Perhaps the most senior politician in active politics today, with of over fifty five years of service, V Anandasangaree is very patriotic and he loves the country and its people. However he feels that even under the present circumstances he is ignored and sidelined. Having won the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh award for tolerance and nonviolence in 2006, he believes that all Tamil parties should unite and work for the Tamil people who had suffered enough during the war. Anandasangaree feels that today none of the Tamil politicians are genuinely concerned about the people and they are all only interested in promoting themselves. He said that true reconciliation can only be achieved through compromise and peaceful dialog. As a senior politician in the country, his advice to all politicians, especially the Tamil politicians is to refrain from making derogatory statements just to please certain parties with vested interest and try to work with the central government who is very committed to resolving the issues of the Tamil people and give the process time to work.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Six years since the end of the war, how do you see the people recovering from its effects?
A: Unfortunately the shadow of the past is still very much there. To give an example now that the war is over when all of us should put aside all differences and unite and march forward, it is not happening that way. The Tamil leadership is only hell bent on safeguarding their seats.
There was an alliance of the Tamil parties, the TNA and I was part of it too. I was the first president of that, but somehow for some reason best known to those in that party, I was knocked out. In a situation like that how can there be unity in order to move forward? For the past five years the leader of the TNA Sambanthan never wanted to form an alliance with me as he knew I was more experienced as a politician.
Take for instance former politician Chandrika Kumaranatunga, who after she was elected president, she dissolved parliament in two years and deprived Ranil Wickremesinghe of his opportunity as the prime minister. That in my opinion was a cruel thing to do to a fellow politician as he too had strived hard to get to that position. However today they have all united for a common cause. I do not know if they have their personal interests, but at least for the time being they have put them aside and united for the common good of the people. The country needed unity, and they have all come onto one platform.
Yet take the TNA and the Tamil leadership, they keep on going on a selfish track. When they invited all Tamil parties to join hands, he did not have the moral right to do so, as he had only obtained 10% of the votes, at the 2010 elections. In spite of all that, I met him in Canada and India and when I came back, I even went round campaigning and addressing meetings to muster support for the TNA. However it is sad to note that in spite of everything I have done, he sidelines me. Even when foreign dignitaries come here and they hold talks with the Tamil political parties, I am not informed and left out. The TNA has created a situation where they are practically forcing me to get out and if I do so I will go on my own.
The most unfortunate thing is that five years of war has brought so much destruction to our people, and the first thing the leaders should have done is to unite, but our TNA leadership is not at all genuine and not interested in actually uniting to serve the people.
The Venerable Sobitha thero, Rathana thero, madam Chandrika and president Sirisena gave a pledge that they would find a solution for the issues faced by the Tamil people. We should have accepted that and be a little patient and as far as possible avoid causing embarrassment to the government. But see how some of the Batticaloa MP’s talk of the government. But I am confident that these present leaders who have come forward to save the country will solve our problems.
Q: So far despite the end of the war, do you see any progress in the lives of the Tamil people?
A: Nothing much happened during the past five years, but it would be foolish to say nothing has happened this year. But its just three months since the new government took over and they are trying genuinely to do something.
Although the previous government boasted so much nothing much happened that was truly beneficial to the people, except carpeting of roads and some development on the A9 road. Further they did not consult anyone whenever they undertook any development work. As a result the development was done in an unorganised and hap-hazardous manner. For example the Rodrigo Park which was a prime plot of land in the heart of the city was transformed into a stadium. Similarly, the market that was in close proximity to the railway station, where traders from all over Sri Lanka came to trade their goods due to the convenience of its location, was moved to an entirely different location, ruining the business for the people who frequented this market.
Q: The people of the North say that their politicians are not working for them the way they hoped. How confident are you that the current politicians in the North are working for the benefit of the people?
A: No I am not at all confident of their commitment. They are just trying to fool the people with their slogans that they will protect the nationalistic character of the Tamils. For instance, Kilinochchi was one area that was most affected by the war, has hundreds of disabled persons. Almost every home has a member who is disabled in some way and most are living with shrapnel embedded in them, but although these can be removed, these people do not go to hospitals as they have no money, but to date nothing has been done to help these people and they are left to suffer.
Further to date nothing has been done to uplift the economic standards of the people either. In the past almost every household had a handloom weaving machine and the women used to engage in weaving as a means of earning extra income. The government used to purchase their products and they had a ready market. However with the war all that was destroyed, and so far no one has done anything to assist the people with their economic status.
Q: During the previous regime much emphasis was placed on the possible re-emergence of the LTTE. How real do you think the threat is?
A: I too initially ruled it out as absurd, but now I see that there is something in what they say. For example I recently heard one Tamil MP claiming that his leader is Prabhakaran. But there are hundreds of thousands of Sinhalese and Muslims who feel that Prabhakaran is their enemy including some Tamils. So many innocent people have been killed by the LTTE, I too lost four members of my family to the LTTE.
Then a few weeks back a group in Switzerland had sent pre paid tickets to two Tamil MPs and provincial councillor to visit Switzerland. They were apparently called there for a briefing. One of the demands was to register the TNA. Now why should any group in Switzerland worry about the TNA? What interest is it of his to send prepaid tickets and invite them there?
The other is to absorb the leader of a Tamil radical party to the TNA. These people spend so much to get these local politicians there for a purpose. So I personally feel that there are still elements who want to control the North even from abroad and they have ulterior motives. Now they have declared this whole week as the Tamil genocide week. I ask genocide by whom? The Muslims say that the LTTE systematically targeted them and killed them, then the LTTE also targeted many Sinhalese and slaughtered them, sometimes entire villages. So how can we talk about genocide of Tamils?
When I speak in an impartial manner they will label me as a traitor. Yet one cannot say that there were no atrocities committed by Tamil parties itself. Today they are talking about missing persons, but how many of the Tamils were abducted by the LTTE and they are still missing to date. My younger brother was dragged away by the LTTE and shot, and his two young sons were abducted and they are still missing. Some of our people think that by condemning others they become saints. People cannot forget these things. Only a widow will know the agony of losing a husband and only a widower will know the agony of losing a wife and only a mother will know the agony of losing her child. These things are not taken into consideration and unfortunately the politicians in the North are not at all worried about the situation of the people, but they are only using their plight to gain political mileage. They are still trying to stir up the sentiments of the people just so that they could gain.
Q: The international bodies and certain other organisations are calling for accountability by the armed forces and accusing them of deliberately endangering the Tamil civilians in their drive to end the war. As a Tamil do you feel that they should be tried and they are totally to blame?
A: In January 2009 I wrote to Prabhakaran asking him to release the innocent civilians, and I even wrote to the TNA asking them to intervene and release these innocent civilians. I even told Prabhakaran that if he does not he will have the curse of nearly 350,000 people who were suffering caught up between the security forces and the terrorists. Then I wrote to the president and said he cannot behave like the terrorists and urged him to negotiate with some friendly country and seek a way to release these people who were trapped. Almost all the organisations in the world had made this request except the TNA. They alone did not make that request to the LTTE, contradictory to that I have a letter written to them. The Indian Foreign secretary at the time Shiv Shankar Menon had invited the TNA for an urgent meeting in mid April, but the TNA refused the meeting and asked the Indian government to stop the war. Perhaps the Indian government invited the TNA at that time in order to seek some settlement. Conveniently thereafter they put the blame on the army. But I am not defending the army but what I am saying is that it was not only the army that was to blame, the Tamil parties also should take the blame as they did nothing to save these innocent civilians from getting killed. The LTTE is a terrorist organisation and they are not bound by any ethics but the politicians should have done more to save the people, but they too did nothing and only fuelled the fire at the time and now they are trying to blame just one party. That is not fair. All of us should take responsibility.
Q: There is pressure by many quarters to try the army at international tribunals and punish them for the actions taken during the war. Do you think this will help the reconciliation and the healing of the Tamil people in any way?
A: No, at one stage we were praising the army. When the people started coming in from Vanni and most of them were injured and weak. It was very praiseworthy to see the way the police and the army personnel were assisting them and taking care of the children and the elderly. They were feeding them and keeping the children happy as their parents were injured and traumatised. In some cases some children were orphaned and it was they who took care of these children. So credit must go to those who truly deserve it and we should not be prejudiced and vengeful. As to that point they did their duty.
Some bad things happened no doubt but our people too gave room for that. Even the terrorists surrendered after sacrificing the innocent civilians. They should have done so before they sacrificed the civilians. Now it’s not fair to just put the blame entirely on the security forces and pretend that all of us were innocent.
Q: One of the main requests of the TNA is that the 13thamendment is fully implemented and they are given the rights to rule the North and the East. As a senior Tamil politician, do you feel that this will be in the best interest of the Tamil people?
A: It all depends on how you look at it. We had a problem because of the people who talk out of turn or maki silly statements. The 13th amendment was a result of the immense trouble taken by the Indian government at the cost of sacrificing the life of a future Indian leader. So we should accept what we have been given instead of being too ambitious. I am not opposed to a federal solution but I am only interested in getting a problem solved in a way that it will be acceptable even to the Sinhalese. Once all the misunderstandings have been cleared, and if we go in the way we are progressing now with the new government, the time will come when the central government will on their own agree to a federal solution. Until then we have to be satisfied without upsetting the applecart. However this is not the right time to demand federalism.
Q: There have been many views about the Diaspora and the role they should play in post war Sri Lanka. What is your take on this issue?
A: The Tamils abroad can now come as they please and there is nothing preventing them from returning. Only those who are disrupting the peace and reconciliation process should not be allowed to come and destroy the peace that prevails today.
If the Diaspora is really interested in solving the problems of the Tamil people and want peace then they should first stop trying to create more animosity and hostile sentiments between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. We have all suffered enough and we Tamils should also know how to be tactful and resolve matters amicably. The first step to true reconciliation is however that we the Tamil parties should first unite and then we can resolve our issues with the rest of the country. It all depends on how we tackle the situation. If we clear the suspicions in the minds of the Sinhalese we are through. For that we also need to sometimes seal the lips of some Tamils who speak utter rubbish. We have been through enough and it’s high time that we all think as Sri Lankans and learn to live in peace having tasted the bitter repercussions of war and destruction.