BY MIRUDHULA THAMBIAH
Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) Leader and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Mavai Senathiraja said his party will not sacrifice or change their mentality in achieving a political solution through a North-East merger as it is an essential demand of his people. “The proposal put forward by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on 3 August 1995 introduced the union of regions, North-East merger with power sharing including an administrative unit for the Muslims in the East as a good solution and it is still being examined by us for the betterment of the future. We are quite serious that a political solution only can be found in a merged North-East,” he said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
? You have recently mentioned that ITAK is ready to provide party membership to former LTTE cadres; however during the time of the general election your party rejected nominations to them. If so, how is it possible to collaborate with them in the current context?
A: We have always accepted the reasonable political stand and the struggle by the LTTE. However we cannot say we contributed to their armed struggle. Six to seven years after the end of war, some former LTTE cadres who have formed a political party ‘Crusaders for Democracy’ came for a dialogue with us in Vavuniya during our party coordinating meeting. They informed us of their wish to collaboratively function alongside us in the political journey.
However, at that moment we were in a situation to inquire into the backgrounds of the four to five members who initiated the dialogue with us representing Crusaders for Democracy. As the general elections were nearing, we were not in a position to inquire into their background and they were not that familiar to us, hence, we avoided from providing them with nominations.
In the current context after eight years there have been changes and we have understood that they have sacrificed themselves and struggled for ethnic liberation. There is a turning point that they are on similar political stand and we have decided to reconnect with them in our democratic struggle. We have taken this decision after observing their move for a long period.
We will propose this idea to the TNA and our main concerns will also be to provide political space for female LTTE cadres. We believe the representations of female cadres are quite important for our democratic struggle.
? ITAK had been continuously insisting a political solution based on a merged North-East. However, in the current scenario it seems impractical to merge both provinces due to the disagreements prevailing within the Muslim Community as well as those in the South are not in a favourable stand. Therefore tell us if you are ready to alter your demands?
A: Primarily we are of the stand that the new Constitution should include federal as the nature of the State. We have continuously urged for absolute power sharing, which includes land, Police and financial powers. Therefore, when absolute power is devolved we demand for a merged North-East in which the administration should take place uniting both ethnicities the Tamils and Muslims. This will provide autonomous powers to the North-East regions.
This demand has been mentioned in the Banda-Chelva, Dudley- Chelva and the proposals put forward by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Therefore we are of the opinion that a political solution should be based upon a federal set-up, through which absolute power should be devolved to all regions at the same time, where autonomous and administrative power should be given to all regions. We will not alter or change our stance from these firm demands that had been long term aspirations of the Tamil people, even if the Government and Muslim Representatives are opposed to it.
The North-East merger had been clearly mentioned in the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. According to the petition filed before the Supreme Court by the JVP regarding the North-East merger it was decided that the procedural flow of the merger was wrong but not the merger. Also a motion can be brought in Parliament to merge both provinces. However former President Mahinda Rajapaksa showed no interest and therefore, he ignored it.
However, in the current context attempts are being made to draft a new Constitution and we will stand firm on our demands as mentioned above. We are not ready to accept that the Muslim Community has fully rejected the demand for a merged North-East.
When drafting a new Constitution our proposal should also be included in the suggestions. Our suggestions will be included to the interim draft of the new Constitution. We will not give up on our stand and we will continue to pressurize until we achieve our demands through a political solution. We have continuously maintained a dialogue with the Muslim Community regarding a fair political solution and the North-East merger. We are aware that the Muslims in the East are demanding for an administrative unit and we believe that they are still in favour of the merger.
Therefore, we are in continuous discussions with SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem, ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen and other representatives in this regard. At the same time we have begun discussions with the UNP, SLFP, JVP and other parties on the same stand. We have already considered the need for an administrative unit for the Muslims in the East. There have been such agreements in the proposal submitted by former President Kumaratunga in 1995.
? Why did you reject President Kumaratunga‘s proposal?
A: We did not reject the proposal. It was a proposal with the contribution of our representative Neelan Thiruchelvam and the government representative Prof. G.L. Peiris. When this proposal was submitted in Parliament the UNP opposed it and some amendments were adapted to it. However, these amendments did not satisfy our demands. Therefore, we opposed it in turn; we did not reject the structure.
It should be noted that this proposal was formed with the contributions and agreements with the SLMC founder A.H.M. Ashraff. We were in agreement with the North-East merger, a new Constitution and power devolution.
This proposal put forward by President Kumaratunga on 3 August 1995 introducing the union of regions, North-East merger with power sharing including an administrative unit for the Muslims in the East is a good solution and it is still being examined by us for the betterment of the future. We are quite serious that a political solution only can be found in a merged North-East
? How did the Government respond to your demand on ‘right to self –determination?
A: This had been one of our basic demands. According to the UN charter it is mentioned that right to self-determination is essential for an ethnic group. We will not give up on this demand. People have the right to exercise their ‘right to self-determination and we are firm on it. It is important to safeguard our people’s sovereignty. Therefore, we have been stressing and working towards these demands in finding a suitable political solution. Even the Oslo Communique- talks held between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka had mentioned these demands.
? Certain Tamil representatives have continued to insist that the TNA parliamentarians resign from their posts as they have not as yet managed to fulfil any of their promises. What is your stand on this?
A: Resigning our parliamentary posts is nothing new to us. If our resignations bring in a solution to our people’s problems and that settles the ethnic problem, we are ready to resign. We have obtained two opportunities in this country to settle the issues of our people as they were affected by war for 30 years and being 60 years in the struggle to find a political solution.
In the current context both major parties are in the National Government unlike before where they criticize each other. Also we began to support the government not to accept ministerial portfolios but to fulfil the aspirations of our people.
People gave us the mandate at the elections and we have promised to fulfil their demands according to our manifesto. We have got this opportunity to settle the issue; we are not ready to easily step down.
Government had agreed to implement the UNHRC resolution and at the same, currently they have taken steps to repeal the Constitution. Although some of the main issues like political prisoners, missing persons, acquisition of lands and resettlement had not been fully solved, positive attempts have been made to bring in a new Constitution.
We should not miss this opportunity and step down from the opportunities that have been given to us. We should not isolate ourselves from the opportunities to solve the long-term issues. Therefore, it is our responsibility to patiently implement the mandate given by our people to solve their demands.
? What is TNA‘s expectation on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit?
A: India had contributed its role in finding a political solution to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka. We still believe that India had immensely contributed towards it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his parliamentary speech had stressed about cooperative federalism. Therefore, in the current context where attempts are carried out to create a new Constitution and we believe his opinion on cooperative federalism would be a useful advice. Therefore, we will urge Prime Minister Modi that India should continue its role in contributing to find a political solution to the ethnic issue in this country.