Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader Douglas Devananda who currently serves as the Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Minister of the Cabinet speaks to Daily Mirror on a wide range of issues from the planned Northern Provincial Council election to the alleged land-grabbing in the north. Minister Devananda stood against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) even during the height of terrorism. He survived many a suicide bomb attack that targeted him. He is a former militant who underwent training. He joined the democratic stream after the signing of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord which introduced the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Q:Nowadays, there is talk about the Northern Provincial Council. There are views for and against it. How important is this election in your perspective?
It is my dream to have the Northern Provincial Council constituted. I look forward to it. It is important in a different context. The Tamil people were confronted with three issues mainly - denial of political rights, absence of developmental activities in their areas and LTTE terrorism. Terrorism has been wiped out now. Development of the north has been fast tracked. It means the two problems have been sorted out. Yet, there remains the political question that needs to be addressed. For it, the Constitution of the Northern Provincial Council is important as the first step. We can start with the meaningful implementation of the Constitution. I am not asking for the sun and the moon. What I ask for is a practical step. I consider President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the father of the nation because he defeated terrorism, an act considered impossible by many. If you demand the pound of flesh at once, you will not get it at once. You should not be adamant in your demand. You get whatever possible initially. That is practical with daily life as well.
" People in the south will feel suspicious if such powers are given to the north. Likewise, people in the north will feel suspicious if these powers are not given. Therefore, the devolution of these two powers can be held back for the time being "
Q:Yet, there is opposition in the south against the devolution of police and land powers to the Provincial Council under the 13th Amendment which provided for the establishment of the Provincial Council system. You are an advocate of the 13th Amendment. What are your views on it?
There is currently misunderstanding between the communities over the devolution of land and police powers. People in the south will feel suspicious if such powers are given to the north. Likewise, people in the north will feel suspicious if these powers are not given. Therefore, the devolution of these two powers can be held back for the time being until better understanding is created among the communities over the matter. The Northern Provincial Council can be constituted sans these powers for the moment. It does not mean that I do not want police and land powers. They are needed. For the time being only, it can be held back.
Q:If the election is held, will you contest the election as the Chief Ministerial candidate?
As I said, the constitution of this council is my dream. I feel that I should contest. However, the President asked me once not to contest because he did not want to lose a Tamil Minister in his Cabinet. He asked me this right in front of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a couple of years ago in the Maldives, during the SAARC summit. The Indian Prime Minister is a witness to it. I still feel I should contest.
Q:Will you make a decision on your own or listen to the President’s request?
The President is the father of the nation. I have to initiate a dialogue with him on this matter. So far, there have been casual discussions. I should enter into formal dialogues with the government.
Q:At previous elections such as the Parliamentary election, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won in the north. The ruling alliance which you represented polled only the second highest number of votes. Then, how confident are you of winning this election planned to be held in September?
At the 2010 Parliamentary election, I expected to win the Jaffna district with six seats including the bonus member’s. Yet, in the run-up to the election, there was a case in which a youth was abducted and killed. A TNA politician was responsible for it, but they put the blame on me. I had to bear the brunt of it, although I was not responsible at all. The TNA carried out malicious propaganda against me. That is the main case for me being relegated to the second position. Still, I polled the highest number of preferential votes. For me, the TNA stands for ‘Tiger Nominated Agents’.
Q:At this election, will you field candidates under the Veena symbol of your EPDP or under the Betel symbol of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)?
Most of my supporters and well-wishers believe that I can perform better under the Veena symbol. That is the general feeling. However, I should discuss it with the government. These are matters pending at the moment to be agreed upon.
Q:Are you sure that the government will conduct this election?
When rainy clouds are there in the sky, one can anticipate that it is going to rain.
Q:Also, do you still stick to your demand that the north and the east should be re-merged?
It is up to the people to decide. Yet, it is more like a settled issue now. Nobody talks about it now. Even the TNA refers to it only in their election manifestos.
" As I said, the constitution of this council is my dream. I feel that I should contest. However, the President asked me once not to contest because he did not want to lose a Tamil Minister in his Cabinet "
Q:Countries such as the United States (US) and India have taken an interest in this election. What do you think of such interest by external parties?
Everybody is interested in it. They may have their own agendas to have this election. My interest is always different to theirs. I want genuine national reconciliation.
Q:Apart from politics, there are allegations about land-grabbing in the north. Is there any element of truth in these allegations?
I am also not happy with the way the land issue is being handled by the authorities concerned. I will take up this matter with the government. The TNA raised this issue. They have a different interest. My interest is different to theirs. They do not want the problem to be solved. They want to thrive on it for political expedience.