By Manjula Fernando/The Sunday Observer
Colombo, April 29: In a wide ranging interview to The Sunday Observer, C.V.Wigneswaran Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority Northern Province of Sri Lanka, said that without a political settlement, giving infrastructural and economic benefits to the Tamils is akin to getting around a child with toys and dolls.
“The Government still continues to use the Mahaweli Authority to colonize the Northern Province with people from the South, and in every manner, the Central government tries to dominate us administratively,” the Supreme Court judge turned political leader said.
Q : There is a sea-change in the Northern Province as far as infrastructure development is concerned. The Government has given due emphasis to the issues of the Northern people to a point that it has earned the wrath of nationalist elements in the South. There are allegations that despite these positive signs you have taken up a confrontational approach with the Government to appease the extremist elements. How would you respond?
I am glad you asked this question. The crux of our different perceptions is reflected here.
The Government no doubt is arranging for infrastructure development of the Northern Province but not after receiving our view points and preferences but in accordance with its own preferences and pursuits. By pursuits I mean the political undertones. After so much of agitation nine years after the war some lands of private individuals are no doubt being handed back, thanks to the International pressure which gave rise to such charitable inclination on the part of the Government.
The wrath of so called nationalist elements of the South which stem from wrong and false ideas instilled (pertaining to historical and social matters) into the minds of our Sinhala brethren from the time of Independence against the Tamils have had to be ignored by the government owing to International pressure.
If the government was of a positive frame of mind, having come to power with our overwhelming support, they would have returned all lands as soon as they came to power and called back the Military. But they did not do so. In fact there had not been any war related violence since May 2009, nine years ago. The lands which should have been returned soon after the war or at least soon after we took office in 2013 are being released only now. You want us to consider the return of our lands to us after a nine –year delay as a positive sign.
It is my view that there is absolutely no reason for the Military to continue to reside in the North and East since there are no so called security concerns now. In any event, security surveillance today can be undertaken within the four walls of a comfortable room. You do not need acres and acres of productive cultivable lands!
You ask me the reasons for my so called ‘confrontational’ approach to appease extremist elements. Let me explain. Firstly, every step I take is in consonance and in conformity with the spirit of the Manifesto of the TNA on which I was elevated to office in 2013. If you say my approach is confrontational and in conformity with extremist views then you are insulting the 133,000 odd people who voted for me. i)Firstly all such infrastructural development is being undertaken by the Government without giving an iota of political guarantees nor political leeway for the Tamil People. In other words you want to buy over our people with economic and infrastructure benefits without in any way granting our political rights which you snatched away from us. Therefore without a political settlement, giving infrastructural and economic benefits is akin to getting around a child with toys and dolls. (ii.)The Government still continues to use the Mahaweli Authority to colonize the Northern Province with people from the South. (iii) In every manner the Centre tries to dominate us administratively.
Therefore, my approach is in conformity with the views of a large majority of my voters. I am not taking a confrontational approach. I am warning our people that the Central Government is trying to play the “Bonikka” game with us, i.e. give us some temporary benefits and withhold our basic political rights and wants.
Q : The government recently announced the release of over 600 acres of land held by the Military in the Northern Province. Are you satisfied with this gesture of goodwill?
The release of land recently is not a gesture of goodwill. It was the result of our continued engagement with the International actors and the pressure they brought on the government. If it was a gesture of goodwill it should have taken place within months of January 8 2015. Waiting for three years and giving a part of the land occupied is certainly not a gesture of goodwill.
Q : Your engagement with Geneva, other multinational agencies and foreign states are quite apparent but have you made any real efforts to engage with Sri Lanka’s Government to address the ground issues and win the real demands of the people you represent?
Of course we have! Many an epistle sent to the President as well as the Prime Minister are ignored. The real demands of our people in any event is well known to the Government. The ground issues have been brought to the notice of the Government time and again. Nothing has happened. I dare say nothing will happen! This is because the Sinhalese politicians have got it into their heads that the problems of the Tamils need to be solved with the concurrence of the views of the majority community. The problems of the Tamils are theirs. Not problems of the Sinhalese. The main problem is that the majority community has usurped our rights, our lands, our seas, our jobs and so on. How can we expect reasonable response from such usurpers?
Q : It seems the recent Local Government election has brought about a certain uncertainty to the country’s political power balance. What has been the impact on the Northern Province?
Reservations have been shown by the voters in the North and the South. In the North it was the inadequacy of performance by the TNA as well as dilution of basic political policy decisions by the TNA, especially, the ITAK. In the South lots of economic problems have come to the surface. Certain political parties pandering to the baser instincts of the Sinhalese as in the past, have harvested immediate political benefits. But this will not last long.
Q : Your relations with the TNA leaders continue to deteriorate and it reached rock bottom recently with the announcement by TNA that you will no longer be their Chief Ministerial candidate in the upcoming Provincial Council election. What has caused this rift?
I have no problems with the leaders of the TNA. I have only pointed out the inadequacy of political performance so far by the Leadership. My fears were justified by the recent election results. It is up to the Leadership to look into the mirror and decide whether what I have been saying is right or wrong. If we continue with the inadequate and watered down politics of the TNA Leadership the interests of the Tamil Community would certainly be affected negatively for all times. I want Sri Lankan Tamils to retain their individuality for all time.
Q : Was the formation of Tamil People’s Council (TPC), a result of your foreseeing this situation in advance? Do you think the TNA should change course from its moderate path?
Yes. We know that the Government would never grant our reasonable requests because they perform from an arbitrarily constructed high pedestal where they have built up wrong ideas about history and other allied subjects. It is wrong to say the TNA should change course from its moderate path. The path pursued by the leadership is not a moderate path. It is a path pandering to the politicians of other parties. Our basics have been lost sight of. I believe what the TPC has put forward in their recommendations to the Steering Committee is a moderate view.
Q : If you ever decide to go solo at a future PC election, what political parties will back you? What gives you the impression that the majority of the Northern people are with you and not the TNA?
I personally do not matter in the whole equation. There are basic demands of the TNA affecting our people reiterated over and over again in our political Manifestos which reflect the views of our people. Some of our leaders have arbitrarily sought to water down our requests, claims or demands may be for selfish reasons. I am sure the people will not forgive the TNA if they pursue such a path of pampering the Sinhala politicians forgetting the basic demands of our people.
Q : Are you seeking a common political alliance with Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Leader Suresh Premachandran and other hardliners?
When your political policies are correct and genuine all right thinking people will support you. Suresh as well as Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam have recognized the correctness and reasonableness of traditional Tamil policies. I do not think either of them are hardliners. A person who steadfastly holds on to the Eelam only concept despite the 2013 Election result may be categorized a hardliner.
Q : The SLMC is seeking to join hands with the TNA at Local Council level (in the East). How do you see this development?
The SLMC consists of Tamil speaking Muslims. Tamil speaking Muslims were spared by the Sinhala goondas earlier. Now the scenario has changed. Therefore, birds of same feather are now journeying together. The Tamil language and longtime residence together are the causes that contributed to the same feather growing. It should have happened long ago. I have always supported the idea of all minorities coming together to get their political rights. After all, the political impasse we face today is the result of wrong policies pursued by the majority community.