Unity within TNA is essential-A. VaratharajaPerumal
BY ANANTH PALAKIDNAR
Annamalai Varatharajaperumal, the first and only Chief Minister of the now demerged North-Eastern Province, in an interview with Ceylon Today said that unity among Tamil political parties is the utmost need of the hour. Varatharajaperumal, who was one of the co-founders of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), also said that EPRLF Leader Suresh K. Premachandran's exit from the TNA is not going to affect the Alliance.
Following are excerpts:
What really motivated you to join hands with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)?
A: As a youngster in the early '70s, I was enthusiastically involved in the political activities of the Federal Party (ITAK). I was even arrested more than once for being an activist of the Federal Party. At that time, the Federal Party had been the platform for several young men to engage in political activities. Today, Tamil politics has evolved through various stages. It is a pity that there is no unity among Tamil political parties, whether among the militants or the moderates. We have lost several good opportunities in fulfilling our political aspirations. From the time our ethnic problem started attracting international attention in the mid '80s, beginning with India several countries came forward to help us in reaching an amicable solution. However, since we have missed all the good opportunities, today in the new political atmosphere the Tamil National Alliance's integrity should be safeguarded. People in the North and East have placed their confidence in the TNA. I feel that since the TNA continues to be a mixture of former militant outfits and moderates, the coalition could come out in a sensible manner in finding ways and means to solve our problems.
How do you see the present state of the TNA?
A: Leader of the Opposition and the TNA R. Sampanthan remains a good leader with far sightedness. Even the right thinking silent majority from the North and East as well as the International community concerned about our political issues believe that only Sampanthan can give a sensible leadership to the Tamils. Since becoming the leader of the TNA he has been diplomatic and tactful in dealing with the issues he confronted with. So, the Southerners should not take his stance in Tamil politics granted.
What is your view on the conflict situation between the EPRLF leader Suresh K. Premachandran and the TNA hierarchy?
A: EPRLF leader Suresh K. Premachandran's exit from the TNA is not going to damage the alliance. I can understand that several of his party men have expressed their willingness of remaining in the TNA. Suresh Premachandran has only a handful of his supporters. He has no proper base in politics. The coalition Suresh Premachandran and Tamil National People's Front's Gajendrakumar Ponnambalm intend to make against the TNA would be another mockery. He must understand that splits and divisions at this stage in Tamil politics are not going to produce anything constructive.
How do you see the formation of the Tamil People's Council (TPC)?
A: Right from the beginning, the TPC has identified itself as a civil society organization and a pressure group to make its observations on the Tamil political scene. Even Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran who is part of the TPC has pointed out that TPC was not formed as a rival outfit to the TNA. The TPC can play a vital part in bringing out the views of the people of all walks of life. So, as a political organ it won't be a threat to the TNA.
Being the first Chief Minister of the merged North and East Provinces, how do you see the present state of the Provincial governance of these two Provinces?
A: I would say it is a failure. First of all, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) has failed badly in its administration. Several NPC Ministers have been removed from their portfolios as a result of corruption and mismanagement. Chief Minister Wigneswaran has even admitted the corrupt nature of his ministers. From its very inception, the NPC has hardly done anything towards development. The NPC Opposition party has pointed out clearly the shortcomings in the development of the Northern Province.
Unlike in the past we have plenty of opportunities to get the foreign findings as well as to receive the financial support from the Tamil expatriates. But the NPC has not done anything constructive at all with a broader outlook in spearheading the development in a region affected by war. I can see similar situation prevails in the Eastern Province as well.
The post-war economic development in other countries such as Vietnam is tremendous. Vietnam has developed itself in a magnificent way. The Balkan countries which had faced civil wars and internal conflicts following the end of cold war have now steadied themselves in a remarkable way.
As far as the Eastern Province is concerned when I was the first Chief Minister of the merged North and East Provinces I had the councillors from all three communities. Unfortunately, we could not succeed due to the obstacle created by the LTTE to the regime led by late President R. Premadasa. So the two Provincial Councils, the NPC and the EPC have hardly done anything economic oriented to develop the two provinces.
What is your stance on the merger of the North and East Provinces?
A: Well, the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution paved the way for the merger of the North and East.
Unfortunately, the merger of the two Provinces existed only for a brief period and the 13th Amendment is now in a meaningless state. As far as the merging of the two provinces is concerned, the talks should be held with all three communities living in the Eastern Province. We have to focus on the realities of the Eastern Province. Several changes have occurred with the collapse of the merged North and East Provincial Council. So the confronting issues towards merging the two provinces should be handled diplomatically with the farsightedness without hurting the political aspirations of all three communities living in the East.
What is your view on the 13th Amendment and the intended new Constitution?
A: As far as the 13th Amendment is concerned, it remained as an opening for the greater devolution. However, the general impression among the Tamil leadership as well as from the Southern political front is that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be updated further. All government leaders from the South agreed upon on the need of going beyond the 13th Amendment and devolving the powers. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga went beyond the 13th Amendment to devolve powers. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke extensively on 13th Amendment and 13th plus had been his manthra.
So, now when we are in the process of working out a new Constitution, it should be more conducive to the minorities when devolving powers. The present National Unity Government is the combination of two major national parties UNP and the SLFP supported by several parties representing the minorities. Even the main Opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is adopting a conciliatory approach in dealing with the political issues of the North and East as well as on dealing with the issues of National interest. So it is the high time to have a broader outlook without giving room for petty attitudes in drafting the new Constitution.
Since earlier Constitutions had failed in addressing the minority issues, the new Constitution must be remedial to the minorities in the best interest of maintaining the integrity of the country.
Now you have come forward to join the TNA. Do you plan to field your Tamil Socialist Democratic Party in the forthcoming elections and making your presence felt as a candidate?
A: Not exactly. I have formed the Tamil Socialist Democratic party to continue with the pragmatic approach in dealing with the issues we come across. My party is of the view that unity among Tamil political parties is the utmost need of the hour. So my entry into the TNA is to strengthen the alliance. Apart from the EPRLF other constituent parties are for the unity and integrity of the TNA. From the time I returned from India nearly after fifteen years, I have to familiarize myself with the people further in the North and East. A large number of people have welcomed my decision to work with the TNA. So, when at the right time I would decide on contesting elections. All and all I am a Sri Lankan citizen. I only sought asylum in India when the merged North and East Provincial Council collapsed.
I have no dual citizenship like some others in the country. I am totally a Sri Lankan and I will continue to work for my people.
Solution must be acceptable to Tamils Separate State is not a reasonable request - Former Army Commander, General Gerry De Silva RWP, VSV, USP
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