Q. During the last few days the media was highlighting your visit to an Army camp and the fuss some sections of the Joint Opposition was making about it. There had been a complaint too about it. Is this true and what is your opinion about it?
I will tell you what happened exactly. I went to Kilinochchi where I addressed a meeting in the compound of the house of the MP for Kilinochchi. In the course of the meeting people raised several issues with me, particularly land issues. There were many who complained that their lands for which they held deeds had been acquired by the Army and that such lands had not been returned to them although the Army itself was not using those lands. After the meeting ended several women told me that the lands they complained about were on the other side of the road, meaning that they were opposite the place where the meeting was held. On the other side of the road there was a Murugan temple and they said their lands were behind that temple. I went to those lands with some of the people and looked around. Nobody stopped me or told that I cannot go. There were some soldiers around too. On inspection I observed that there were a number of houses which were unoccupied. What the people told me was therefore true. Some people identified and claimed that some of the houses belonged to them. I was not there for more than twenty minutes.
In fact a part of the land has been released but there are lands still being kept. I told them I will take it up with the government in due course. I have done this earlier. Some time ago I went to Valikamam in Jaffna where Army had occupied several plots of land. There too people complained their lands were in Army hands but the lands were not being put to any use although crops cultivated before. Due to Army’s involvement they cannot get back to their occupation. When I returned and spoke to the President, he took action to release some of the lands. Hence I assured the people in Kilinochchi that I will take up their matter too.
When I was coming back to Jaffna my security officer received a call from a senior military official who had wanted to speak to me.When he did, he apologised for not sending someone from the Army take me around. He also told me that if I had informed of his intended visit earlier they [Army]would have met him. I told him I had no intention of going [to the Army camp] and that I was to meet some people who had made a request me to inspect some lands. Nobody questioned me. Some filthy politicians in this country are determined to poison the country’s environment so they can thrive politically. What I have told you is the truth and nothing but the truth. My security personnel who are all Sinhalese officers would confirm that. I appeal to the people not to believe this racist propaganda that is being carried out by some politicians for their personal benefits not realising the immense harm they are doing to the country.
Q. So you deny all these allegations against you?
I deny all these allegations, which are baseless and false.
Q. As the opposition leader of the country, do you think politicians should have access to visit to Army camps or bases whenever they wish?
As a democratically-elected leader of the people I would always like to ascertain the truth. But I have never believed in working in a spirit of confrontation. Visiting that area was not my plan and it was something which came up unexpectedly. When I visited Valikamam some months ago I was shown from a distance the palatial bungalows constructed during the last regime and I wanted see them. So I contacted the Secretary of Defence and got his approval to see them. My visit to that area was perfectly innocent and it was with the objective of ascertaining the truth.
Q.A Few days ago the Northern Provincial council passed a resolution presented by the TNA demanding a separate province for Tamil speaking people. This is to be presented to you on April 28. Do you think this is what Tamil people want?
The Government is engaged in framing a constitution for the country which will also contain constitutional provisions relating to the resolution of the national question, the future of the Tamil-speaking people in this country.
Various individuals and organisations are expressing their views regarding this matter. There has been a committee that has been going around the country and listening to different views of people and organisations.
The NPC has also come up with proposals which they think are appropriate to the resolution of the Tamil question. The two issues that have faced criticism are; the proposal pertaining to a federal arrangement and the proposal pertaining to the Northern and Eastern Provinces substantially Tamil Speaking areas being regarded as one unit in power sharing. This is nothing new.
These matters were in the public discourse for a long time.
On his return from the United Kingdom it was S.W.R.D Bandaranaike in the mid 1920s who proposed a federal arrangement for this country. He wrote several articles urging a federal arrangement. In 1929 before the Donoughmore Commission the Kandyan League advocated a federal constitution. They proposed three units of power-sharing in the country. The first comprised of the territory of the Kandyan Kingdom, the second comprising of the territory under the Low-Country Sinhala Kingdom and the third comprising of the North and the East, the Tamil speaking areas in the country, where there was also a Tamil kingdom.
This is more or less what the Northern Provincial Council has proposed. The Kandyan leaders went before the Soulbury Commission before we got independence and proposed a federal arrangement. The Tamils did not demand federalism before the country became independent.It is the Sinhalese who wanted federalism.When the Tamils of Indian origin were deprived of their citizenship and disenfranchised after independence, Mr. Chelvanayagam in 1952, for the first time, demanded a federal arrangement. He formed the Federal Party but he contested a Jaffna seat in 1952 and was defeated by Mr. S. Nadesan of the United National Party. The Federal Party was able to win only two seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 1952. Even after the formation of the Federal party Tamil people did not accept federalism.
Contrary to the policy that prevailed before independence that both Sinhala and Tamil would be official languages in this country, when Sinhala only was made the official language and Tamil was deprived of its rightful place, the Federal Party in 1956 swept the election. They was substantially victorious. It was the majority Sinhala leadership that pushed the Tamil people towards federalism.
Federalism is a constitutional arrangement for the sharing of political power which prevails in many countries world over and had been successfully worked; India, Nigeria, Australia, Canada and Switzerland to name a few.
Q.But times have changed. After thirty years of war do you think people still want federalism?
People want genuine power sharing; have a referendum in the North and the East and decide. With regard to the linguistic character of the Northern and Eastern Provinces it has been accepted under the Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam pact and also under the Dudley Senanayake Chelvanayagam pact. It has been accepted under the 1978 Sri Lankan constitution. Also it has been accepted under the Indo- Sri Lanka agreement signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandhi and President J.R.
Jayawardene. It was implemented under the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which prevailed for over 18 years and was terminated on the basis that there was a procedural flaw with regard to the merger by the Supreme Court in 2006. That procedural flaw needs to be corrected and the status quo restored. That is all that the Northern Provincial Council has proposed in its proposal. The NPC wants of a solution within a framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka. Nowhere does it demand the division of the country or the unity of the country being eroded. It is merely making proposals which are consistent with proposals that had been made earlier.
Q.Don’t you think such a proposal promotes separatism? And as the “authentic representatives of Tamils” as you claim, don’t you also think it will affect the ethnic harmony and reconciliation?
No, I do not think so. I think it is necessary that reconciliation and good will must be built on people being informed of the truth and properly educated. The people should know the true position. You can’t expect Tamil people to make proposals in keeping with the compulsion of others. If this conflict is to be resolved the Tamil people should have the right to make proposals which they think are necessary to resolve this conflict.
We should all come together and discuss all the proposals and make decisions.
Q. About a year ago you stated in Parliament that Tamil People need an honourable solution. Do you think that they have received an honourable solution under Maithripala Sirisena’s government?
After the new government came in to power and after Mr Maithripala Sirisena became the President on 9th of January 2015 and Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister in August 2015, this country has taken a path different from that of the previous regime particularly in uniting multilingual, multicultural pluralist sections of Sri Lankan society. A lot needs to be done but the journey has commenced. While we would like quicker movement by the government on many fronts that have serious impact on the lives of our people we realize the change that has come around. The new constitution and what it will state as the supreme law of the country will undoubtedly have a very major influence on the thinking of the people in this country.
Framers of the new constitution have the responsibility to weld the distinct peoples who inhabit this country in to a single Sri Lankan nation. That is going to be the acid test in regard to whether there will be an honourable solution.
Q. As the opposition leader how do you see the opposition today? Is it strong?
Merely because you are in the opposition it is not your duty only to change the government or think only about the fall of the government. Persons in the opposition want to come into office. That should not be the primary purpose of the opposition. The purpose of the opposition should be to function constructively to ensure that the government functions for the benefit of the people.
Q. The new national government is returning the lands occupied by the Army to the original owners in the North and East where people have can make public protests. Don’t you think this is positive political change in the country?
I think I have already answered that question. On the question of land, there are residential lands on which people have lived for centuries and the houses that were built on these lands have been destroyed.There is also farming land owned by people that had provided them a source of living. But they are still under the Armed forces. Some lands are being used by the members of the armed forces for their own purposes. Some lands are remaining unused. The land owners should be able to return to their lands. It is almost seven years since the war came to an end but little happened during the past regime. There is no need for any more delays in returning these lands.It is fundamental to reconciliation.
Pics by Waruna Wanniarachchi