The leader of the newly formed Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) Mano Ganesan in an interview with the Dailymirror stated that the Alliance would focus on the Tamils in the South, mainly, and that they should not get attention from the International community at the cost of Tamils in the North. Also he stated that all Tamil political parties coming under one umbrella would be a distant reality. Furthermore he says that he wants to be the President of Sri Lanka but unfortunately with the existing political system politicians like him who represents the minorities cannot be so.
Q.The Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) consists of the Democratic People’s Front (DPF), the National Union of Workers and Up-country Peoples’ Front. Whom are you representing and why did you not think of forming an Alliance with TNA?
Well, you have two issues in that. First, we are representing the Tamil people who are residing outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Tamil population in the country as per the 2011 census is 3.2 million. Nearly 50% out of this population, that is about 1.5 million, live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces, namely the Central, Western, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, North-Western and Southern Provinces; that is, in the Districts of Nuwara-Eliya, Kandy, Matale, Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Badulla, Monaragala, Galle and Puttalam. We are representing these people. What I mentioned was the geography. The demography is this. We have three segments of Tamils living in these areas. First is the Up-Country Tamils who live in the central region, second is Tamils who have migrated from the Northern Eastern Provinces and settled in the Western Province and thirdly Tamils who are neither of upcountry origin nor North Eastern origin, but born and bred in Colombo who are mostly Indian in origin, primarily speaking Tamil, a little Malayalam and Telugu and following the Hindu, Christian and Islam faiths. Our Alliance represents all three segments.
You are asking why we are not in alliance with the TNA. That will be an all-island Tamil alliance. We have no immediate necessity to form an all-Island Tamil Alliance. To my knowledge the TNA is also not interested, because the ground conditions of the north and south are different. We are mostly living in a cosmopolitan atmosphere as minorities, with the Sinhalese in the South. We are just out of a bloody racist war. We can’t do anything that will be misunderstood by the Sinhala community or we can’t allow the racists here to use our emergence as a tool for their political survival. Besides our destiny is equally linked to the Sinhalese as it is linked to the Tamils of the North. Yes, we trust that we have an understanding with the TNA. It is the democratic leadership party of the Tamil community living in the North and East.
QOn the day of the formation of the Alliance you said Tamils have no powerful leadership to address their grievances. What are the reasons you see that Tamils do not have a powerful leadership?
I was talking about the Tamils in the south. What I said was that local communities and the international community (IC) considered that the Tamil problem in this country centred only in the Northern Province. Therefore they consider the TNA as representing all the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both these stances are wrong. The Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces are technically ignored. We primarily represent them. I wanted to bring these facts to the attention of the Srilankan communities and the international community. Tamils in the South should receive national and international attention.
However, I do not want Tamils in the South to get attention at the cost of Tamils in the North and East who had suffered historically. I have always stood for them and will continue to do so. What I demand is that we too need focus and attention. Do not ignore us. It is the message.
We have not obtained reasonable attention in the nation after delivering nearly 650,000 Tamil votes in the seven provinces outside the North and East at the last presidential election.
The other issue is when the LTTE was ruling, it was a fight for a separate Tamil state. So the total attention was on the LTTE. People who were not in an agreement with the LTTE were voiceless. Now the LTTE is not there. The separate Eelam demand has been dropped. Even the TNA has stated that they would settle within an undivided Sri Lanka. We too are part of this undivided Sri Lanka. Hence, we demand attention. As political parties, we were performing separately. Now we have come together establishing a powerful leadership. It is the TPA.
Q The TPA has stated that they would be considering the issues of Sinhala and Muslim communities and not only Tamils. Don’t’ you think it would have been more practical to join a mainline Political Party such as the SLFP or the UNP if you are to consider a wide spectrum?
I would love to do that because I am a Srilankan patriot. But regretfully I do not see any national party with a Sri Lankan identity. Even the UNP is a Sinhala nationalist party with liberal faces, and so is the SLFP. So until these parties transform themselves as real national parties we, the minority communities, will have to establish our own ethnic platforms. Theoretically I follow the concept of Sri Lankan nationalism. But in practice I am forced to conduct my party on ethnic lines. Take India; despite all those religious and ethnic tensions, the majority of Hindu leaders are following a well-guarded policy of accommodation. A Muslim can become a President of India. A Sikh can become a Prime Minister there. The Khans can rule the Indian Cinema. You have minorities performing in many fields in India with their merits. This is the general situation in India. But it does not happen here. We are living in ethnically charged conditions.
Veluppillai Prabakaran did not create these conditions. But he contributed to this situation and it has become worse. But this situation was there since independence, well before Prabakaran came into the equation.
Founders of both the UNP and SLFP should be blamed. Let these parties as elder brothers, change, and we as younger brothers will follow. Those who demand me to dissolve my party and join a major party should address this dark reality. If these issues are addressed I will dissolve my party and join a major party or transform my party into a multi-ethnic one. I want to be the President of this country. I believe I am qualified to be so, but because I am a Tamil I cannot be so.
Q You said the Alliance would bring up the issues faced by the Tamils in the South. What are the specific issues you have identified that need urgent attention?
The whole country faces the national issue. The central point of this is power devolution. The power sharing is demanded by the TNA and also the Muslim parties. But when it comes to the South, primarily to the up-country, the Tamil community is sidelined. The policy makers mix up the trade union demands with political demands. Out of the 1.5 million Tamils who live outside the North and East, only 250,000 are plantations workers. The rest do not belong to the working class. They are professionals, industrialists, farmhands, traders, state and private sector employees. It is wrong to identify the whole community as plantation people and consider the issues only as plantation trade union issues. We will meet the trade union issues at the trade union forum. But now we have a political forum too. It is TPA. The backward-looking up-country leadership was keeping our people isolated for their own self-centred reasons. But we are looking ahead and are progressive. Our demands are going to bring our people into the national mainstream and limelight. The progressive demands would help us to live with equality and respect among the Sinhala community in peace.
I can give you one example. The lowest layer of power sharing in this country is Pradeshiya Sabha (PS). The nation has some criteria for the PS. There are Pradeshiya Sabhas for nearly 15,000 people in the eastern and northern provinces. For example Vavuniya south bordering Anuradhapura has a Sinhala population of about 10,000-15,000. There is a PS. We welcome this. But in Nuwara-Eliya district, the Ambagamuwa PS and Nuwara-Eliya PS have a population of 200,000 each. It means we have just two Pradeshiya Sabhas for a population of 400,000. This is serious discrimination. We demand these two Sabhas to be fragmented and made into at least 15 Sabhas with a population of nearly 26,000 each. This demand has never been considered by this government or previous governments.
TNA officially demands the merger of the northern and eastern provinces. SLMC demands to merge Muslim areas towards a coastal Muslim district in the east. We can also demand to the merger of the Ambagamuwa PS and Nuwara-Eliya PS to be made into a separate district. But we are not asking for such a merger. We require just the opposite. It is for the governmental arm, the administrative power, democratic legislative power, to reach the most deprived people in the upcountry.
Also equality of the Tamil language is a serious issue in our areas. Tamil is a national language but it is restricted to paper. A bi-lingual policy should be implemented in all the provinces with strict state monitoring. Also we demand one Tamil Minister each in the cabinets of Central, Uva, Western, Sabaragamuwa and North Western PCs of the said provinces through an arrangement in the PC law. We have this in the Central and Uva for the time being, but without legality. The law restricts cabinets of the PCs to five, with the CM. Make it three Sinhala Ministers, one Tamil and one Muslim Minister. That would be fair and would support the reconciliation in this country.
Q In 2010 you stated that an Alliance of minor parties would not be sufficient to form a government. Do you think the current Alliance (TPA) is powerful enough to face the up-coming elections?
Yes, our Alliance cannot alone form a government of our own. But we can add the necessary piece of power to the major party alliance which could form a government. If a major party can collect 95 points without the rest of the 5 it would not be a hundred. Five is small but you need that five.
Q What is your plan for the up-coming general election?
We are now in the post presidential election period. TPA is working closely with the President and Prime Minister. My party, DPF has been working with the UNP for the past fifteen years. The other two parties in our Alliance have been with different post-election alliances from time to time. Though we technically work closely with the UNP, we have not discussed anything with the UNP so far in respect of the general elections.
Also I should say is that we are also a part of President Maithripala Sirisena’s mandate. Some tend to think that Tamil votes came from the North and East only. Tamil votes came from our provinces too. We are comfortable working with him too, as the leader of the SLFP. We are looking for a national government after the next elections, with President Maithripala and Premier Ranil Wickremasinghe. They are the best political pair that this country has ever seen. We trust TPA will obtain the right placements in the next stable government led by them, in the interests of our people and country.
QDo you consider contesting with the TNA?
We have no immediate intentions of contesting with the TNA, although in a recent news brief my good friend MP Sumanthiran stated that the TNA was considering contesting from the South. I am not too sure whether that is the view of the TNA. As a party they are welcome to contest anywhere in the country. There are invitations to TPA to contest from the districts of Killinochchi and Vanni in the North. But we are not interested. Alternatively, we seek understandings with the Tamil parties in the North and East including TNA and TNPF led by Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam.
QWhat is the position of the TPA with regard to the 20th Amendment?
Now there has been a school of thought that minority parties are blocking the 20th amendment from becoming a part of the law of the country. I totally disagree. It is not so. We also want the electoral reforms, to do away with the preferential voting system. We too want MPs to represent specific electorates.
But at the same time the electoral reformists conveniently forget the positive side of the current PR system. This is the best system which paved the way for minor and minority groups to get representations in the Parliament, PCs and LG councils. This is what you call democracy. We have had discussions over 20A to keep the PR spirit and repair the shortcomings. The high point to us is the de-limitation process which needs to be conducted impartially.
TPA has reservations with the current “FPP 125+DPR 75+NPR 25=Total 225” formula. Minor parties require new single member and multi member electorates through the de-limitation process. It is a reasonable demand since the last de-limitation in this country occurred 40 years ago. The new de-limitation commission cannot accommodate minority aspirations without the radius increased. We trust the best formula will be “FPP 150+DPR 70+NPR 25=Total 245”.
QWhat do you think about any possibility of all Tamil political parties coming under one political party?
That is a distant reality. Now we have the TPA. Then there is TNA and CWC. We are unable to work with CWC because it is more of a trade union than a political party. Besides we consider CWC as a reactionary backward-looking entity. We are unable to sit down and discuss politics with them. Regarding TNA, we have to work with the reality. We cannot take decisions based on Tamil nationalist emotions alone.
Q There is a movement to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back in power. What do you think about this?
He was defeated in a democratic manner. He was President twice and was once a Prime Minister. Isn’t it enough for him? Why does he need to come back? Isn’t there any suitable personality in the SLFP to lead the Party? I have no doubt that Mr Rajapaksa is trying to come back not in the interest of the country but to protect the Rajapaksa clan and the friends from the long arm of the law.
Q People who are in the estate sector are under-privileged. Do you have any plans to get their rights as they are being trampled and battered in many aspects?
They are the most under-developed segment in this country. They require an affirmative action programme. That is to give special consideration to them in social and cultural aspects. Then they can at least reach the national levels. TPA has a vision for the plantation community. We are working on it.
Q Is India backing and behind your Alliance?
India is behind everybody here. Even MR during his tenure accepted at Buddhagaya in India that the Sinhalese came to this island from India and were of Indian origin. The Mahawansa states that Prince Vijeya came from the Indian mainland and married Kuveni here. Later he chased Kuveni, and got his princess from the Pandiya kingdom in South India. The last independent kings of this country were Nayakkars from the kingdom of Madurai. India has been with us throughout. But India is not backing our Alliance. We believe in us and we believe in this country. We do not want any foreign country to back us. We are progressive and patriotic. I as the leader of TPA can state this clearly.