Former MP Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman in an interview with the Daily Mirror spoke about the current political situation and his aspirations. Muralitharan, LTTE’s one-time Eastern Province military leader, said that he regrets past violence and looks to the future. He has now formed a new political party called Tamil United Freedom Party (TUFP). Following are excerpts of the interview done with Muralitharan.
Q You were with the LTTE. Afterwards you joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Now, you have formed your own party. Why is this?
Actually, I waited for the correct time. Today, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is seen as the sole representative of Tamil people. In fact, they are not. We formed our party last year. The TNA is now scattered. They give false promises to the people. They have not done anything for the people. Its representatives are in Parliament. But, there is no benefit for the people either in terms of a political solution nor development. Before setting up this party, I had discussions with all the leaders- President Maithripala Sirisena, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and others. I informed all of them. We are not against anybody. We do not advocate racism. The TNA is spreading terrorism.
Q Why did you decide to form your party rather than align with a main party?
There is misunderstanding among the Tamil people. After the eradication of terrorism, Tamil people think the former Government killed Tamil people. The TNA banks its political fortune on this situation. They are carrying out propaganda. If we want to counter the TNA, we need yet another Tamil party. The national political parties cannot do it. Tamil people need strong political leaders. There are several parties under the TNA banner. They are taking on each other.
Q What is your policy regarding the ethnic problem?
We ask for the merger of the north and the east. That is good for the Tamil people. That is our motherland.
Q At that time, you were so particular about the identity of Eastern Tamils. Why is this sudden change?
Now too, we give priority to the Eastern Province. We are encountering a lot of problems in the east unlike in the north. In the Northern Province, it is overwhelmingly Tamil speaking. As for the ethnic composition here, the percentages of Muslims and Tamils are more or less equal. There are Sinhalese too. We don’t have any problem with the Sinhala community.
We face problems not from ordinary Muslims, but their leaders. They try to exercise their control over the Tamils. They inflame racism. In the last Eastern Provincial Council, the TNA had 11 seats, but Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) had only seven or eight seats. Yet, the TNA ceded the chief minister’s post to a Muslim. During the period of Chief Minister Nazir Ahamed, the Tamil people weren’t benefited. More than 4000 jobs were given to the Muslims. We have to pay extra attention on the Tamils in the east. We have to be considerate about the Tamils in the north.
Our party advocates pluralism. We shun racism. Whatever party is in power at the centre, we want to coordinate with it and get development work done for the Tamil people.
However, my ultimate aim is to have a Tamil as a Chief Minister in the east. That is what I aim at. We are checking the ground situation with regard to the upcoming election. If the Tamils vote for one party overwhelmingly at a provincial councils election here, we can obtain 11 or 12 seats
Q How do you view the disproportionate development in the east?
I do not blame the Muslims for that. In fact, they have made use of the situation. Only the Tamil leaders have to be taken to task. When I was in Parliament, I did a lot of development work in the area covering all the sectors such as health, education, farming etc. Today, the TNA supports the Government. The TNA even votes for the Budget. They did not accept any ministry nor other benefits. They do not know anything about the people. Why are they supporting the Government then?
However, the Muslim leaders joined the Government, took up responsibilities and worked for their people. The TNA should be held responsible.
There is racial discrimination here. During the war, the Sinhalese and the Tamils fought against each other. But, the Muslims survived both the Government and the LTTE. They built their economy. Today, they command economic power. They are now encroaching our land. It is a big issue here.
Q You said that the Muslims survived with the Government and the LTTE. In fact, you were the LTTE’s Eastern Commander at that time. Does it mean they dealt with you?
(Laughs) Yes. Our policy was like that. Some incidents happened. There was violence between the communities. We controlled the situation. We did not do anything to them. We allowed them to do business and all. I do not want to blame the innocent Muslim community. They (Muslims) are innocent people. They are misled by their leaders.
Q Did you have contacts with these Muslim leaders at that time?
Yes, I had contacts with them. When any violence would erupt, we had to control
Q How do you find the ground support for your party now?
It is good. We contest only in the Batticaloa District this time. We want to prove our support base this time. At the Provincial Council Elections next time, we will contest in the north and the east. We can win many seats because people are fed-up with the TNA. We are the only alternative here to the TNA.
Q How do you view the performance of the Unity Government?
People believed in it earlier. Yet, the Government did not do anything for the people. Their concentration was to defeat former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They were not concerned about the development of the country and bringing a solution to the Tamil national question. President Sirisena promised the TNA that all army camps would be withdrawn within 100 days after assuming power. Nothing happened. Two years have passed. Economically, the country is on a downward spiral. For example, the price of a coconut is Rs.130 in Batticaloa. A kilo of rice is Rs.160 in Batticaloa.
Q In the past, the Tamil people used to vote demanding political rights and these demands weren’t related to economic issues. How can you bring about a change?
That is the problem. We need the political solution. There is no difference in this regard. At the same time, people need development too. The TNA only talks about nationalism. That’s it. But, nothing happens. That is the difference between Tamils and Muslims. Muslims develop their areas. Tamil people are left with nothing.
Q As for the Muslims, they have a serious land problem. They are concentrated in a tiny area whereas Tamils are scattered all over the district. How do you look at this?
Their (Muslims) population is high now. They live in narrow strips of land. That is not a problem. If they take land through proper means, there will be no problem. But, they are encroaching the lands. They work out fake deeds. A lot of things are going on here. They are violating the law. If they buy land and settle properly, it is alright.
Most Tamil people do not like to sell land to the Muslims. The Muslims identify themselves as Tamil speaking individuals. But, they behave as if they have come from the land of the Arabs. That is the problem. They speak Tamil. But, if you go to Kattankudy, you would see some sign boards where there is Arabic characters.
Q You were put behind bars. Who do you hold responsible for it?
I do not blame anyone. There are no allegations against me. The case came to an end accordingly. However, the Government should have looked at the matter in an analytical manner and taken action. Whatever said and done, I am part and parcel of the peace this country is enjoying now.
Q What is the kind of role you played to bring peace?
If I remained with the LTTE, the war could not have been won. Neither the Government nor the LTTE would have been able to win. Fighting would have continued up to this very day. It was only after I broke ranks with the LTTE that the Government got the opportunity to defeat the LTTE. That has to be appreciated.
Q What is the role you played against the LTTE after defecting from the organization?
I did not do anything. I tried to bring peace to Sri Lanka. I along with others went to Norway and other places for peace talks. We had several rounds of talks. Prabhakaran did not like it. So, I came out. Cadres from the east were the strength of the LTTE. After I left, their strength was reduced. I was the LTTE commander at that time. I commanded the war on behalf of the LTTE.
President Sirisena promised the TNA that all army camps would be withdrawn within 100 days after assuming power. Nothing happened. Two years have passed. Economically, the country is on a downward spiral.
Q Did you fight against the LTTE militarily after the defection?
I did not do anything. I did not fight against the Government. I joined the Government to build the rapport between the two communities.
Q How did your departure from the LTTE happen?
It was after the six rounds of peace talks. We were in Oslo at that time. Nothing had happened during the talks held before. However we enjoyed the various foods that were served and returned. The Scandinavian facilitators asked us to make a breakthrough. We were asked to initiate some agreement in this regard. They gave a paper to both sides asking for a commitment towards a Federal solution. The LTTE delegation did not like to sign the paper. Anton Balasingham, as the Chief Negotiator of the LTTE, did not want to sign it without permission from Prabhakaran.
I encouraged him to sign it. After the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi, India banned the outfit as a terrorist organization. Then, 26 other countries followed suit. Alongside, the September 11 attack took place. Then, the entire world decided to destroy all forms of terrorism. I wanted to save the LTTE under these developments in the global arena. After that, Anton Balasingham signed it. On the other side, Prof. G.L. Peiris signed it. He is alive even today. Therefore, you can get it verified from him. Once we returned to Wanni, Prabhakaran did not agree to it. He scolded us saying that we betrayed those who were fighting the war.
I tried to tell him that we did not agree to a Federal solution. We agreed only to consider it. Then, I asked him to proceed with the war if he wanted. Afterwards, I broke ranks with him.
Q How did you escape the LTTE?
I knew Prabhakaran very well. I knew how he operated. That is why, he could not target me at any time. I returned to Batticaloa and disbanded my cadres. I sent 6000 cadres to their parents. I went to Colombo along with then MP Ali Zahir Moulana. We stayed ten days at Hilton Hotel. I had talks with the Government and went into hiding.
Q How important are the forthcoming local polls?
It is very important. However, my ultimate aim is to have a Tamil as a Chief Minister in the east. That is what I aim at. We are checking the ground situation with regard to the upcoming election. If the Tamils vote for one party overwhelmingly at a provincial councils election here, we can obtain 11 or 12 seats. The Muslims can obtain less than nine seats. The Sinhalese can obtain eight seats. If we obtain 11 seats, we can form the council in cooperation with the Sinhalese members. Earlier, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan was appointed the Chief Minister following my request. When I was in India, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came to meet me and discussed these matters.
They are carrying out propaganda. If we want to counter the TNA, we need yet another Tamil party. The national political parties cannot do it. Tamil people need strong political leaders
Q Are you in touch with India?
We have some contacts with the High Commission of India here. India cannot do anything here. Tamil Nadu politicians talk about Sri Lankan Tamils only during their elections. We have to maintain links with our
Q You are held responsible for some atrocities committed by the LTTE at that time. These include the massacre of Bhikkhus in Arantalwa, Muslim devotees in Kattankudy etc. What is your response?
Many incidents happened during those days. Both sides were responsible for them. Many Tamil people were also killed. The LTTE also killed many people. We have to admit that too. I did not personally get involved. The LTTE intelligence units carried out bomb blasts and all. I regret all these things. We do not want to dig into the past. The past is the past. We lost a lot. I also lost my brother. I cannot get him back. I ask all the communities not to dig into the past. We have to live in harmony with each other.
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