‘‘ New Constitution is unimaginable now ’’

A) Parliamentarian Dharmalingam Siddharthan speaks to Daily Mirror about politics in the North and the presidential elections. Mr. Siddharthan, who is the leader People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), says people in the North will not vote en bloc to a particular candidate at the next election. The Excerpt:-

by Kelum Bandara

 Q As far as the TNA is concerned, how do you assess the political situation of the country?

I do not know what does TNA leader R. Sampanthan feels. From the TNA’s point of view, I personally feel the party’s main purpose is Constitutional Reforms. It is not going to happen, though. I don’t believe it would happen.

 Why do you think so?

The two main constituent parties of the government – the SLFP and the UNP – are embroiled in problems and at loggerheads with each other. They cannot be together and take the constitutional process forward. Secondly, I never thought that the Constitution-making process would go on for long. Most southern politicians are basically against the concept of power devolution. They do not believe in devolution. The Constitution-making process is too late now. The government should have done it during its first year in power. Now, the opposition is becoming much stronger. Southern leaders hinder the Constitution-making process.

 The TNA played a pivotal role in the installation of this government; particularly at the Presidential Election in 2015. How do you assess present predicament?

Tamils were so anti-Mahinda Rajapaksa at that time. That factor played a big role in using their franchise en bloc to the current President. The TNA announced its support to the President only after postal voting took place at that election. Let alone, the 80% of postal voters had cast their ballots in favour of the incumbent President. That shows how Tamil people wanted to see a change even before the TNA took its official stand. After the elections, these two main parties got together. Then, we also thought that it might be possible to have a political solution. In the past, when one party tried to solve the problem, the other opposed to it. The 19th Amendment was enacted comfortably in Parliament this time, giving hope for us. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa was politically very weak. Now, he is strong. Any southern leader does not want to lose his vote base among the Sinhala people. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult to get the new Constitution enacted.

At the last local government elections, the TNA vote base had dropped drastically. Alongside, the vote base of the parties opposed to the TNA had increased. How do you look at the trend?

It is a fact that the TNA lost a large proportion of votes. I really do not know whether it is a temporary phenomenon or not. The vote base of the party led by former MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam increased. The people have voted for the governing parties in the centre. The UNP and the SLFP also gained in the north this time. Also, the EPDP led by MP Douglas Devananda got a large number of votes. The political solution is a must for our people. At the same time, people see that their day-to-day problems are not solved. These issues can be solved by the government very easily. But, they have done nothing. That is what people feel. Nevertheless, the government has done something for them actually in terms of the release of lands etc. There are only 130 political prisoners remaining now. They include the convicted ones. Only 70 and 80 people are held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. For people, it is still below their expectations.

 How do you look at the provincial council elections due this year? 

Some ITAK members say Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran will not be the candidate next time. The TNA has not decided who should be the candidate. ITAK people feel that MP Mavai Senathirajah should be the candidate. Mr. Wigneswaran is quite popular among the people. He still never has said he would be leaving the TNA. The TNA has to decide. MP Mavai Senathirajah is adamant that he should be the candidate.

As the leader of PLOTE aligned with the TNA, what is your view?

I have not decided as such. At the last provincial council election, I am the one who proposed that Mr. Senathirajah should be the candidate. Yet, Mr. Sampanthan managed to convince the others that it should be Mr. Wigneswaran. He contested accordingly.

Today, the situation is different. Mr. Wigneswaran is popular. The TNA vote base dwindled.

The extremist parties such as Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) gained at this election. Does it mean that the separatist ideology is gaining ground again? 

Nobody is talking about separatism. Even Mr. Ponnambalam does not talk about it openly. There are some people living abroad, who make such noise. As far as I am concerned, people living in the North are not in favour of separatism or another armed struggle. They are not ready to lose anymore. They feel enough is enough. They need a political solution and economic development.

But the Tamil Diaspora groups think otherwise…

Some of them think so. There are some others who are rational. They feel that people should not be made a scapegoat any longer to pursue separatist agenda. War is needed for some people to do their businesses. Most expatriate people are not supportive of Tamil Eelam. I met a larger number of expatriate LTTEers. They are now very sober. They could not achieve Eelam even through the armed struggle waged by the LTTE. I do not think anybody can build an outfit like the LTTE. There is no way it can happen.

How influential is the Tamil Diaspora in northern politics?

They have a certain degree of influence because of their financial power. Some of them have their intellectual capacity as well. I do not deny that. I don’t think their influence is powerful enough to change the policies of the parties operating here.

There was large participation in the Mullivaikkal remembrance events in the North this time. Some chanted separatist slogans. It is interpreted in the South as signs of radicalization. How do you assess this situation?

That is the problem. Everyone has to remember his kith and kin. In the history of Sri Lanka,Mullivaikkal is the place where a large number of people had been killed. I also participated in these events because I feel for people. When one joins a military organization, he/she knows that he/she is bound to shed his/her life. But, ordinary people are not like that. They are innocent. That was why I went. Unfortunately, it was exaggerated in the South.

Yet, it is the area where the LTTE was decimated along with its top-rung leaders including Velupillai Prabhakaran. In the South, it is seen as a heroic act. How do you see this?

It is natural. In the South, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former Army Commander were seen as heroes. MR and Gotabhaya were seen as heroes who finished the war, an act considered impossible for 30 years. It was the other way round in the north. Tamils believe that Prabhakaran fought a valiant war. It does not mean that people are ready to go for Eelam now. I spoke to several ex-LTTE combatants. They were not ready for it.

There are some names being mentioned about the next Presidential Candidate. How do you see it in the North?

I don’t think people are worried about the Presidential polls. We just wait to see who would be the candidate next time. First, we have to know the candidate.

Last time, TNA supported President Maithripala Sirisena. It was speculated that Gotabhaya would be the candidate. In your view, what are the reactions of Tamil people?

I think the Tamil people are opposed to him in general. That is because he was the one who fought war and defeated the LTTE. That is the feeling. Actually, it is the truth. I do not know who would the next candidate be. But, some sections of the Tamil people feel that he is better than others though he fought the war. That feeling is there among some Tamils because they have seen the city development in Colombo under him at that time. There is anger against him as well.

Whoever is fielded, the vote base in the North and the East will be divided. They will not vote en bloc to one candidate. That is what I see.

How do you see the dynamics in the international arena?

The attitudes of the international community have changed towards Sri Lanka. We do not now have the kind of sympathy and support we had earlier. As far as we are concerned, India is more important than any other country.

If you refer to India, Jayalalithaa was a towering figure as the CM of Tamil Nadu. She used to exert a lot of pressure on the central government of India to prevail upon Sri Lanka. She is no more now. How do you see the situation as a result?

Tamil Nadu politics is weak. The support for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils is on the wane. Earlier, a lot of leaders were there – M.G.Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. If the state government is not strong enough in Tamil Nadu, the centre does not listen.