“We are confident. We will win the East, as well as the North”


Chandrakanthan Kuhaneson alias Pillaiyan, is the other leading candidate for the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), in Batticaloa. Pillaiyan, a battle hardened soldier, does not seem to get excited over his rivals’ rhetoric. He is willing to take them on, with his power base in the East. He says his strength is the people, and of course the UPFA government. “I say this today, because of the support, people have already extended to me and my party,” he told The Nation, in an interview from his Batticaloa head quarters. Admitting that his party – Tamil Makkal Vidudalai Puligal (TMVP), has no written manifesto, he said several developmental projects were in the pipeline and once elected, an accelerated programme would be implemented, to give what the people of the East have never gained, for the past 20 years. “The people deserve a better living. We are able to provide them that,” he said.  He said that, his only ambition was to fair well in this election, so that, his party could contest the future northern provincial council elections and also take control of that province, as well. “We are confident. We will win this province as well as, the North,” he challenged.
Following are excerpts;

Q: How far have you gone with your campaign in the East and are you ready for the May 10, elections?
We have so far, faired very well. Our campaign will come to an end on May 5. We have travelled to almost all the villages, and areas in all three districts, in the Eastern province. We now feel that, there is a heavy swing in our favour, and we are very confident that, we will be able to throw the biggest challenge to our heavyweights. We may be new to the game, but we have carefully planned all our programmes and campaigns and ultimately, we have managed to instil confidence in the minds of our supporters. With the termination of our campaign, we will be ever ready for the poll. No doubt about that.

Q: On what basis are you expressing your optimism, to win the elections, given a tough challenge by your rivals?
My optimism, is absolutely based on the support, we have received so far, from the masses. I would not be standing today, to reveal this, if not for the massive support, we have received so far. The confidence I have in this election, is also because of the continuous support and encouragement, given by the UPFA government. We feel that, we are not alone. I have 100 percent faith that, we will win this election. Our biggest rival is the SLMC-UNP combination. But a survey, in all three districts has indicated to us that, we have an edge over them.

Q: The government on the one hand is promoting former SLMC stalwart M. L. A. M. Hisbullah and at the same time, promoting you. Don’t you see Hisbullah, as a threat to you, given his seniority and experience in politics?
No. He is no big threat to me, because we are working together. He is not my enemy and I don’t look at him, that way. I understand he is an experienced politician. But in keeping with President Rajapaksa’s word that, whoever who gets most number of seats will become the Chief Minister, we are in our own way working hard to achieve this target. But having said this, I must confess that, there is no rivalry between us. He is working hard to seek the Muslim votes, while I am working hard to get the Tamil votes.

Q: Why are you working so hard to get a Tamil elected to the post of Chief Minister? Why do you think a Tamil Chief Minister is essential and not a Muslim?
Though we are working to see that a Tamil is elected, as the Chief Minister, we are not going to protest against a Muslim being elected, as the Chief Minister. We came to that conclusion and we agreed to contest, within the same party. Having said this, I must say that, a Tamil Chief Minister can, given the current situation help ease the present tension in the province, devastated due to the ethnic conflict. Further, a Tamil Chief Minister can help the government, to resolve the present crisis, as the ongoing conflict is between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. This is why, we feel a Tamil Chief Minister is imperative.

Q: Is the government genuinely interested in your aspiration to have a Tamil Chief Minister, and if so, are there any overt plans, to promote this cause?
As far as I know, the government has so far shown its interest and even encouraged us, to work hard. I must say, that the government must in my view promote our interest, to have a Tamil as a Chief Minister. 

Q: Why do you think this election is important, to the Tamils in in the East?
For the past 20 years, our people have been struggling for their mere survival. It is no secret. Several attempts, to emancipate them from their affliction have failed in the past. The people have not been able to enjoy the kind of freedom and democracy, enjoyed by people, outside North and East. The Tamils and Muslims have never had a chance to enjoy a proper provincial administration. They have lacked political leadership and proper guidance. Therefore, I think the forthcoming election is going to be a step forward in their life, through which, they would be able to exercise their own franchise and other rights.

Q: Do you have a manifesto and what are the future plans, to develop and improve some of the war battered areas, in the East?
We do not have a written manifesto, as such. But of course, we have plenty of plans, to rapidly develop the East, with the assistance provided to us, by the government. Several developmental projects are in the pipeline and we have formulated strategies, to meaningfully implement them, thereby giving direct and indirect relief to the Tamils, Muslims and the Sinhalese, living in the East. Their grievances would definitely be met.

Q: If Hisbullah is not a threat to you, how about SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem?
Well, Hakeem has dragged us into unwanted controversies. Continuing to brand us as ‘militants’ and ‘dangerous’, are not going to be helpful to anyone. Almost in every speech he makes, he drags us also without any base. But otherwise, he is no threat to me. But of course, we are mindful of the fact that, we are competing against a powerful opposition the UNP – SLMC alliance. So we are working towards facing this powerful force.

Q: There is a common suspicion, even among some of the Tamils that the TMVP, if elected, will not be able to run a provincial government, given its inexperience and inability. What is your observation?
This suspicion is common and we don’t get offended. This suspicion must be there. That is why, we are working very hard to show ourselves, to the people and explain to them, what we are capable of doing. Prior to the local government elections on March 10 also, the same suspicion prevailed and we proved to the people that, we are able to do something different. After all, we have the support of the people and especially, the support from the government. So we are not that much concerned, about this suspicion. Instead of continuing to suspect us, I think we must be given an opportunity, to try our hand at various things. This is not understood by some. I urge those who cast suspicion on us, not to continue to suspect us, but give us a chance, to prove our ability to run the province.

Q: You said you have the government backing and that is your strength. Is it not possible to independently stand on your own?
We originally decided to contest on our own and work independently. We knew this was possible, because of the support we had from the people in our own areas. But what later happened is this. We realised that, we were forced to face two huge political giants – the UNP and the SLMC and the only option, that was available to us to face this powerful force, was to join the government. By joining the government, we became powerful and resourceful to fight against our rivals. We had to embrace the government, to become the majority. Independently, we would not have stood a chance.

Q: UPFA chief candidate Hisbullah is provided with STF protection and he also is reportedly using state vehicles, for his political campaign. Are you also provided with STF protection?
No. The government has given me the security, that is entitled to all the candidates. But I am quite satisfied with the security arrangements, by the government. Besides, I am also using my own personal security and that is enough I must say.