The recent arrest of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jeyalalithaa and the stand India took at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva recently is a talking point among political circles here in Sri Lanka. While many are closely watching as to how Tamil Nadu will deal with Sri Lanka under its new Chief Minister, the direction the Indian central government is taking on Sri Lanka has also raised a few eyebrows. President of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), Gajen Ponnambalam, said that in his view the Indian government is only focused on securing its interests and not that of Sri Lankan Tamils.
“Tamil Nadu politics is different from New Delhi’s politics. Tamil Nadu is very supportive of the Tamil national struggle here and I suspect Madam Jeyalalithaa’s conviction will not change that. Although New Delhi’s hope will be that the timing of Jeyalalithaa’s conviction will send a clear message to all those parties that wish to take an independent line on Sri Lankan affairs, particularly to do with the Tamil people here,” he adds.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: In your opinion, with the arrest and sidelining of Jeyalalithaa, will there be less pressure exerted on Sri Lanka by India since Jeyalalithaa often puts a lot of pressure on the Lankan issue?
A: I don’t believe there is much pressure being applied on Sri Lanka by India, meaning New Delhi. On the contrary, Delhi is appeasing Sri Lanka to the point where it is saying, “cooperate with us and make changes to your foreign policy that does not compromise Indian national interests and we will not only support you even more strongly on the UNHRC inquiry, but will also rid Tamil nationalism from Tamil mainstream politics through the TNA”.
Tamil Nadu politics is different from New Delhi’s politics. Tamil Nadu is very supportive of the Tamil national struggle here and I suspect Madam Jeyalalithaa’s conviction will not change that. Although New Delhi’s hope will be that the timing of Jeyalalithaa’s conviction will send a clear message to all those parties that wish to take an independent line on Sri Lankan affairs, particularly to do with the Tamil people here.
Q: Overall, based on the comments we have seen from India at the UNHRC, there seems to be a shift in policy on how India deals with Sri Lanka?
A: No. My view has always been that there might be slight changes in nuances with a change in regime in New Delhi, but the overall policy towards Sri Lanka will not change simply because the government party changes.
Whichever party is in power in Delhi, the goal will be making sure that Sri Lanka acts consistently with the provisions of the Annexures to the Indo – Lanka Accord, which secures India’s national security interests. Calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment is code for precisely that and nothing else. The 13th Amendment has nothing to do with solving the ethnic problem here. It’s all about securing India’s interests.
Q: Do you see a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for Tamils as a result of the investigation being conducted on Sri Lanka by the UN human rights office?
A: We have been critical of the resolution passed in March 2014. I will not go into the details as it will take too much space. However, we have been very encouraged by the explanatory statement issued by the OHCHR in August this year regarding its interpretation of the mandate given by the March 2014 resolution. If the OHCHR does act according to its explanatory statement, we believe the current UN inquiry does offer us a glimmer of hope. However, we are very aware of the geopolitical considerations that drive things at the international level. So one has to wait and see. But as things stand, we are fully supportive of the inquiry.
Q: The TNA has been talking of getting all Tamil speaking political parties together. Will the TNPF join such a coalition and if not why not?
A: We left the TNA, as post May 2009 the TNA ceased to adhere to its founding principles enunciated in 2001.Today the TNA has accepted the 13th Amendment as the basis for a solution to the Tamil national question, which pre May 2009 it refused to even consider as a starting point. Mr. Sampanthan then referred to the 13th Amendment in Parliament as something that was ‘Dead as a Dodo’ and something that “the Tamils will not touch with the wrong side of a barge pole”. Today however, the TNA’s main goal is calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment. Our party continues to reject the 13th Amendment as even a starting point for a solution. For as long as there remain these outstanding fundamental differences, we can’t see joining any such coalition.
Q: How do you feel Tamil parties in Sri Lanka should prepare to face the Presidential elections?
A: There is plenty of time for that. We will deal with it when the need arises.