Sinhala leaders not a bunch of fools!
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam said, the Sinhala leaders are not a bunch of fools! They know full well that a federal arrangement is not separation or separatism. On the contrary, a federal arrangement is probably the only way by which separatist desires can be contained if not completely addressed and resolved
“The Tamil organizations have repeatedly stated that such an accommodation can be reached through a federal arrangement that recognized the multi-national nature of the country. This was the essence of the Thimpu principles of 1985,” he said.
Following are excerpts:
? What is the necessity to suddenly initiate the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) and what is the mandate?
A: Well, I don’t see the TPC as a sudden initiative. In fact, at least since May 2013, there have been moves by civil society members of the North and the East, headed by Bishop Rayappu Joseph to build a broad consultative body that would include political parties, civil society activists, trade unions and so on. Unfortunately, those efforts failed due to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)’s non-cooperation.
There was also an effort to bring about a common political position between the TNPF and the TNA, along with Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) and Tamil Diaspora organizations facilitated by a German based INGO. That effort led to a consensus document being drafted after over a year of deliberations. But once again, despite the TNA being involved right through, it refused to give authorization to the final draft and as a result that effort also came to naught.
It was in this backdrop that the TPC was actually convened by a group of civil society members. They had many discussions with us as well as other organizations on the current political situation, especially in the backdrop of the government having said that in early January it hopes to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly to formulate a new Constitution. The TNA leadership has been saying that a political solution will be reached in the year 2016. However, there has been no effort by it to consult the broader community. In fact, there were complaints from within the organization itself that several constituent parties were being kept in the dark.
So it was such a reality that led to the formation of the TPC, which comprises several constituent parties of the TNA itself, as well as the TNPF, civil society organizations, trade unions and so on. It is a council that goes well beyond political parties with the immediate intention of drafting a proposal that would encompass Tamil political aspirations regarding a permanent political solution to the Tamil national question. All the constituents of the TPC are in agreement that mere electoral politics cannot be allowed to decide the fate of the Tamil people.
? TPC is said to be a broader mass movement with the mobilization of the Tamil speaking representatives. Will it address the contemporary struggles of the Tamil people or is it simply a resisting movement against the most criticized and accused Tamil National Alliance (TNA)?
A: Honestly, I think it’s a little too early to say what direction the TPC would take. What I can say though is that the immediate focus of the TPC at the first meeting held on 19 December was to appoint a sub committee to come up with a draft political proposal that reflects Tamil political aspirations through a consultative process. Many other issues were also raised and there was agreement in principle to appoint more sub committees to address all the concerns.
I see the TPC formation as a reaction to certain shortcomings that prevail in the current political situation. However, it will not be correct to interpret that the TPC was formed merely to resist the TNA. After all many constituent parties of the TNA are also members of the TPC.
? There seem to be several Tamil organizations that are currently operating in the North and the East; if so, why do we need another similar Tamil organization in these regions?
A: I think the intention is to bring together as many like-minded organizations that currently exist with the primary intention of drafting a political proposal on behalf of the Tamil people.
? We understand that the TPC is funded by diaspora organizations, is that true?
A: Although I have absolutely no objection to raising funds amongst the Tamil Diaspora, to the best of my knowledge the TPC is not funded by the diaspora.
? How will it unite all the Tamil political parties which differ from one another? Will you address the issues of the Muslims and Plantation Tamils?
A: I think there has to be a basic minimum understanding on policy between organizations to work within the TPC. Regarding the Muslims and the Upcountry Tamils, there was agreement that we would stand in solidarity with their political aspirations. It is too early for me to say anything beyond that.
?One of the former LTTE Commanders Karuna Amman has recently welcomed your new organization and stated that he is considering to join hands with it. However, it is said some of the members are against it. Is that true? What would be the situation?
A: This is the first time that I’m hearing about such a development. But it’s the Council members as a whole that will decide on who will join and who will not.
? After the recent Geneva session, the diaspora community split into two, why do you think there is such infighting?
A: I think in a democratic world we will have to expect differing opinions. That is normal. The Tamil people are like all other people. It is only when there is a strong and trustworthy leadership that people and organizations tend to come together for a larger common purpose.
? All throughout history, it is evident that Tamil leaders are infighting and Tamil people are suffering. Why do you think such situations arise?
A: I would like to refer you to my earlier answer on the Tamil Diaspora being split. The Tamil people are not suffering due to the Tamil leadership being divided. The Tamil people are suffering due to the oppressive nature of the State.
? There are many allegations by the TNA members that CM Wigneswaran has indirectly supported your party, the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) at the past general election. How do you view this? Did he actually involve in any sort of discussion to join hands with your party? What exactly is the situation?
A: There have been no discussions that my party or I have had with the Chief Minister.
There are some members within the TNA who are now accusing the Chief Minister of supporting the TNPF during the elections due to some statement that he had issued giving guidelines to the people on what type of leaders should be elected. Ironically it is these very same people who claimed during the elections that the Chief Minister was in fact supporting the TNA and themselves personally!
It’s common sense that those who are politically ambitious would want to see possible competitors to be out of the political picture to make their journey to the top a smooth one. Clearly it is such people who would want to cast aspersions on the Chief Minister.
? There is criticism among the Sinhala community that most Tamil movements are established on the basis of separatism. Tell us how the TPC would tackle with this impression?
A: Well, I am a little cynical about this criticism, quite honestly, and I don’t take it very seriously anymore. The fact of the matter is that all the Tamil political organizations, including the TNPF, have repeatedly stated that they are willing to reach a political solution within a united county. But at the same time the Tamil organizations have insisted that the country must recognize its multi-national character, not only in word but in practice as well.
The Tamil organizations have repeatedly stated that such an accommodation can be reached through a federal arrangement that recognized the multi-national nature of the country. This was the essence of the Thimpu principles of 1985.
Here is why I’ve become very cynical of those who say that the Tamil organizations are separatists. The Sinhala leaders are not a bunch of fools! They know full well that a federal arrangement is not separation or separatism. On the contrary, a federal arrangement is probably the only way by which separatist desires can be contained if not completely addressed and resolved. Yet the Sinhala leaders continue to make this absolutely false accusation against the Tamil political parties.
To me there can be only one reason for this, especially in today’s post war context, and that is that the Sinhala leaders are not prepared to share political powers of governance with anyone else as they have a vision of this being a Sinhala Buddhist country where no one else should be allowed to make a claim.
This infatuation with wanting the unitary character of the Constitution that prevents any form of power vesting in Tamils or any other people other than the Sinhala people, and interpreting any shift away from the unitary character of the State as being separatist also stems from there.
Besides it’s a common practice to use such labels as separatist and extremist on anyone who differs from an established point of view. By using such labels the alternate narrative is criminalized and demonized so that it never needs to be addressed! That is exactly what’s going on here.
But I agree that none of what I have stated above should prevent the TPC from reaching out to the Sinhala people and clearly explaining its political and other objectives.
? How will the TPC address the humanitarian issues in the North and the East to the government of good governance?
A: This was one of the issues that were raised at the inaugural meeting. I think the first step would be the appointment of a sub committee to look into this matter. Unfortunately, it’s too early for me to comment beyond this.
? Will you contest the upcoming Local Government Elections through the TPC?
A: The TPC is not a political party and has no intention of contesting elections.
On 26 July 1957 an agreement known as the “Banda-Chelva” pact was signed between Bandaranayake (President Chandrika’s father) and the Tamil leader, S. J. V. Chevanayagam. This agreement was based on a quasi-federal system devolving certain powers to the Tamils in the North East provinces.
On 24 March 1965, an agreement known as “Dudley-Chelva” Pact was signed between Dudley Senanayake and the Tamil leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam.
On the 29th July 1987, a peace accord known as “Indo-Lanka” was signed between Sri Lanka and India. Even though this accord purported to bring an end to the island’s ethnic crisis, it was signed without any consultation with the Tamils of the North and East. This paved the way for the 13th amendment, which has never yet been implemented.
On 5 January 1995 the Government of Sri Lanka (President Chandrika) signed an agreement for cessation of hostilities with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE. The Government announced lifting of the economic embargo but the embargo continued. Later Chandrika government argued that there was no such thing as an economic embargo in the Tamil region.
On 21 February 2002, under the facilitation of Norway, a Ceasefire Agreement “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed between the LTTE, and the then Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Several rounds of negotiations took place in Thailand, Japan, Norway, Germany and Switzerland. The government of Sri Lanka failed to implement the agreed outcomes of peace talks.
On 24 June 2005, the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure – PTOMS was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. This agreement was made null and void because of a political judgement on 15 July 2005, from the Supreme Court. The PTOMS involved distribution of Tsunami aid in the North and East.
Out of all of the above, not a single agreement was respected by the political leaders or governments of the day in Sri Lanka. Therefore, ignoring or breaching the latest resolution of the UN HRC is not a difficult affair for the present government.