By Mirudhula Thambiah
All Ceylon Tamil Congress Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam said, a federal arrangement that recognizes Tamils as a distinct nation would solve the ethnic problem within a united Sri Lanka.
"Why is it extremism to say that Sri Lanka is not a Sinhala-Buddhist country, it is not only for the Sinhalese but the Tamils, Muslims and the Up Country Tamils. Why is insisting that Sri Lanka belongs to its entire people considered extremism? We are not asking for a separate state, we are asking Sri Lanka to recognize its entire people and particularly the Tamils for the identity as a distinct nationality in a distinct nation," he said.
In an interview with Ceylon Today Ponnambalam aired his views:
We understand that a Tamil Organisation based in Switzerland has campaigned within Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to expand their coalition by joining hands with your party. Is that true? What is your stand
A: We are not aware of such a meeting. We have not been contacted. I don't know on what basis this story came out. We had a policy difference with the TNA, way back in 2010. Those policy differences are still valid, TNA leader Sampanthan in a recent Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) meeting said that there are policy differences between the two parties, and they do not agree with the policies that we have been enunciating. Also CM Wigneswaran has said similar things about us. As long as such policy differences arise and are valued, there is no chance of joining together.
Do you feel it is an election tactic to spread such rumours
A: There are no doubts that the TNA is trying to make a situation that there are discussions and our party would join them. People have begun to question the TNA's conduct. Over time we have made sense to the people and there is a considerable amount of change on how people are thinking, as a result there are questions asked by the TNA representatives when meeting the public and they are unable to handle it. Likewise they say that our party would join them.
However, we have not had any discussions with regard to joining and working together. These stories are deliberately spread by the TNA to confuse people, because we have decided to definitely contest elections alone.
Why exactly did you step out of the coalition
A: The TNA decided to accept the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as the basis for a political solution and our view is that the 13th Amendment is based on a unitary state. It is impossible to have devolution within the 13th Amendment. Therefore for such reasons the 13th Amendment was rejected not only by the LTTE but every single Tamil party, since 1987. Soon after the war, just because India wants us to accept the 13th Amendment ,we cannot accept it without proper devolution of powers.
There are allegations that your party is following LTTE and Tamil diaspora politics. Also you are into Tamil extremism, not willing to be flexible in politics. What is your justification
A: What extremism is in wanting a multi-national Sri Lanka? What extremism is in wanting to have a constitution similar to Canada? It recognizes two nations. It points out where a numerical majority must not oppress the numerically smaller nationality. Why is it extremism to say that Sri Lanka is not a Sinhala-Buddhist country, it is not only the Sinhalese but the Tamils, Muslims and the Up Country Tamils. Why is insisting that Sri Lanka belongs to its entire people considered extremism? We are not asking for a separate state, we are asking Sri Lanka to recognize its entire people and particularly the Tamils for the identity as a distinct nationality in a distinct nation.
We will continue to agitate until this country turns into multi-national. That is not extremism in our views, and if we are branded as extremists for such views, we are quite happy to accept that label.
How do you view the support of the majority community in the political struggle to find a suitable solution for the ethnic crisis
A: The majority community should understand that we have nothing against them. We are not in any way trying to destroy their identity or contradict if they are willing to recognize us. We are willing to recognize that the Sinhalese are the distinct nation in their own plight, and they have every right to protect that identity.
If our identity is also recognized, we will do our utmost to work with them in order to bring out the pluralistic nature of Sri Lanka. But if the majority community thinks just because they are numerically the majority they can work according to their own agendas, also if they believe it is just their identity and no-one else that is not something we can accept.
A numerically larger entity cannot just swallow the smaller entities. We don't care whatever label people give us, it is unjust and we will resist!
If the majority community does not understand, they must be told and we must struggle.
Do you believe that India's interference can actually bring in a suitable political solution for Tamil people
A: India is the largest neighbour to Sri Lanka, there can be no doubt. India's interest cannot be sidelined. India is becoming one of the most influential members of international community. We cannot run away from that reality. As a result India is also very clear that it does not want Sri Lanka to move with other countries, particularly China and in the past the United States. India has always been very sensitive that its neighbours shouldn't be used by entities in order to destabilize its stand and make it weaker.
The Tamil people are quite sensitive and very clear that nothing should be done, where they are used by anyone to destabilize India. It has always been the Tamils who have supported India, whenever India fought wars. I don't think we must be told how sensitive we must be to India's interest. In return India must understand that they cannot just use the Tamils as leverage. After 30 years of war and all the massacres that have taken place, to expect the Tamils to accept the 13th Amendment as solution simply because India wanted the Indo-Lanka accord valid is unacceptable.
There are allegations that the armed struggle carried-out by the LTTE is fully responsible for the losses of lives and assets of the people of North and East. What is your view
A: There was no loss of lives of Tamil people before the armed struggle? Are they trying to say that Tamil people were very happy during the times of G.G. Ponnambalam or S.J.V. Chelvanayakam? Is it their position that there were no riots and the Tamils were never killed before the armed struggle?
When you have a situation where the Tamils are being deliberately targeted, they are being killed, nailed, they are losing their livelihoods, property and their areas are transformed demographically. All of these were taking place, and the Tamil people decided the only way to resist is by taking-up arms for their protection.
When you take-up arms there are certain laws that would follow. It is called the International Humanitarian Law. Who is not prepared to have this law applied to Sri Lanka? It is the Tamil representatives who are saying let us apply the International Humanitarian Law. They wanted to have a neutral third party to investigate and to examine what has happened.
You cannot simply blame when there are situations created to oppress Tamil people , they created a situation to take-up arms forcibly and now say that people lost their lives because of taking up arms.
Ultimately it should be made clear that the ethnic issue will not be solved only by making allegations. Also the authorities are not serious to address the ethnic issue.
Are you for an international inquiry or local inquiry
A: It has to be an international inquiry. It cannot just be a local inquiry. If you see what happened in the last elections, except the former President and his very closest ally, almost all who worked under the previous Government are working for the present too.
President Maithripala Sirisena was a very senior member in the previous Government. He was acting Minister of Defence, during the last stages of war, he himself has gone on platforms and boasted about it. Therefore he is not an ordinary person who was disconnected to the previous regime. Those who are key members in the present Government were in very responsible positions in the previous Government.
The question arises an internal inquiry can happen, if at the very least the regime changes. Not the regime that actually fought the war, but after that regime when a new regime comes into power there is a possibility that an internal inquiry can be free and fair if the new regime is at its best neutral. The question is whether such a regime change has actually happened. I say no! Even the UNP says that the military must be protected. The military commander who fought the war on behalf of the previous Government is holding a very responsible position in the present Government. In such a situation how can it be neutral?
Has the Missing Persons Commission fulfilled the demands of the affected
A: Local commissions will just primarily waste time. We are not prepared to accept that. When the intentions of the current regime are no different to the previous, we cannot expect these commissions to produce proper results.
How do you view the plight of the political prisoners
A: Complaints here are that these people are kept in detention camps without any charges. If they are convicted, the question is whether they can be granted amnesty or not. If people like Karuna can be granted amnesty, I can't understand the justification in keeping these people under custody.
JVP also had an insurrection, they were also granted amnesty.
What type of a political solution is suitable for the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka
A: There had been a systematic effort on the part of consecutive regimes to dismantle the existence of the Tamils as a nation. It is deliberate because when you have the identity of a nation, there are certain legal and political constituencies to that identity. Consecutive Governments have acted deliberately in a manner as to dismantle that identity as a nation and now the ethnic problem has resulted. The solution should be to somehow get the people of that nation recognized, this can be the only way to safeguard our identity. We believe such a solution can be found within a united Sri Lanka. There are plenty of examples that two or more nations have come together to form a country. A federal arrangement that recognizes Tamils as a distinct nation would solve the ethnic problem within a united Sri Lanka.
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