Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) General Secretary Tilvin Silva speaks to the Daily Mirror on the Northern Provincial Council Elections and issues confronting the Tamil people. He noted that the government had failed to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people. Following are some excerpts of the interview:
By Kelum Bandara Q:In the political circle, there is much talk of the 13th Amendment these days. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was a party that was opposed to the Provincial Council (PC) system right from the beginning. What are your views on this renewed criticism on the PC system established under the 13th Amendment?
The JVP is opposed to the PC system on principle. That is the policy we have taken right from the beginning. However, there is renewed criticism by some elements on it at a time, ahead of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections. Against this backdrop, we have to take serious note of this political criticism against the 13th Amendment. We see this diatribe against the PC system today despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s repeated assurances to the international community, particularly to India that these elections would be conducted. Therefore, any criticism of the 13th Amendment would be viewed negatively by the Tamil community in the north. We, the JVP, do not believe that the PC system is the panacea for problems confronting the ethnic Tamils.
It is true that the Tamil people are enduring immense hardships. But, we should politically convince them that the PC system is not the way out for them. It has been proven unsuccessful. The Eastern Provincial Council was constituted. But, the problems of the people remain unsolved or unattended. Yet, instead of finding practical solutions to the genuine grievances of the Tamil people, the government has made way for a political harangue against the PC system. Therefore, Tamils will obviously view such criticism with suspicion.
Q:You mentioned that Tamil people are grappling with some serious problems. In your view, what are they?
At the moment, they have serious land problems. They were dispossessed of their lands during the war. There is no proper plan to give back such lands to their rightful owners. Likewise, there is the issue of Tamil prisoners. The government has also failed to look into the incidents of disappearances. The government has still been unable to dispense with legal cases involving disappearances or to pay compensation to the next-of-kin of the victims. Instead of resettling people with proper facilities, the government has literally left them in the street. The government should resettle them after restoring their means of livelihood. Also, there are circumstances that have compelled the Tamil people to consider themselves as second class citizens of this country. The language problem is one of them. It has to be addressed. There are a lot of administrative issues – lack of Tamil speaking police officers and Grama Niladharis. After the war was over, a semi-military rule has been imposed on the Tamil people. Democracy should be strengthened in the north along with the establishment of civil administration. These matters warrant urgent attention. If these problems are solved, the Tamil people will begin to think differently.
Q:In your view, what will the political repercussions be if the elections are held in the north under these circumstances?
It is a serious situation. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is likely to win this election. Then, there may be attempts to reinforce the separatist ideology. Though the war is over, the separatist ideology remains intact. During the last four years of the post-war period, the government did not do anything to defeat separatism politically. Instead, the government’s actions only added force to this ideology. Therefore, we can conclude that certain sections of the Tamil Diaspora and the international forces including India and the United States may try to use this council as a base to push for further devolution of political power in conformity with their separatist agenda. That is the imminent danger lying before us. But, the government has made repeated assurances before the international community that these elections would be conducted. The government can ward off the impending danger only by finding practical solutions to the problems of people in the north. They do not ask for power sharing or self-determination. They urge the government to address cases of disappearances, to release Tamil prisoners, to create economic opportunities and to restore civil administration.
In reality, the government should have acted to abolish this PC system a long time ago. Yet, the government conducted staggered PC elections in other parts of the country. All of a sudden, they talk against the system, ahead of the NPCE only. It creates suspicion in the minds of people. If it is applicable to other areas, why is it not for the north? That is the logical question arising in the minds of people. A complex situation has arisen today, and the government should be held responsible.
Q:You mean the government is in a crisis situation?
Yes of course. The government is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The government was unwise. They only tried to find solutions to the country’s problems on a daily piecemeal manner instead of making a holistic approach with a farsighted vision. It is the typical way of the government. It has resulted in the present mess.
Q:If the Northern Provincial Council elections are conducted, will the JVP participate in it?
Yes, we will do it as a party. We will make it an opportunity to engage in politics with people in the north. The government failed to defeat the separatist political ideology during the past four years. Again, they did not allow any political activity that can attract Tamil people to the mainstream of national politics. We, the JVP, were not allowed to carry out political work in the north. Our comrade MP Sunil Handunnetti was assaulted in Jaffna. They placed a lot of hurdles before us. Through such foolish and adamant behaviour, they blocked the path for Tamil people to embrace national politics without confining themselves to politics based on their regional and ethnic identity.
Q:Though you claim that Tamil people are not for power devolution or self-determination, the TNA which campaigns heavily on such demands won past elections in the north. The TNA is on record that they repeatedly got mandates from their people to fight for such political rights. How do you see it?
Tamil people naturally tend to vote for Tamil political parties, whichever are mentioned in manifestoes. The TNA has given its own political interpretation to this electoral behaviour of Tamil people. Let’s take what happened in recent times. There were some demonstrations and protest rallies in Colombo by the Tamil people. Once they held a demonstration holding aloft the posters and banners bearing the photos of their disappeared relatives. They wanted to know what happened to those who went missing. In another demonstration, they urged the government to release Tamil prisoners. The most recent one was against the land-grabbing in the north. Their main demands are linked with their normal lives. Yet, the TNA did not play any role in any of these protest rallies or demonstrations. They may have made a few statements. The TNA appears to be thriving on such concerns of the Tamil people for political gains.
Q:Will the demand for separatism be renewed in this context?
It can happen due to a few reasons. The government has imposed its will on the Tamil people today. Its lies strengthen the ideological base for separatism to raise its head again. Though the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated, their separatist ideology has not been dealt with politically. Therefore, there is a danger of Tamil politics in the north taking a separatist form once again. The government should address the problems of Tamil people to avert separatism gaining its hold in northern politics.
Q:If you are against the Provincial Council system, what do you propose as an alternative?
There should be a public discourse on this. But, there is one principle. Equality is all the more important. People should have equal access to their rights such as education and employment opportunities, leaving aside their differences over language, ethnicity etc. There cannot be any discrimination. Besides, administrative power, people’s daily needs have to be given at grassroots level. Today, the most important administrative powers have not been decentralised. For example, the issuance of passports is done mainly in Colombo. It is a Colombo-centric activity. It should be changed. The issuance of National Identity Cards are done in Colombo. There is only one Eye Hospital in the country, and that too is in Colombo. Wherever we live, we have to come to Colombo for treatment. The Cancer Hospital is in Maharagama. The most essential services have not been decentralised. Instead, we talk about the 13th Amendment imposed on us by India.
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