By Manjula FERNANDO
A fearless critic of LTTE atrocities, the leader of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Veerasingham Anandasangaree has spent most of his days, during the LTTE’s bloody years, behind closed doors of his tightly secured house in Colombo.
A veteran Tamil politician who took to politics in 1950s and entered Parliament contesting Kilinochchi district in 1970 on the invitation of Dr. N.M. Perera said he is willing to help the Government in find a solution to the grievances of people now that the LTTE has been eliminated.
Born in Point Pedro in 1933, Sangaree says he enjoys the freedom to travel extensively and had been to every nook and corner of the country, especially to the North and the East during the past two years. He said the East has fast rebound from its bitter past but the North is still languishing.
He added “Sinhalese should feel very happy that Tamils have more confidence in the Sinhalese in the South than among our own people. Why did people opt to come here when LTTE was holding power in the North. You should be proud of that fact.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The TULF has won two Local Government bodies in the Kilinochchi district at the recently concluded Local Government polls. How do you view this victory?
A: Till the 2004 Parliamentary election, I was having representation in Local bodies and in Parliament. In 2004 the election was conducted by the LTTE. Not by the Government. As far as the North and the East were concerned the election was conducted by the LTTE. It was the reason for my non-election. The difference should have been made by that. I will give you one example, a senior official who still holds a big position helped the LTTE to get votes.
The election booths were set at the Muhamalai entry point. He brought voters to the election booths and the real voters were completely shut out. He brought 16-15 year-old boys to cast votes. Within a few minutes several thousands had voted.
The European Union (EU) team of election monitors headed by J. Cushnahan expressed dissatisfaction over the way the election was conducted in the North and the East. But no action was taken to nullify the results.
Then the LTTE tried to oust me from the TULF and when they failed they tried to rob the party symbol, the Rising Sun. But I got a court ruling. In that particular election in 2004 I could not use my party symbol because of the court case.
Q: Now that you have made a comeback, how do you expect to serve your people in Kilinochchi?
A: The Government can make use of me. I hope I will be given a role to take part in the quest of finding a solution to grievances of people in the North. I feel that in the development process, the priorities are not followed. The people of the North, especially those in Kilinochchi still need fundamentals put in place. Roofing, sanitation etc. and livelihoods are still key issues. A sports stadium is not a number one priority in my opinion. The work on the A9 Road should be expedited.
Q: Why did you decide to contest with the TNA, your one time rivals?
A: It is like this. The TNA’s nomination lists were rejected. The TNA requested me to submit a nomination list in my party name. In the meantime I had also given a few names of my people to contest under the TNA name. So likewise I had to accommodate some TNA members in my nomination list. We had officially formed an alliance with all Tamil parties.
The EPDP was with the UPFA. We (TULF) did not compromise our party symbol. Despite the alliance, we contested alone. I was helping some independent candidates as well.
Q: The TNA claims they have secured an overwhelming mandate in the election and is in a better position to bargaining?
A: This is where I differ. That is why we have not joined the TNA. We voluntarily supported the TNA at the last election. The TNA was going solo. We have our right to express different views. We don’t have to necessarily endorse what the TNA is saying. If we were in an alliance, we may have been obliged to echo their sentiments but we did not form such an alliance. We merely got together for the election which was the wish of the people.
I have been harping on the Indian model since the 2004 elections. I have been requesting this from the government. Some were calling it unitary and others federal. My suggestion can be accepted by all. I have discussed this with the President and many members in the higher strata of the Government, the ministers, the then Prime Minister and ex-ministers now in the Opposition.
At the 2005 presidential election, I made a request from both main candidates to leave out the ‘ethnic issue’ in their campaigns. After the election was over I suggested to the President the Indian model. It was whole heartedly accepted by the Leader of the Opposition and a government member.
It was very much welcomed by all. At the first Independence Day speech after the election the President said he had a duty to solve the problems of the minorities and look after all the citizens of the country equally.
He said we should at least accede to requests by Anandasangaree and Douglas Devananda. That had been an indication that he wanted to implement the Indian model which I propose.
The unit of devolution in my opinion should be the Provincial Council. Thus the basic set up is already in place for a sound political solution in Sri Lanka. The problem is with regard to the issue of devolving power.
Q: What is your opinion with regard to devolving police and land powers?
A: The police should be there to do the police duty not the army. As far as law and order is concerned it is the police that should come in.
The Government could have a central police. The police powers should be decentralised and the IGP could be held at the Centre. The provincial authorities could make recruitments and there is nothing wrong in that. The decentralisation of police powers can be made in an experimental level for a couple of years. Initially, policemen can be armed with just a baton.
In relation to land powers, I am very much angry with the Government. The fears expressed on decentralising land powers to the provinces, are not genuine.
There are enough lands in the South to cultivate for another 200 years. On the other hand the 50% of the land in Jaffna peninsula is a marshy area, a barren area, nothing can be cultivated there.
Sri Lanka is now a peaceful country. During the last three days I have been travelling to every nook and corner of the country. There is plenty of land. Jaffna is a barren area in contrast to the South of the country. Here there is plenty of rainfall, rivers and lakes.
The President and I entered Parliament together. Other than the present prime Minister and the former Prime Minister, show me a single person who is senior to us. The President can take a decision on this.
Q: How will the TNA’s victory in the North reflect on the Government’s efforts to develop the North and the East?
A: The people wanted me to support the TNA at this election. I did agree but not because the TNA is the sole representative of the Tamils but because the people were desperate to see unity among the Tamil parties. It was the people’s wish that Tamil parties get together at least until things are brought to normal.
Q: Do you think the TNA’s discussions with the Government should continue?
A: I don’t think talking to the TNA alone will be a wise decision.
This is the ninth meeting they have held. Who are the people they are meeting, Sampanthan is a senior member but who are the others, some raw hands. On the other hand, there is no progress.
Why do you need these talks? I have advised the President ‘Please go before the TV and take everyone by surprise’. Say that you have an obligation to look after everyone equally. Tell the people that he will not betray the country and the people. That he wants everyone to feel equal whether they are from minority or majority community.
Take for example the Experts Panel Report. He should say I want this implemented. That is the best for the country. That will be acceptable to the Tamil community.
Q: Should not he talk to all the parties?
A: He could ask Sampanthan and top ranking non-communal patriotic sections of the diaspora, both Sinhalese and the Tamils and form his own ideas. Sampanthan is also supportive of the Indian model.
Once the President agrees, then the Tamil diaspora should make an undertaking to go around the world to compel diaspora sections like Rudrakumaran to give up their ‘ideas’. If a satisfactory solution is given, we could even ask the co-chairs to intervene to curb such activities taking place within their soil. Then the ball will be in their court. The only thing is that a solution should be put on the table. The rest will fall into place thereafter.
I welcome the statement that there are no minorities in Sri Lanka. But I think these sentiments should be born within the hearts of the Tamil people.
Q: I saw you in your Colombo residence. It was within the high Security zone. A prime target of the LTTE, you were not able to travel freely then. Your house was secured and even the windows were covered from inside with wooden planks. What have you got to say about the freedom the people of Sri Lanka enjoy in the post LTTE era?
A: People indeed feel free without the LTTE atrocities. It is a blessing. But some of the people who were at the helm of affairs during the LTTE era in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu areas, still continue to do so even now. The government should probe this.
The Government Agents abused their powers to get TNA members elected in 2004. As a result the TNA candidate got 95 per cent of votes in Kilinochchi at this election. This is a record in our election history. Every Government servant who abused power for the benefit of LTTE should be brought to book.
Q: With the end of the conflict ordinary Tamils are free to come to the South and set up businesses there if they wish to do so, but there is huge opposition and outcry if Sinhalese from the South or a Muslim for that matter attempts a similar venture?
A: We don’t have any problems with the Sinhalese going to live there. I always say I would like to have a Sinhalese as my neighbour at my house close to the Iranamadu Tank. The Sinhalese should feel happy that Tamils have more confidence in the Sinhalese in the South than in our own people. Why did people opt to come here when the LTTE was holding power in the North. You should be proud of that fact.
As for tourism, our people are not that happy that tourism is going to play a bigger role in the post-conflict North. Tamils value their deep cultural bonds which are reflect in their lifestyles. They don’t want to see them being disrupted.
By Manjula FERNANDO