|TNA Leader speaks his
foist the LTTE on the Tamil peopleĒ
National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sambandan, despite his
advancing years, is quite sprite when it comes to the
subject of finding a solution to the ethnic question. With
the LTTE having been crushed nearly a year ago, he sounds
ready to fully cooperate with the government, to find that
so far illusive solution acceptable to everyone.
Following are excerpts from an interview with this
veteran Tamil political warrior.
Q: We have obviously arrived at a crucial juncture,
where the government appears to be ready to fully implement
the 13th Amendment, but, for there to be an honest and
honourable settlement, there must also be some give and take
from the Tamil side as well.
Honesty must come from both sides. The Sri Lankan State
also has a responsibility to be honest. The Tamil side also
must be honest. Under Chelvanayagamís leadership, the Tamil
side was absolutely honest- 100%. In our election manifesto
of 1970, the Federal Party (FP) called upon the Tamil people
to vote against any party or candidate who espoused
separation. We put that in writing in our manifesto. That
was the degree of our honesty. When J.R. Jayewardene was
Prime Minister, speaking on Chelvanayagamís vote of
condolence in Parliament, he said, you donít have to obtain
anything in writing from Chelvanayagam, if he gives you his
word, you can be sure he will honour it. That was the degree
of honesty the Tamil side maintained.
The 13th Amendment was enacted in 1987/88. We rejected
the 13th Amendment at that point of time, because we knew
that it was not workable. Many senior politicians in this
country condemned the 13th Amendment as being unworkable.
Efforts have continuously taken place ever since the
enactment of the 13th Amendment, to make improvements to it,
to go beyond the 13th Amendment. We had the Mangala
Moonasinghe Select Committee proposals during President
Premadasaís time. It went far beyond the 13th Amendment.
There were the Constitutional proposals of President
Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prof G.L. Peiris, who was the
Minister of Constitutional Affairs between August 1995 and
August 2000, that went far beyond the 13th Amendment. Ranil
Wickremesinghe took the issue far beyond the 13th Amendment.
Then, President Rajapaksa appointed the APRC and a Panel of
Experts. The Experts, in their majority report, comprising a
large number of Sinhalese, went far beyond the 13th
Amendment. Even the APRC deliberations went far beyond the
13th Amendment. So any effort to foist the 13th Amendment as
the political solution in this background history, in my
view, will not work, will not take us anywhere.
Q: If the government is willing to consider substantial
concessions on sensitive issues like transferring police and
land powers, then the Tamils should also be willing to
compromise. Otherwise we will be back in square one
hardliners on both sides hijacking the issue. There are also
varying demands from the Tamils from Federalism to two
nations one country and 13th Amendment plus. There is also
the Muslim factor.
Leave the Muslim factor to us. We the Tamils and Muslims can
come to a common understanding. Please come up with
something that is reasonable, adequate, workable and
durable. Please do not think you can foist anything on us.
That will not happen. But if you are prepared to enter into
serious negotiations, to work out something, which will be a
solution to the national question and which will also serve
the countryís interest we will extend our maximum
cooperation, but we are not going to be bullied into
accepting something which will not work.
Q: The sticky issues have always been devolving Police
and land powers. So if something substantial was offered on
Why canít we be given the matter of land that is contained
in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957? It was
signed in 1957 by a leader of Bandaranaikeís calibre, one of
the greatest leaders this country produced, and President
Mahinda Rajapaksaís political guru. Why canít we be given
what Bandaranaike offered us in 1957?
Q: Political expediency on both sides led to going
back on promises, abrogation of pactsÖ..
With regard to Police powers, they are absolutely
essential for any institution of government to function. Are
the Police exercising their powers properly? When your
Police force and your Police powers are in a rotten state,
how can you expect us to have any faith in that police
service? Let us have very clear cut ideas about this. We do
not want Police powers to divide the country, but to
maintain law and order in a territory in which we have
powers of governance. Police powers are fundamental. It is
there in every country where there is a power sharing
Q: There have been excesses in a war situation, but it
is a waste to dwell in history. Now it is an open society,
where you cannot hide anything. You cannot do wrong things
and get away, as everything gets splashed in the media.
Canít things be worked out from here with greater trust?
Trust is not built in the air. Trust is built on something
very sound. We are prepared to negotiate honestly and
faithfully and we would like the government to trust us. We
are a moderate Tamil political party. Of the 18 Tamil MPs
from the northeast, 14 come from my party. We did not accept
views of hardline forces, who wanted hardline positions
stated in our manifesto. We dropped them, and every one of
them lost at the election. We did not give nominations to
untrustworthy people, who subsequently joined the government
and contested. Every one of them lost the election. So we
have acted very honestly and very straight forwardly. We
would like the government to recognise that, if the
democratic verdict of the people in the rest of the country
gives them the right to govern this country, the democratic
verdict of the people of the northeast must also be
Q: People everywhere are sick of this conflict, they only
want to get on with their lives.
All these things happened because the right thing was not
done. What we are saying is at least now do the right thing.
Q: Recent elections show that people want a softer
approach, as they are sick of confrontations. That is why
fewer and fewer people are coming forward to cast their
vote. The result was that the TNA elected members reduced
from 22 to 14.
Twenty two members in the best of circumstances, and 14 in
the worst of circumstances.
Q: In the past, Douglas Devananda was accused of
resorting to strong-arm tactics, but under a free and fair
election, he managed to narrow the gap between the UPFA and
You are aware of the murders committed, the amount of money
spent, and the thuggery that was practised.
Q: Things have changed for the better, unlike when the
Tigers stuffed ballot boxes.
Things have not changed. We fought an election in an
impossible situation, and we have won these 14 seats in a
very difficult situation.
Q: There was no outright intimidation or violence.
There was plenty of intimidation, plenty of thuggery in
every district of the North and East. Plenty of money spent.
Plenty of bribes given. We donít want to talk about all
that. We are prepared to leave all that aside. We are
prepared to negotiate seriously and arrive at an acceptable
solution, but please ensure that it is a solution that is
workable, and which will satisfy the legitimate aspirations
of the Tamil speaking people, the Tamil and Muslim people.
Then this country will progress and develop.
Q: Can you dismiss the Muslim factor so easily?
You do not worry about the Muslim factor. You leave the
Muslim factor to us. The Muslim people and we will come to a
settlement and will resolve this question in an acceptable
Q: Are you in touch with the President on this key issue?
I have not been in touch with the President after the
election. The President has not got in touch with me, but I
am in touch with some members of the government who have
spoken to me. So we are in the initial stages. The President
has also been busy with Cabinet formation and the visit to
the SAARC summit in Bhutan. We are watching developments.
Q: With whom will you feel comfortable in dealing
within the government?
I am prepared to deal with anybody in the government. The
President being the head of the government should decide who
will deal with me or my party, and we will deal with whoever
is chosen to deal with us.
Q: It was reported in newspapers that the government
has given a fresh undertaking to India to resolve the
national question through and, among other things, the
setting up an upper house. So who exactly is in touch with
you from the government?
I donít want to mention names. I donít have the authority to
do that. But we are prepared to talk to anyone.
Q: Our understanding is that there is something
definitely in the air.
I donít know. If that is something good, it would be good
for the country.
Q: The ceasefire period saw the Tamil Diaspora making
heavy investment in the local real estate market. So, if we
are not paranoid of each other, things can really take off.
But the Diaspora and the TNA are not speaking in the same
Some sections of the Diaspora are deeply suspicious of the
Sri Lankan Government. The majority of the Diaspora is
prepared to work with the TNA, in keeping with the policies
defined by the TNA. The only way to get the Diaspora to come
around is to come up with a political solution that would be
acceptable to the Tamil people in this country. If a
political solution that is acceptable to the Tamil people is
worked out, and we have democratic elections on the basis of
that solution, where Tamil people will govern them in those
areas, that will be the end of the story.
Q: As much as the Diaspora is suspicious of the
government, there are considerable numbers in the south who
are equally suspicious of them and other external elements.
Diaspora is not within the country. There is nothing they
can do within this country. You cannot deny that the Sri
Lankan Government today, is in effective control of this
country. The trans national government is only on paper. You
are in effective control of this country. So what you have
to do is to come up with a solution that will satisfy the
legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people, and then you can
be assured that the Diaspora and all their activities will
come to an end. You must not try to make the Diaspora an
excuse for not solving this problem. You must have the will
to solve this problem, and you must demonstrate your will
and your capacity to solve the problem, without trying to
find excuses. My impression is that some sections in this
country are now trying to find excuses to not solve the
problem, because they donít want the problem to be solved.
They donít want to share power with the Tamil people. Such
games will not do good to anyone.
Q: As you said in the past, leaders such as Ranil
Wickremesinghe, went very far with a ceasefire, and prior to
that, Chamndrike Kumaratunga, with her August 2000 proposals
went beyond anyone before, but the Diaspora and the Tigers
could never be satisfied.
Donít say Diaspora. May be the Tigers were difficult at that
point of time. The fact of the matter is that nothing was
done in a tangible way, but that story is over. You are not
dealing with Tigers now. You are dealing with a democratic
Tamil political party, which is the only Tamil political
party that has been elected from the Northeast by the Tamil
people. And you are dealing with a Tamil political party
with an understanding with the Muslim community, and the
Muslim political leadership. You are not dealing with the
Tigers any longer.
Q: You all had many rounds of discussions with Muslims
from M.H.M. Ashraffís time, but no final agreement was
There has been a lot of talking. There has been a lot of
agreement, and we have a lot of understanding and goodwill
amongst ourselves, but all that can be incorporated only
when the Sinhala side is able to come up with a formula for
a solution. Any understanding between the Tamil and the
Muslim people must be incorporated in a political solution
that is arrived at with the State.
Q: Even on your part, you all are guilty of giving into
political expediency as recently as the last presidential
election, when you all backed a General who wanted to double
the size of the army after the end of the war, and even
wanted to incarcerate the IDPs much longer while in uniform.
He began to sing a totally different tune after he fell out
with the government. So just to settle scores you all
blindly backed him.
We didnít back him blindly. We backed him after very careful
thought. I have explained to the President with regard to
this matter. I think the President understands my position
very well. That is over. It is a past event. It is not worth
talking any longer. I told the President, even before the
presidential election, you may well become the President
whatever decision we make, and if we come to Parliament in
good numbers, we are prepared to work with you to find a
political solution. So donít talk about the past, it is not
relevant any longer. Please do not refer to the past in a
way to confuse the present question. Let there be clarity
with regard to the present question, and letís find a
solution. We are prepared to cooperate.
Q: You all are always asking for concessions from the
government, but what concessions are you willing to make on
We are the underdog. We are the minority. We have been
trampled upon. Unbridled violence has been practised against
us. We have been denied our rights. Donít talk about the
LTTE. I am not part of the LTTE. I agree that the LTTE
practised violence, but innocent Tamil people of this
country never practised any violence. All the Tamil people
were victims from the í50s till the í80s. Donít foist the
LTTE on the Tamil people. We have only asked for our basic
rights to live as equal citizens in this country, enjoying
an adequate measure of self rule within the territory in
which we are the majority and to be able to govern our
selves, the way it is happening in various parts of the
Q: President Rajapaksa and his government did the
impossible in crushing the LTTE, when all experts said it
cannot be done. Similarly, donít you think he could be the
person to deliver the solution that has evaded this country
all this while?
Possibly. He must try as hard as he tried to defeat the
LTTE, to find a political solution, and if he tries hard, he
can find it. We will help him.
Q: How long do you think that will take?
It will not take long. He should work very fast on it. He
can bank on our cooperation. We will give him the fullest
support. We will be very honest with him. We will not
deceive him. We will not cheat him. We will not cheat the
Q: Can you count on the UNPís backing?
I donít know. Weíll see. I donít want to talk about it now.
Letís first talk to the President and the government.(RA)