa. So, the LTTE is still very active. And the worst part is that it is now a diplomatic war. In those days, it was fought with guns and bombs. We could also take weapons in that case and could justify destroying them with the same kind of weapons. But in this case, there are lobbies within the international community that try to justify their demands through diplomatic support. Thus we need diplomatic weapons to fight this latest phase of Tamil separatism. Those days, we wanted trained soldiers, now we need trained diplomats. Those days we needed weapons, now we want knowledge. We fight this new war in the international media, through lobbying, and by debating in international forums.
Q: The TNA was once the mouthpiece of the LTTE. In your opinion, have they changed their stance after the defeat of the LTTE?
Unfortunately, the TNA is not pragmatic at all. They should learn a very simple lesson from their own past experiences. The 13th Amendment was a result of the Indo-Lanka accord. The leader of the regional superpower was one signatory to the accord, while the most powerful Executive President we ever produced was the other signatory. 1,118 Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives trying to enforce this agreement. We have failed to implement this agreement for the last 25 years. Even after the direct intervention of the Indian government, it could not be done. So how can they expect Sri Lankans to give such concessions in the absence of a powerful LTTE?
Even at the peak of the LTTE, we were still not ready to cede to their demands. So the TNA should be pragmatic. The leaders of the TNA know that they have lost their bargaining power with the Sri Lankan government. They know they have to talk to the Sri Lankan government. However, they have two problems. They are heavily dependent on the international Tamil network. Some people erroneously use the term ‘Tamil Diaspora’, but there is no such thing. It is an international network. They still live in this Tamil Eelam dream, and the TNA is financially dependent on this international Tamil network for survival. So they have been reluctantly compelled to dance to the tune of this network.
Secondly, Mr. Sambandan is very old at the moment, so they are also thinking of succession. At the moment three younger leaders are competing with each other to be the successor to Mr. Sambandan. In order to win the support of grassroots level cadres, they want to be more extreme than the other, resulting in the TNA succumbing to Tamil extremist sections. Due to these two factors, as far as we can see, the TNA is not in a position to implement a pragmatic approach to this problem.
Q: The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) is the latest attempt to find a solution to the so-called ethnic problem. However, the TNA still hasn’t appointed its representative to the PSC. What do you think of the PSC? How do you see the TNA’s behaviour in this?
The TNA, without learning from past experiences, is still trying to depend on pressure tactics to compel the Sri Lankan government to grant them their demands. We have repeatedly said, it didn’t work, it doesn’t work, and it will not work. Therefore, they have no choice but to come to the PSC. Unless they come, they can’t expect to find a solution. They can force the Sri Lankan government to accept any solution. But whatever agreement is signed, it cannot be implemented without the blessing of Sinhala nationalists. That is the bitter truth taught to them by the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam pact, the Dudley – Chelva pact, the Indo-Lanka accord, CBK’s package, and every other agreement signed over the years. They have no choice but to come to the PSC and justify their demands. That is the only solution open to them. We hope sooner or later, they will realise this bitter truth.
Q: A ‘Plus’ approach to the 13th Amendment was revealed by the Indian External Affairs Minister. The government is mostly keeping silent in this regard. What could be this ‘Plus’ approach?
My assessment is that Sri Lanka is in a vulnerable position in the international arena and is heavily dependent on India for its protection in order to defeat anti-Sri Lankan resolutions being mooted by western superpowers at the Human Rights Commission. We need India’s support as it is the unofficial leader of the third world countries. India knows our vulnerable position and unfortunately, is trying to exploit this position to its own advantage. This is why the Indian foreign minister mentioned that the Sri Lankan President is in agreement with ’13 Plus’. Mr. Krishna is not the media spokesperson for President Rajapaksa. If the President wants to make his stand known on this issue, he can do it himself as he‘s a frequent speaker at different forums. Alternatively, he has different spokespersons to speak on his behalf. Without using any of these means, the Indian foreign minister is trying to become the spokesperson for President Rajapaksa. That itself reflects the fact that India is using a coercive tool to convince Sri Lanka to accept its position by exploiting Sri Lanka’s vulnerability at this moment.
The President may be of the view that ‘13 Plus’ is the solution. He has all the right to believe so. Similarly, other coalition partners may have a different view. That is why this is a coalition. If we all had the same view as the President, we can withdraw from all our political parties and join the SLFP. We do not do so, because we have different views on different issues. President Rajapaksa, aware of this fact, decided to go for a Parliamentary Select Committee so all these different alternatives can be discussed and a consensus reached. That is a pragmatic approach.
Q: If a body like a senate is to be appointed, what should be its role? Is it just to supervise, make decisions, or to simply report what has happened, like most commissions do?
The senate has been a discussion point for the last 6-7 years. I was a member of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), and the idea of a senate came up for discussion at the APRC as well. The senate has a duel role. It will represent the periphery at the centre, which means there will be representatives of the provincial councils in the senate. The senate allows the provincial councils to express their views regarding any central government legislation, as the senate will contain representatives from all 9 provincial councils.
There is another set to represent the previous senate, that is, the pre-1972 senate. There are a lot of people who should be involved in governance, but due to various reasons, they have decided not to participate in this political process. Decent, professional, worthy people are mostly reluctant to come to politics. That’s why the 1978 Constitution introduced an instrument called the National List. Unfortunately, the National List has become a political refugee camp. Politicians who have been rejected by the voters are now coming to parliament through the National List. The original objective of the National List was to accommodate the people who should be involved in governance but who were reluctant to get involved in the political process. So the senate has this dual role, and we are ready to consider that kind of proposal.