Starting his political career as a member of the Leftist movement, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Rajitha Senaratne has always cut a rebellious figure in Sri Lanka’s political arena. Despite being a Cabinet minister, his position against the move by the Government to revise the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has caused ripples within the ruling coalition and the political arena. In a candid conversation with the Daily Mirror, Minister Senaratne reinforced his commitment to the 13A and did not mince his words about the hardliners who campaign for its repeal. Following are some excerpts from the interview with him.
Q:Recently, you have been quite vociferous about the 13th Amendment. What are you conditions for supporting it?
The dialogue for the 13th Amendment started in the 1980s with the introduction of the Indo-Lanka Pact by President J. R. Jayawardena. During the time we were in the opposition but we took it up as a national issue and supported the government. We are not claiming it is the supreme solution to the ethnic issue, but we believe that it is a positive step towards arriving at an acceptable solution.
Throughout the past few years, every time a solution to the ethnic issue was proposed by a government to be implemented, the opposition leaders have blocked it merely to gain political mileage. For example, when Bandaranaike brought it up, it was opposed by J R Jayewardene; on the next round, J R proposed a solution but Sirimavo Bandaranaike opposed it.
As a result of these political games, the country and its people were traumatised with the blood bath that resulted when the extremists took up arms – both the Sinhalese and the Tamils. I view these two extremisms as two sides of the same coin; the Sinhala extremism nourishes Tamil communalism and vice versa. I have always been against terrorism.
I am a Buddhist and the lesson I learnt in Buddhism taught me to be a good human-being, to respect other religions and ethnicities. We are the majority in this country and I believe we should stand against suppression of other ethnicities and this is a stance that is promoted clearly even in all types of philosophies, be it Materialism, idealism or Marxism.
I strongly believe the 13th Amendment is a step forward towards the equality of all citizens. Even when I was arrested and almost put behind bars by former President Chandrika Kumaratunge, I made my stance clear through a speech in parliament – I made a pledge to support and vote for her solution to the ethnic issue, even when I was on the verge of being imprisoned. I did not change my stance then and I won’t change it now.
Q: Since recently, unruly behaviour and power abuse by provincial councillors have worsened, the latest example being the incident where a teacher was forced to kneel down before a provincial politician. Don’t you think a power devolution structure would further exacerbate the abuse of power by provincial politicians? Also, would it not result in a higher wastage of resources to restructure the existing system?
Do you believe these rogues are only appointed to provincial councils and not to Parliament? These incidents are a reflection of the society; the society has degraded and politicians are part of the society, whether they are provincial councilors or parliamentarians. Corruption and abuse of power will exist in any powerhouse as long as the society remains unchanged.
If the power devolution system is a waste of money why has it been implemented in a majority of developed countries in the world including US, China and India? Some argue that a power devolution structure is not practical for Sri Lanka because this is a small country, then why has it been successfully implemented in countries such as Belgium and Switzerland? Let’s take India for example. They have even implemented a power devolution structure in the state of Pondicherry.
Secession has been mitigated in many parts of the world by devolving and sharing power. Power was shared throughout the history of Sri Lanka and the unitary status was created by the British. The ‘Gam sabha’, ‘Rata sabha’ systems during the medieval rule are evidence of it; that is why every single village of this country, no matter how small it is, has a name. Those who brag about the ancient history and the legacy of the Sinhalese kings have failed to understand that those very kings supported and enacted power sharing within the kingdom. So those who speak against devolution of power are the pro-Westerners.
Instead of following and revering the triple gems, these activists could chant ‘Mahinda saranang gachchami, Basil saranang gachchami, Chamal saranang gachchami, Namal saranang gachchami and Gota saranang gachchami … ‘
Q:What is your opinion of the hard-line parties who call for the repeal of powers of the 13th Amendment?
King Dutugemunu is one of the heroic Sinhalese kings and history provides clear reflections about his attitude towards other ethnicities. It is said in Mahavamsa, that following his victory, he had first given a respectable burial to his enemy King Elara and had given orders to respect his monument and to ensure the protection of the Dravidians in the country. He understood very well, the importance of a country’s stability towards its economy and development. Our kings fought against invaders but they were never communal like the modern Dutugemunus.
Q: Those who argue against the implementation of the 13th Amendment claim that it is constitutionally invalid because a referendum wasn’t held. What is your view on it?
Was there a referendum held for the Soulbury constitution which was prepared in the UK and implemented in Sri Lanka? Were referendums held in 1972 during the implementation of the Janaraja Constitution or for the 1978 Constitution during the time of J R Jayawardena? So why specially call for a referendum for this amendment?
But for those seeking the endorsement of a referendum, in 1988 the five-sixth majority in parliament and the provincial council elections, where millions voted irrespective of the death threats of the JVP and the vigorous campaign carried out by Mrs. Bandaranaike to boycott the elections should offer a hint.
Q: Recently you made quite a controversial statement in a public rally about a ‘culture’ of revering the Rajapaksas. While being a member of the Cabinet in the coalition government, are you questioning the allegiance of the public to the key players of the government?
My statement was about how the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and several Buddhist organizations are demanding the President and the government to implement laws to restore and strengthen Buddhism. But Buddha himself never adopted a strategy of appealing to rulers. The Jethawanarama was located next to a piggery and it is said when Buddha was residing there, the King used to pay daily visits to him. Did Buddha ask the King to remove the piggery? No! Instead he used the weapons of his philosophy and teachings against animal slaughter, to encourage people into boycotting consumption of meat. So, if those campaigning for Buddhism wish to strengthen the hold of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, they should preach the Buddhist philosophy. What is the use of revering Buddha, Dhamma and Sanga if everything can be achieved by the Rajapaksa government? Instead of following and revering the triple gems, these activists could chant ‘Mahinda saranang gachchami, Basil saranang gachchami, Chamal saranang gachchami, Namal saranang gachchami and Gota saranang gachchami … ‘
This trend of depending on a single individual is a result of the presidential system that led to the collapse of the party system and its power. It is the individual that is being highlighted not the party. The individual’s policies are turned into party policies. The same group of politicians who followed Chandrika with one set of policies now tries to curry favour with Mahinda with a completely contrasting set of policies.
But I have never changed my policies depending on the individual and have remained consistent. I have been very consistent with my principles. Even the President opposes to this system of individualism and he has urged the people to come out with their ideas. A lot of politicians in the government are silent but they are with us. I am certain of it 100% and they have assured that the day attempts are made to repeal the powers of the 13th Amendment they would stand against it.
Q: During a press conference held on Monday, SLFP member Reginald Cooray said the pro-13th Amendment stance is the stance of the SLFP as well. Would you say the same?
Yes! The ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ very clearly endorses power devolution and even when we joined the coalition government, we didn’t expect positions but presented two conditions – to end the war and to provide a political solution to the ethnic issue. I will produce the document very soon, where all these Sinhala nationalists who rally for the repeal of the 13th Amendment had in fact ratified it for a solution even beyond the 13A at the All Party Representative Commission under Professor Tissa Vitarana, including the JHU and their mentor Prof. Nalin De Silva.
Q: Do you think that the voice of the SLFP within the coalition is being drowned out by that of the NFF and JHU?
I don’t think the SLFP is being drowned out because they are the silent majority. Even Keheliya Rambukwella made it very clear that the stance of the JHU or NFF, on the 13th Amendment was neither the stance of the SLFP nor the government while on the same stage with Wimal Weerawansa. The individuals who supported the Sudu Nelum campaign endorsed the federal system.
These hardliners are only interested in day to day politics. We are not interested in such politics, we entered the political arena for a certain cause and we will stand by it, or we will leave. We don’t want power that is reaped through dividing the country and its people. There will be no future for the country if disharmony among ethnicities is encouraged. After the end of the war, the country was politically stable and it made a positive impact on the economy. But now, that political stability is no longer there, who is responsible for this situation?
Q: Years later, do you now feel like you made the right call by crossing over to the coalition government? Have you found your place in the Rajapaksa government? Also, you had a clash with one of the members of the coalition government over the collection of ransom in the Peliyagoda fish market. Don’t you feel like you are making enemies within the coalition itself?
Firstly, your idea about political power and mine are different. We entered the political arena campaigning for power without a parliament under the socialist movement. Our interests never lay in positions or money, but our beliefs have altered a little and now we do believe in the parliamentary system, there is no doubt about it. But my visions never faltered to this day and that is why, to this day I am content with my journey in politics. I want to earn a name for myself because I believe that is the only permanent gain. I have seen enough of my colleagues drowning in power and losing the people’s faith they earned and I am resolute not to repeat their mistakes.
I want to survive within the coalition government and I do support Mahinda. I had a good place in the UNP but in spite of it, I crossed over because I wanted to be part of the movement to liberate the country. I supported Mahinda even during the time we were on opposing sides, but politics are one thing and friendship is another. I have known him closely since my school days but I still have my convictions.
As for making enemies, I am not worried about making enemies because of doing the right thing. I don’t mind even losing my life doing the right thing because that is what will remain eventually. It is because I took the right course of action regarding the Peliyagoda fish market which the WHO delegation called it the cleanest fish market in Asia.
As a result of these political games, the country and its people were traumatised by the blood-bath that resulted when the extremists took up arms; both Sinhalese and Tamils. I view these two extremisms as two sides of the same coin
Q: You criticize politics based on a single individual but you were part of the coalition that supported the 18th Amendment that compromised the autonomy of the Independent Commissions and escalated the powers of the Executive Presidency. On what basis did you vote for the 18th Amendment?
I have never been against the Presidential system but I was against the 17th amendment when it was introduced and I have my reasons to do so. The presidential system has a good side to it because if not for it, defeating terrorism would have been tougher. But concurrently, I believe the President should be answerable to the parliament and represent all communities in the country.
In spite of the various opinions, I believe the 17th Amendment is a very liberal piece of legislation but it is very impractical for a third world country. We should first develop the country and then bring in such liberal legislations.
What is vital at present is to ensure ethnic harmony within the country and create a united nation. How can one speak of liberalism in a society where extremism exists? Marx said that socialism would emerge through capitalism where economic and social equality would exist. But the majority of the Sri Lankan society is still in a feudal mindset and how can we create a liberal state within such a society?
Q: Recently you called a politician who challenged your stance concerning the 13th Amendment, a ‘leech’. Why did you use that specific term and you said there have been other leeches as well, who were you referring to?
Throughout my political career of 25 years, I have never challenged anyone so far. So why should I do it now? I have been challenged by party leaders who even threatened me with death. But I have always maintained my convictions. So why should I now accept a challenge by a provincial councilor who opposes provincial councils while being a member of it? I don’t think its worthwhile arguing with someone of that caliber. But it seems he is bent on having an argument with me that is why I called him a leech.
Yes, I did have had similar experiences with other leeches, greater ones, and I have removed them. But I do not wish to mention their names because they are not among the living.
Q: There was a clash between you and the BBS recently. What have you got to say about it?
I don’t have any political animosity with BBS and in fact, it is my consultant who took Venerable Galaboda aththe Gnanasara thera to Norway. Venerable Gnanasara thera earlier expressed a wish to work together with me and we planned on organising a 1,000 delegate conference for the Maha Sangha at the BMICH in order to have a discussion on settling the ethnic problem in the North.
He was never against the Tamil community but later on he was dragged into the anti-Muslim agenda.
Q:With two factions being formed, for and against the 13 A, is this not the signs of a crack developing within the coalition?
It is internal party democracy and it is always good to have a dialogue. One thing I respect about those in the opposing faction is that they have maintained their stance, and that is okay because I don’t expect everybody to agree with me. I used to meet with the JHU leaders for various discussions and I will probably do so in a few days. We should argue but we should consequently try to settle into an agreement that would benefit the future generations.
Q:If by any chance, the proposed changes to repeal the powers of 13A are passed in parliament, have you and others against it thought of the next course of action?
The Sinhala leaders have made a lot of mistakes and I don’t want to be part of it. My hands are clean and free of blood-stains with concern to the ethnic question. Irrelevant of what the outcome is going to be, it is our duty to explain the right and wrong.
There were many who objected to the equal status for the Tamil language. But those who opposed are in the waste–paper baskets of history and who campaigned for it is still being remembered. It took almost forty years for Tamil language to earn its equal place and it was carried out by the daughter of the very politician who scrapped it. So, the right will achieve its rightful place eventually. Irrelevant of the outcome, we will be campaigning for the full implementation of 13 A. It will not only safeguard the country from international pressures but also help us move forward as a nation.
human rights not look at you and say you are fine. thing political social language religion movement and many more. every individual has a moral duty to fight for them. the world country does not belong to group of individual who does not know to rationalise human psychology may be educated beyond others lived abroad but need commonsense understanding what is inside your box ie the country. no need to mention heroes they are ther to do a job paid by all of us
Dinu Thursday, 27 June 2013 06:36 PM
Rajitha Senaratne was one of the frontier against war in 2006 with LTTE but demanded power to be shared with LTTE. Today same Rajitha enjoys peace in all around sri Lanka. What Rajitha says is not the view of majority people of Sri Lanka. Rajitha, Wasu and few others who little learned about left movement trying to enforce inapplicable out dated policies for Sri Lanka. People should oppose these mads and chase out from politics.
Rohana Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:06 AM
It is true power devolution should be made and every race should be treated equally in spite of their religious believes but the problem is present set of Politicians are not behaving in such a way. They are trying to be extremist. Some Tamil Politicians think that they are supreme and also thinking in the way of some politician who made a statement like we want 50-50 during the time of independence when our own politicians not telling such things. That is the thing that we have to think. Personally I am not against it
ganesh Friday, 28 June 2013 06:57 AM
Dinu How can you say now Inapplicable outdated polices? Who told Vasu and Rajitha do not know about left movment ? Provincial council system basically mooted out after much discussion between two countries to sort out the ethnic issues. Where have you been all this time to talk against this outdated things when there were many elections for these out dated councils? Some of you have woken up because something connected to a politically battered community very good keep it up
ganesh Thursday, 27 June 2013 06:26 AM
What the minister pointed out in his interview are real facts and his words of political wisdom. 50-50 meant 50 seats for majority community and 50 for all other ethnic minorities to prevent any unfair bills against them not to antagonize majority. Had it been there Sinhal only would not have been passed.
Pradani Friday, 28 June 2013 02:40 AM
Dear Editor, Will be grateful if u will pls forward this message to the Hon.Fisheries Minister. Mattegoda urgently requires a Fisheries stall managed by the Fisheries Corporation. Preferable if u open a stall in the area of the National Housing Scheme Complex. Business wud thrive on a Saturday pola day.There are two private stalls which do not give the average weight and price. They also hoodwink buyers by not giving the exact balance. Request these stalls to be closed down immediately pls. Thank u.
laksiri Friday, 28 June 2013 06:19 PM
let us have referendum to decide this mater and them no one can blame for any out come.such ministers like this man who change his party every six month to have financial benefit can be trusted and respect.
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