Refused by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as ‘untouchables,’ the 10 rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres who are contesting from the newly-formed political party Crusaders for Democracy (CFD) claim that they have been misled and discriminated against by the TNA.
The former Editor of Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, 56, who is also contesting from the CFD at the forthcoming Parliamentary elections to be held on 17 August, said that the TNA, which was known as the LTTE’s proxy, was voicing for the LTTE and calling the ex-LTTEers martyrs only during elections to grab Tamil votes.
“Why are they having double standards? I think Jaffna people should answer the TNA through their votes,” claimed the senior Tamil journalist, who was a victim of white van abduction few years ago.
In an interview with the Daily FT, Vithyatharan said that the main challenge for the ex-LTTE cadres was the media mafia, which is controlled and well-organised by the TNA.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
By Shanika Sriyananda
Q: Why do the ex-LTTE cadres want to contest under Crusaders for Democracy (CFD)?
A: There are over 12,000 ex-LTTEers who have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Their civic rights are restored and they are in the democratic path. They fought for the rights of the Tamil people and now they have decided to come into mainstream politics, denouncing violence.
The Government allowed them to enter into democratic path and now their main intention is to play a role in the democratic political process to serve their people. No one needs to panic or be surprised about them entering into politics as they have a legitimate right to enter into politics like the JVPers.
Q: From which districts are you going to contest and what is the progress so far?
A: The momentum is very good. Every day we are getting new members. Over 500 ex-LTTEers have contacted us since we announced our party. Thousands are inquiring about the party. We will mainly contest from Jaffna in the forthcoming elections. We have already started organising our political activities from Jaffna and will have the propaganda campaign in other districts as well. Most of the ex-cadres are ready to work for the CFD.
At the moment we have decided only to consider Jaffna and not to contest from other districts, especially Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara, where there are multi-ethnic parties. If we also contest from these districts, it will affect the Tamil representation at national level in Parliament due to divided groups. Initially, we will contest from Jaffna and then we will contest in other local government elections in future. This time we have decided not to split Tamil votes in the north and the east.
Q: While there are ex-LTTE leaders like Karuna and KP, why do you want to take the lead to bring the ex-cadres into politics?
A: We were the people who encouraged the youth to join the LTTE and promoted them to go for an arms struggle to find a solution for the Tamil grievances. We were the journalists and writers who supported the LTTE. On behalf of those journalists who were in the LTTE, I am helping these ex-LTTEers enter into politics. I personally feel that it is my responsibility to see these cadres on the democratic path and leading peaceful lives in society. They are committed to the cause, committed to serve the people and they are the most suitable persons to represent Tamils in the north.
Q: Do you have the blessings of these ex-LTTE leaders – KP, Karuna and Pillaiyan?
A: No. We don’t want their support. Their past records prevent us from joining with them. We don’t want to bring them into politics or promote them. They can contest and win. But these ex-cadres are new to politics and we want to promote them.
Q: You are talking about their past records while your members too are having a blood-stained past in which they killed thousands of innocent civilians. Will Tamils in Jaffna, most of who are still angry with them, vote for the CFD?
A: Why they joined the LTTE and fought for a separate country for Tamils is a long story. But still the LTTE cadres are in the minds of the Tamil people. We have high hopes of winning the election. Yes, I agree there is a small segment of people in Jaffna who oppose the LTTE. This is mainly because of the TNA-backed media. As I explained earlier, Jaffna media is having their own agenda and misleading Tamils.
Even before ending the war in May 2009, the LTTE had denounced violence and wanted to enter into mainstream politics. Now, they want to continue that non-violence stance. Thilipan is the only man who sacrificed his life in a non-violent way. Our colleagues will follow his footsteps to be non-violent for the benefit of the Tamils. They are rehabilitated and they have already said no to violence as normal civilians. That is the
reason why I am with them and leading them to enter into politics.
I am confident that most of the Jaffna people will vote for the ex-cadres. Jaffna voters will not see their faces to vote but they will consider their contribution and their commitment to sacrifice their lives to serve their community. I think people will respect them as they are aware of their past records which show how committed they are to the Tamils.
Q: Tamils are divided into several political parties; don’t you think that they will be further divided with your decision to contest independently?
A: This is the same reason why we tried to join with the TNA and the Federal Party, of which I was the Secretary of the Colombo Branch, to accommodate these ex-cadres. But we failed as they refused to take us in. The TNA Leader refused us as untouchables. It is very interesting that all those years they used the LTTE to get votes and now they refuse us in fear of the international community. He said the TNA expects to get international support to develop the north and if they take the ex-cadres in, it will give a wrong picture about the TNA to the international community.
Q: What are the other Tamil and Sinhala political parties which are supporting the CFD?
A: The TULF and EROS have already shown their willingness to take us in. We want to expand our political activities in the south soon. We are planning to organise propaganda campaigns, even in Hambantota. At the moment we are fully concerned about establishing our vote base in Tamil areas. We hope to reach out to the JHU and JVP in future to get their support. Ultimately we want to show the world that we are looking forward for a peaceful and just solution for the Tamils.
Q: The TNA, which was known as the LTTE’s proxy, has closed doors for the ex-LTTE cadres. What is your comment?
A: Since 2009, the TNA was known as the LTTE’s main sympathiser. But now they see the LTTEers as untouchables. Our members are very disappointed with the TNA’s stance. The TNA was originally recognised by the LTTE and the TNA was acting on behalf of the LTTE.
After ending the war, the TNA, which changed its stance, wants to announce the world that they don’t have any connection with the LTTE. I know they still want to follow the LTTE ideology but when these cadres are trying to come democratically, they refused to accept them into their party. TNA Leader R. Sampanthan says that these cadres are not politically mature enough to get them into the TNA.
These ex-cadres think they are being misled by the TNA and its leadership. We tried to get into the TNA not to control the party but to have the place to enter into democratic politics. I approached the TNA to get recognition for them as the TNA is always talking about LTTEers as martyrs and about the sacrifices they made for Tamils. But it is now very clear that they voiced for the LTTEers during elections to get people’s votes. But when the genuine LTTEers are coming forward democratically, the TNA doesn’t want to accept them. Why do they have double standards? I think Jaffna people should answer them through their votes.
Q: The TNA accused of your group for working with Military Intelligence. Is it true?
A: TNA Leader Sampanthan said they don’t want ex-LTTE cadres to be in the party as people will suspect that like KP, Karuna and Pillaiyan, we are also coming through Military Intelligence following the directions of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Then I reminded him about TNA MP Piyasena, who is from Ampara and crossed over to the government like Pillaiyan and Karuna. It is a completely false allegation. We don’t have any connections with Military Intelligence.
Q: Military Intelligence agencies have been accused of keeping an eye on ex-LTTEers who were released after rehabilitation. Do you think still they are under the microscope?
A: Let Military Intelligence keep us under their microscope. We are not scared as we don’t have anything to hide. We are engaged in politics in a very transparent manner. I think we are not engaged in any illegal activity and there is no necessity for intelligence agencies to worry about us.
Q: Do you think the ex-LTTE cadres will have a chance in politics as the Maithripala Sirisena Government wants to form the next Parliament with clean politicians who have no corruption and criminal charges?
A: I think that the same Parliament has given a certificate to the ex-cadres to certify that they are rehabilitated and cleared of their past to be non-violent citizens under the existing law. No one can put forward allegations against them. I think compared to most of the other politicians, these ex-cadres are cleared of all criminal charges. Now they are the best people to be politicians in the next Parliament. They are a genuine, committed and clean set of politicians.
Q: How confident are you that they will not engage in violence or promote the LTTE’s separatism ideology?
A: I want to clear this misconception. We are not in the LTTE anymore. We are the members of the new political party which has an objective of finding a lasting solution for Tamil grievances within a united Sri Lanka. Tamils lack a good democratic leadership and I think we can lead Tamils in the country. Our name itself shows who we are.
Q: You said the party is suffering financially and will have door-to-door campaigns to collect money for the election. Why don’t you contact the wealthy pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora which supports the LTTE?
A: We don’t have any support from them. Yes, we have launched door-to-door campaigns to collect money for the party. We collected money from the people even to pay Rs. 20,000 as a deposit for the election. It is true we are in a bad financial crisis but we will overcome it with t
he support of the people.
Diaspora people contacted us but when we are getting their help we have to be very careful because some segments want to support us mainly to tarnish our image. We want to do everything in a transparent and legal manner. If we want financial support, there are so many groups and parties to approach for help but ultimately they will put the lives of the poor ex-cadres at risk. We have to screen and select carefully when working with those who outside the country.
At the moment we don’t have any contacts with the pro-LTTE diaspora. If they want to help us, let them come to Sri Lanka and help us. We know that they financially support the TNA.
Q: What are their educational backgrounds to become politicians?
A: These ex-cadres may not have master degrees but they fought with generals who have master degrees in international defence. We know their capacity. In Sri Lankan politics, education alone will not play the role. There are politicians in the Parliament who are less qualified in education terms than these cadres.
Q: What are the challenges these ex-LTTEers face now?
A: Since the TNA is not supporting us, we have to swim alone. The main challenge for us is not getting enough votes but the media mafia in Jaffna. They are attacking us badly. They are in politics not to serve people but to gain their own personal political mileage. If there is a neutral media in Jaffna, we can win the elections easily.
The media in Jaffna is well-planned and organised to support the TNA. It is controlled by the TNA. When I was the Editor of Uthayan, I never took sides of any political party. Until the LTTE was eliminated, the paper was not engaged in political issues but now the paper serves for personal political mileage. As the former Uthayan Editor, I blame the paper for dancing to the tune of the TNA and attacking the ex-LTTEers who are coming into politics to serve their people.