Nothing wrong in TNA having close links with Tamil Diaspora
by Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Global Convener of Overseas Affairs, Vijay Jolly, who is also a member of the BJP Executive Committee, says although India has committed US$ 1.6 billion as development assistance to Sri Lanka, following the end of the war, they are not satisfied with the progress. “The absence of confidence between the government and the people needs to be rectified on an urgency basis,” he told Ceylon Today in an exclusive interview.
Excerpts of the interview:
Many say India’s foreign policy, of PM Modi’s government, especially with Sri Lanka, is like ‘Old wine in a new bottle’. How will you defend this statement?
A: No, this is not true. Foreign Policy of India, under PM Modi’s Government is to engage Sri Lanka for a negotiated settlement of the Tamil issue within the framework of Sri Lanka’s Constitution.
What was the message PM Modi sent through you to be delivered to President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: ‘Sabka Sath – Sabka Vikas’. Take everyone along for everyone’s development. It was a message of the BJP and not PM Modi. What he has to state, either Modi or his Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj shall be conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Tamils of Sri Lanka have great expectations that the Modi Government will be a great strength in helping to bring about a solution to the burning national problem. Is something new running in PM Modi’s mind, different from the previous Prime Ministers, on how to help Sri Lanka solve its problem?
A: Yes, the expectations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka are genuine. The problem in Sri Lanka is the creation of the Congress Party of India. The Modi Government still has a clean mind and slate for Sri Lanka. It does not have the previous bag and baggage. The Indian Prime Minister advocates a solution to the Tamil problem within the constitutional frame work of Sri Lanka. He does not encourage dissenst and distraction. He wants all sides to sit collectively at the negotiating table, discuss, delve and arrive at a consensus on various issues confronting the island nation of Sri Lanka.
The national problem always leads to the debate on implementing the 13A and the devolution of powers. However, the Tamil National Alliance and the government are of the view that the 13A is not the solution to end the national problem. What is your take on this?
A: India wants the TNA and other alliance parties to hammer a solution with the Government of Sri Lanka. Definitely the implementation of the 13th Amendment and devolution of powers, as promised by the Government of Sri Lanka is eagerly awaited by the TNA and the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. It has to be addressed for an everlasting peace in Sri Lanka.
You and the National General Secretary, Muralidhar Rao, met several politicians of the ruling and the Opposition Parties, including the members of the TNA and discussed several core issues. What do you think is the main issue Sri Lanka is facing, in your opinion?
A: Elements of mutual suspicion between the government and TNA. Devolution of rights is the core issue. And, it can be settled only if all sides have confidence in each other’s words and deeds.
Recently, one of the panel, of advisors appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to probe into complaints of missing persons, Prof. Avdesh Kaushal, claimed that there is an ‘imaginary fear’ in both, the government and the TNA, and that is why everything is failing in Sri Lanka. Do you believe so?
A: As stated earlier, the existence of suspicion is failing one and all in Sri Lanka. This has to be removed by positive moves on both sides of the fence.
Prof. Kaushal, too, in an interview with Ceylon Today, said the Sri Lankan Government has an ‘imaginary fear’ that the LTTE will regroup, to make a comeback with the Tamil Diaspora’s funding. What did the TNA say when you discussed about the Tamil Diaspora having closer affiliation with the Tamil parties?
A: The fear that the LTTE will regroup is unfounded and untrue. Terrorism in all forms is unacceptable to India and everyone else. Yes, the Tamil Diaspora has close links with the Tamil parties in Sri Lanka. There is nothing wrong in it. After all, the sons and daughters of Sri Lanka today constitute the Tamil Diaspora abroad. They do not preach violence but want a peaceful solution for their brothers living in Sri Lanka. The TNA very rightly agreed that they have close links with the Diaspora but it is the TNA which takes political decisions in Sri Lanka.
Is India happy with the Presidential Commission, that is probing into complaints of missing persons with five international experts?
A: That is an answer which the Indian Minister for External Affairs would provide.
What is your view on the ever failing Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). How should the government tackle this issue?
A: It is the duty of the Sri Lanka Government to ensure equi-participation of all in the PSC. If TNA and other political outfits do not participate, then the PSC is redundant. Then, the purpose of constituting the Parliamentary Select Committee is totally defeated. So the Govt. should take the initiative and resume dialogue on the issue with all parties to the dispute.
You have also discussed about the rights and demands of the Tamils. What did you hear and what do you propose as a BJP politician, representing PM Modi?
A: Building confidence is the main issue between the government and the Opposition. Respect and understanding on both sides is the need of the hour. Sit, talk, dwell, discuss and hammer out solutions within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
Chairman of the BJP Committee for Strategic Action, Dr. Subramanian Swamy said India would not allow any external factor to interfere in internal interests of Sri Lanka and India should not deal with the Tamils directly. Is that the view of the BJP?
A: Yes, we do not favor an external agency to conduct a probe into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and its actions to annihilate terrorism on its soil. India has also burnt its fingers with the Sri Lankan fire. Tamils in Sri Lanka have their close links and origin with Tamils of India. So, direct contact with each other is unavoidable. I do not agree with Dr. Subramanian Swamy on the issue. His views are not shared by the BJP.
You told Ceylon Today that the sharing of power is a must and you also recalled that it is peculiar bureaucracy when the Chief Minister of Northern Province has no power over the Chief Secretary, who works under the Governor. What is the solution you put forward to this dragging issue?
A: Devolution of power is the key issue. The elected Chief Minister of a province should have full control over his bureaucracy. He cannot work with the hand and without the fingers. The solution to the issue is granting full control to the democratically elected Chief Minister of the province.
The Government says all the power can be shared except the police power. What is the BJPs take on this?
A: Both sides have their own story. The present regime in Sri Lanka took 30 years to finish terrorism. They think control over army and police is the ultimate weapon to checkmate any possible act of treason and terrorism on Sri Lanka’s soil and they have a point there. Whereas a Provincial Chief Minister, with no control over policing, sees his right to govern, diminishing. This issue needs more in depth study and debate.
Colombo is also of the view that they don’t want any external pressure to be applied or ‘to be told how to be governed’. However, from time to time, India has been voicing its concern. How far can India push for the devolution of power it is insisting on?
A: It is not India which is insisting on devolution of power in Sri Lanka. It is the promise of the Government of Sri Lanka, which is expected, by all, to be honored. We are just voicing the just concerns of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. We are not pushing but politely advising our friendly neighbour with our rich experience on such issues.
The Tamil’s major issue is that their lands have been taken by the government and not returned. There are still war victims living in welfare centres or accommodated in their relatives houses. What is your message to the government who says that everything has returned to normalcy in the North?
A: There is an urgent need for rehabilitation of the war victims living in Welfare Centres and in accommodation provided by their relatives. The government should accelerate the process and expedite urban building plans for the rehabilitation of the affected as soon as possible. Only then normalcy in the north shall be deemed to be ensured.
India has committed US$ 1.6 billion as development assistance to Sri Lanka, following the end of the war. In fact, even before the war ended, in 2009. Out of this, 30% are grants. Are you satisfied with the progress and the government reaching out to the people?
A: We are not satisfied with the progress. It is slow. A lot still needs to be done. The absence of confidence between the Govt. and the people needs to be rectified on urgency basis.
Chinese influence, lately with the increased defence and maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka, does not sit well with India. Is there a new strategic plan that you are drawing up to keep things under wraps with Sri Lanka?
A: We do not consider Chinese influence as a threat to India. It is for the government and the people of Sri Lanka to dwell on the issue. The strategic plan is to assist and help war ravaged Sri Lanka on the path of development.
How do you view the military ties between Colombo and China? The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary is now in China discussing closer cooperation. Are such ties inimical to the national and regional security of India?
A: Military ties between Colombo and China are not a threat to India. But we are closely monitoring the security scenario in our neighborhood. India and Colombo have closely interacted at historical, educational, scientific and military levels. Generationally India and Sri Lanka are more closer than China and Sri Lanka. The National and regional security of India is sound and on full alert.