A member of Sri Lanka’s Marxist party that etched a radical era in the country’s political history, JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake has always been a guileless politician. In his interview with Daily Mirror he speaks of the JVP’s completely unique approach to the contentious issue of the 13 Amendment and of the policies that continue to crush the country’s Tamil community. . .
Following are the excerpts:
Q: Right from its introduction in 1987, the JVP has opposed the provincial council system. It seems the stance has not changed almost two decades afterwards as evidenced by General Secretary Tilvin Silva’s recent description of the PC system as a ‘white elephant’. What are your conditions for opposing the PC system? A: We are of the opinion that PCs are not a solution to the national issue since its structure would result in a further exacerbation of the ethnic crisis. Hence, we strongly believe that the 13A should be completely repealed.
The governments that were in power throughout the years as well as Sinhala and Tamil chauvinists created doubt and mistrust among the two communities that persists even at present. Under these circumstances, the creation of a separate provincial council for the Tamil community would only pave way for separatism.
Attempts were and are being made to convince the Tamil community that a separate zone of governance for themselves would be the sole solution to their crises. But the harsh reality is that it is a concept forcefully heaved upon the Sri Lankan Tamil community by India and certain NGOs that is not capable of bringing an effective solution to their issues.
We also believe that during the past four years since the end of the war, there are issues of grave concern that has impacted the Tamil community, which the government should have addressed promptly. The failure to do so has escalated the qualms concerning the government in the minds of those in the Tamil community. Therefore, we believe that the right course of action at present is not to scrap the PC system or hold the Northern Provincial Council elections, but to implement a combined effort where both short-term as well as long term solutions are offered to the aggrieved members of the Tamil community.
" The JHU and Wimal are only opposing and enacting drama because that is the agenda assigned to them by the Rajapaksa regime to remain in power. They are no different to a tick on a dog’s body; the tick wishes for the dog’s life to be prolonged because only then would their survival be safeguarded. "
Q: What are these issues of ‘grave concern’ which you believe the government failed to address?
A: Firstly, it is important to understand the mentality of those residing in the North. Although military personnel are perceived upon as heroes in the South, for the majority of Northerners they are the slayers of their husbands, sons and loved ones. Ideally, the government should have taken steps to recoil military personnel into camps and replace liberated Northern areas under civil administration where the rule of law is overseen by the Police.
Instead, they increased the military presence; along the route between Omanthey and Jaffna, there are some 35 shops managed by the Army. What about those arrested under suspicion of involvement with the LTTE? If the government can free the top LTTE leaders under their custody including KP, Daya Master and Thamalini, why can’t they speed up the trials of the Tamil youth under arrest? What about the refugees in the North? Over 50% of them still reside in temporary homes and most of the permanent residences have been donated by voluntary organizations, not the government.
Another burning concern in the Northern Province is the land issue. It is a complex subject and over 6,000 acres of the land in the area have already been acquired by the military for high security zones. So the government should have given priority to conducting a swift land survey to identify the original owners and thereafter acquire the necessary lands for developmental purposes. Adding insult to injury, steps have been taken to resettle some 3,000 Sinhala families from the South while the crisis of lands and their ownership still persist.
The government has also not allowed the cultural and religious practices of the people living in the North to freely flourish. This year the largest pandol was constructed in Kilinochchi as part of a Vesak Zone. This might’ve seemed like an attempt to develop religious coexistence, but it is in fact a stark act of encroachment that reflected the governing body’s reluctance to allow the cultural and religious identity of the people from the North to rise.
It has also been made abundantly clear by the government that multi-party politics is unwelcome in the North. Following the end of the war when we attempted to initiate our political activities in the province, comrade Hadunnetti was assaulted, opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe was pelted with stones. All these facts point to one thing – that the government is treating the masses of the North with a colonial mentality similar to when the British invaded Sri Lanka and claimed ownership to every human and every other resource upon this soil.
Prabhakaran justified his agenda of attempting to create a separate state for Tamils, claiming that they could never expect fair treatment from the government in the South. Back then, there were some who sided with him and some who didn’t. But during the past four years, the majority of the Tamil community has reached the conclusion that they cannot expect any justice from the Sinhala government in the South.
Q: The JVP opposes 13 A, but members of your party contest for provincial council elections. Isn’t it a contradiction of the party’s stance regarding the PC system?
A: In 1987 we were a banned political movement but our actions to oppose the PC system were then at its peak. In 1994, we entered the democratic political arena almost forcefully and it presented us with a crucial challenge - making the most of our political activities within the scope permitted under the democratic system. That is why we decided to contest every election, including the provincial council polls.
However, even while we were part of the coalition government, we never accepted ministerial positions in local governing bodies because the acceptance would in turn have contributed to the prolonging of the PC system. During decision making processes and voting, our PC members always chose the course of action that would not aid to the strengthening of the PC system.
Q: Earlier you accused various elements of heaving the concept of 13A upon the local Tamil community. As a community with a distinctly different culture and traditions, do you still believe it is unfair for them to have the right to choose their preferred form of governance?
A: I’m afraid things do not always work out in such simple sequences. Sri Lanka is a centralized, multi-ethnic, multi-religious state. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that all aspects of governance are carried out, based on that premise. The ideal course of action therefore, is to safeguard the rights of all communities. I accept that the past governments of Sri Lanka failed to safeguard equal rights to all communities, but that failure itself does not justify the creation of a separate governing structure for a particular community.
Some 51.8% of the Tamil community lives in areas outside the Northern Province. What is the message conveyed to those residing in other parts of Sri Lanka, by cementing the fact that the Northern Province is secluded to Tamils? In a country where extremist organizations such as the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) operates, a separate governing system would only lead to Tamil families in other parts of the country to be tracked and forced to resettle in the North.
Therefore, we believe that creating a separate governing zone for the Tamils in the North is in fact a grave injustice committed upon them because it will deprive others of that community, the right to live in any other part of the country.
The Tamils’ distinctly different culture, norms and traditions should be respected and preserved and ensured of equality. But dividing the country is not the answer. There is a clash between Tamils residing in the North and East. So when the Northern Tamils are provided a separate area for governance, are the Eastern province Tamils and Muslims to demand for a separate zone of governance too?
We accept the system of power devolution, but only under circumstances where conditions for divisions among ethnicities are uprooted. Unfortunately such an enviornment doesn’t exist in Sri Lanka.
Q: It took almost 40 years for the Sri Lankan government to grant Tamil language, the status of a national language. Who do you think was responsible for this delay?
A: All governments that were in power are to be blamed. They prioritized power over the wellbeing of people and the future of the country. They fueled racist campaigns – both Sinhalese and Tamil, to gain political mileage and ensure that the power was passed down within families, from one generation to the other.
How is it possible for a multi-ethnic state to have a single national language? Tamils have faced great issues due to this language issue. For example, 95% of personnel in the Police force are Sinhalese. When we lodge a complaint at a police station, it is standard practice to get the complainant to sign the grievance attesting it was read and understood. How could a Tamil citizen read and understand Sinhala? In a multi-ethnic country, it is the prime duty of the government to ensure that state institutions and departments operate in both languages. Shouldn’t the people be ensured the right to follow any religion and speak any language they wish?
Instead, the Rajapaksa regime is fueling extremism through supporting organizations such as the BBS, because they are well aware that their survival lies only by acting upon the whims and fancies of Sinhala chauvinists. But it was not only the Sinhala politicians who cultivated and fueled racism to gain political advantages, as evidenced by TULF member Kasi Anandan’s statement at a rally during 1978 general elections, where he said that one day when the Tamil Eelam was realized, he would wear a rose that was nourished by the blood of the Sinhalese, on his coat pocket.
Q: What are your views on the recently presented draft constitution by the UNP?
A: The UNP is attempting to convince the masses that the constitution is to be blamed for the present societal degradation. What they have failed to accept is that the blame lies with the country’s economic system. Their draft constitution is a suppression of the real issue. It is possible that the UNP does not wish to accept the true facts since it was they who created the present economic structure.
Certain media and individuals believe that Sri Lanka needs a regime change but we do not believe it will bring about any change, because it is only a simple transference of power from one family to another. If history is any indication, ever since the introduction of the Soulbury constitution, it has been a continuing trend to create constitutions that underpin the capitalist economy, which in turn has not really brought effective, critical changes to the country’s system.
" Some 51.8% of the Tamil community lives in areas outside the Northern Province. What is the message we are conveying to those residing in other parts of Sri Lanka, by cementing the fact that the Northern Province is secluded to Tamils? "
Q: Then in your opinion, what will bring about this ‘system change’?
A: It is the economic structure that should change; a positive development would be the creation of a constitution that would change the present economic structure into a product based economy. Sri Lanka is among the few countries in the world that imports almost all the commodities. It is only if the economy is transferred into a product based system that employment opportunities will emerge for the youth and eventually lead to the generation of national wealth.
Q: The JVP has announced that it would not participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee on the amendments to 13A and instead would present a set of proposals that would help solve the ethnic crisis. What would they entail? Do you think the public will accept them?
A: With the debate on the 13A emerging within the public and political arena, Sinhala chauvinist elements call for the repeal of the 13A while Tamil chauvinists call for its full implementation. We decided that as a party opposing to the PC system, we should draft our proposals and publicise them because we do not believe that either extremes would offer an effective solution.
Our proposals are not yet finalized, but they will include proposals on how we believe the masses should contribute to the governing system and a combined approach that would entail short-term and long-term solutions to issues faced by the Tamil community.
Whether the public accepts it or not, it is our duty as a political movement to educate the masses on our visions and views. We are confident that someday, our visions would be proven right.
Q: Tilvin silva had mentioned recently that this sudden debate on 13A is due to India’s pressures and had accused India of plundering Lankan resources. Don’t you think China too plunders our resources?
A: Both the economic and foreign policies adopted by Mahinda Rajapaksa are grossly flawed and it was well reflected during an interview he had with The Hindu where he has quite simply indicated he is on a mission to divide the country’s resources between China and India.
The difference between the two interventions is that China only interferes in the economic process. They provide us with developmental project loans but concurrently, gain the project contracts and thereby extract large profits. India on the other hand, not only interferes with the economy but also the internal politics of the country. Both countries are guilty of plundering the country’s resources, but our particular criticism of India is based on its role on the 13A.
Q: JVP seems to be undergoing a rejection by the public, with its MPs being reducing from 36 to a mere handful by now. Do you feel the cracks within the party resulted in this drawback?
A: We are not a political movement that measures our strength through elections alone. But they are an important facet of politics, and we admit we are experiencing a temporary fallback. But it is not a result of lying or plundering public wealth. We feel it is a short-term impact due to a change in the mindset of people following the end of the war etc.
But we know that even those who don’t vote in favour of the JVP wish for a JVP MP to be elected to Parliament and has faith in our members. It is this faith that will someday be converted into a powerful force.
We don’t believe cracks such as the Frontline Socialist Party impacted much on the party and neither did Wimal’s breakaway. But in the public eye, the manner in which he is making a mockery of himself has reduced the faith in the party even though he is no longer a JVP member. But we have embarked on a struggle to win it back.
Q: Do you think you will succeed?
A: Yes, we believe we will and because we believe this struggle has to be concluded within this generation.
Q: The hard-line parties such as JHU and NFF also call for the repeal of the 13A. One might think the JVP is on a similar stand with them. What are your comments?
A: Our reasons for opposing this are very different. It was this government that fueled ethnic divisions during the past four years. None of these hard-line parties cried foul when this government harassed politicians of the opposition or murdered journalists or when Tamil youths were imprisoned while top LTTE leaders were freed.
The objections brought forward by the hard-line parties on the 13A have no basis or worth, because it was they who contributed towards the division of the country in their roles as cabinet members. The JHU and Wimal are only opposing and enacting drama because that is the agenda assigned to them by the Rajapaksa regime to remain in power. They are no different to a tick on a dog’s body; the tick wishes for the dog’s life to be prolonged because only then would their survival be safeguarded.
Q: Since JVP opposes the 13A, is it likely that you and other JVP MPs would vote in favour of the government proposals to repeal powers of the 13A?
A: We have not yet made a decision but we are well aware that they are not presented to genuinely prevent the country from being divided. Some call the proposals as a riddance of the venomous teeth of the animal which is the 13A. But for us, the whole animal is poisonous and should be done away with. We do not think that repealing police and land powers would make it a solution to the country’s ethnic crisis. We call for the 13A to be completely annulled.
Q: Will the JVP contest Northern Provincial Council elections ? Are you planning to align with a main political party?
A: Yes, we will be contesting because we have a message to be conveyed to the people of the North. It is during elections that people mostly pay attention to political activity and it will be a good opportunity for us to tell the real story.
Until 2004, we never supported any other party but due to certain incorrect political decisions made afterwards, we did enter a coalition with the SLFP but that would be the final coalition we entered into.
Q: Without aligning with a main party, do you think JVP will be able to come into power?
A: We are confident of our ability to come into power independently and that is one of the reasons for creating this party. We do not have any personal agendas, our purpose it so serve the public and their agendas. As a step towards serving the masses, we are currently having discussions with the country’s intellectuals, artistes and civil organization representatives to create a civil movement that would fight for people’s rights.
Q: Although this might be a too premature question, do you think the JVP will field a candidate during the upcoming Presidential election?
A: Yes, it is too early to tell and we still have not decided. But one thing is certain; we will not support any of the main party candidates.