Upcountry To Be Uplifted – Palani Digambaran

By Waruni Karunarathne

 

The newly formed Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), which comprises of Democratic People’s Front (DPF) led by Mano Ganesan, National Union of Workers (NUW) led by Minister Palani Digambaran and Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) led by V Radhakrishnan, has also joined forces with the UNP led alliance to contest the upcoming election. Minister Digambaran said the TPA is committed to address the issues of the upcountry Tamils and carry forward the mandate given by the people to President Sirisena on the good governance front during the last presidential election

 

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q. On what basis  has the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) joined the UNP led alliance?

A. We supported Maithripala Sirisena to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election. At that point, we campaigned with the UNP and many other parties. We expect to help the UNP to form a stable government to address people’s issues and continue the mandate received from the people.

 

Q. President Sirisena is still with the UPFA. Why didn’t you stand besides him?

A. Even though, President Sirisena is on the opposite front, from his speech, we can understand that he does not want Rajapaksa to come back to power. He also wants to see Rajapaksa defeated once again. Therefore, I want the UNP to win the election and form a national government. Thus, we will be able to develop the country in unity.

 

Q. You formed the TPA with a set of different aspirations to address the issues of upcountry people. Do you think you will be able to meet those aspirations through the UNP led alliance?

A. We have formed the new alliance to address the issues of the Tamils in the upcountry and to represent the Tamils in the South. The main issues of the upcountry people are related to housing, education and other areas of infrastructure and development. We have not asked for an Eelam. We do not want to divide the country. We live in harmony with the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups. We expect that the UNP government will be able to address these aspirations of the upcountry Tamils and the Tamils who live in the South.

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Q. What is the impact that the TPA expects to make during this election and in parliament?

A. We have two people contesting in Colombo, three in Nuwara Eliya, two in Badulla, one in Kandy, one in Gampaha, two in Rathnapura and Kegalle. We expect at least eight members of our TPA to enter parliament. We have a lot of confidence that we will be able to secure the expected number of seats. We will make a huge impact on increasing UNP votes in the upcountry regions. This time,  Thondaman is contesting under the UPFA but, since we are there as his opponents, we will be able to secure majority of votes in favour of the UNP without much difficulty.

 

Q. You have also been a minister during the interim government. Do you think the government managed to fulfil the promises they made during the 100 days?

A. Definitely. Since the time the upcountry people migrated to Sri Lanka from India, they have not had proper houses for shelter. During the interim period, I spent funds to build 377 houses. 300 houses have already been completed. I handed over the completed houses to the people last month. For the first time in history, measures were taken to build their houses in order to uplift their living conditions. All this time, their needs had been neglected. That was done under my purview. The government has implemented whatever the tasks that were possible. Within a short period of time, everything could not be done. However, many tasks were completed. For example, executive powers of the president have been reduced, cost of living was brought down as a result of reduced prices and relief given to the people, and the police department has been made independent. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, he had his own police whereas now the Sri Lankan police functions independently. When Thondaman was in power, even in the Nuwara Eliya district, the police did not accept any of our complaints. Now, everybody is treated equally.

Besides, during the interim period, the UNP did not have the majority in parliament and, therefore, they did not have the power to see to the necessary changes. The opposition did not allow it. Therefore, once a stable UNP government is established after the August election, the President and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe will have to join forces and implement what could not be implemented during that period.

 

Q. Estate workers have continued to suffer due to poor wages. Recently, a trade union action demanded an increase in their salary. If you come in to power, how do you expect to address their issues?

A. The government cannot quite intervene in this problem. There are two sides. The unions deal with the issue. Even when I was with the government, we could not do much to address this issue through the budget. My idea is that neither companies nor people should experience any loss. People should be given better wages but, when encouraging that, if the companies experience loss, then, that will affect the national economy. That balance is very difficult to maintain.

 

Q. What is the focus of the TPA campaign at the upcoming election?

A. President Sirisena believes in ethnic harmony. He will not trouble the ethnic minority in the country. He is not an extreme nationalist or a racist like Rajapaksa. The minority favours President Sirisena as well as the UNP. If a mandate is given to the UNP to develop the country under President Sirisena as the leader of the country, Sri Lanka can be developed in terms of economy, infrastructure, education and health. A country cannot be developed only by constructing highways and roads.  Development needs more insight.

Anybody can take loans for higher interest rates and lay carpet on the roads. If the UNP government is given the opportunity, a five years period is enough to do the necessary development. They cannot develop a country without the minority.  We have to join forces and rise together as a nation. At present, even the international community praises the president whereas, during the previous regime, the former president did not manage to maintain cordial relationships with the international community.

Those days, there were extremist groups like Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) attacking Muslims and Tamils in the country. Now, we do not experience any of those. If Rajapaksa continues to talk about Sinhala extremism, it will take him towards his downfall. It will be his defeat. I am sure this time UNP will have a landmark victory in Nuwara Eliya, with my support.