Q. You have been fighting the LTTE for a long time. Do you think they are now on their last legs?
A. I certainly want to see that happening, and I do think they are heading towards that. We have always been at loggerheads with the LTTE. Unlike the LTTE, we have been looking at things from a leftist point of view. In the past, we launched an armed struggle for a separate state. At that time had there been a progressive party in the south that had tied up with us, we could have fought for a solution within a united country. But at that time there were no such progressive forces that joined up with us. Even though there were small groups such as that led by Dayan Jayatilleke, in the south, they were not at that time, in a position to effect any change in the south. Then after the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, we gave up the armed struggle and entered the democratic mainstream. The Tamil speaking people of this country do have a problem and nobody can deny that. We hold the view that the LTTE has to be destroyed. However, it has to be realised that the problems of the Tamil people and the LTTE are two different things. According to the information that we have been receiving, we believe the LTTE is facing destruction. The LTTE should be destroyed and that is what we stand for.
Q. In the east, the LTTE has already lost control. They have lost control over large swathes of the north as well, and you have been appointed to an interim committee for the north. An alternative Tamil leadership seems to be coming up. To what extent do you think this alternative Tamil leadership will be able to address the issues which led to the Tamils taking up arms?
A. Our party has for a long time, been advocating a solution for Tamil grievances in three stages. Recently, a high powered team from India toured Sri Lanka. When they asked me about the political process, I said we have already started on it. In the eastern province, we have already held an election and a provincial council has been formed and a chief minister appointed. Now it is up to the new leadership to achieve their goals. In the northern province, until elections are held, the president has appointed a special task force. So I have confidence in this process. We have to win political rights from the Lion and democratic rights from the Tiger! In parliament, the Tamil people's votes are necessary to form a government. Similarly, Tamil people's votes are absolutely necessary at a presidential election. So we can solve this problem through the democratic system. It is with this confidence that we gave up the armed struggle and entered the democratic mainstream after the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. Before the ILPA, I thought the government was a chauvinistic government. But after the ILPA, things changed. The Tamil leadership however did not use the opportunities open properly.
Q. Now that a provincial council has been appointed for the east, the question of sharing power between the central government and the provinces has once again come to the fore. As you yourself said earlier, the minority vote is essential to form governments or win presidential elections. This was the case even under the 1948 constitution. In 1960, the UNP won the election, but did not have a majority in parliament. So they tried to negotiate with the Federal Party but a deal did not materialize. In 1965, the UNP once again won an election, but this time there was an alliance with the FP. So why is this talk of provincial powers necessary? In practice power is already being shared at the national level.
A. Our stand is that based on need, powers should be shared at the national or provincial level. There is for example the language problem. It is because both the Sinhala and Tamil leadership acted in their narrow self interest that the language issue has become so acute today. The way I see it, the way to solve the language issue is for the Sinhalese to learn Tamil and the Tamils to learn Sinhala. Those days, Tamils people used to say that they can't learn an extra language. Today they are in a situation where they have to learn 15 or 20 languages. When I receive calls from Tamils in Norway, sometimes I can't understand what is being said because Norwegian is mixed with their Tamil. In a similar manner, in Germany, the Tamil is mixed with German, this is a recurring pattern in all European countries where Tamils now live. We have to establish a Sri Lankan identity. Normally when travelling overseas, I don't look at the Embarkation/Disembarkation card. But recently I was in India, and on the trip back, I looked at the disembarkation card and in the box for the nationality, the Tamil word used was one that asked for one's ethnic identity. I want to take this to cabinet. The word used should enable the respondent to write "Sri Lankan" instead of whether they are Tamil or Sinhalese.
Q. If you look back, many of those who were with you in the Tamil militant movement are no more. Only Balakumar the former leader of the EROS is left. What do you think of Balakumar and what happened to EROS?
A. This was a question of leadership qualities. Balakumar was junior to me in EROS. I was one of the founder members, he joined only later. The reason why EROS failed as an armed movement is because its leader Rathnasabapathy, had personal failings which prevented him from being able to function effectively. His policies may have been admirable. But he did not have the ability to maintain control of things. I know much more about the outside world than Prabhakaran. But still, rightly or wrongly, Prabhakarn is ahead of me. So what counts is not just the policy. The leadership qualities also count.
Q. When the LTTE was systematically eliminating rival groups in 1985/86, why is it that none of the other Tamil militant movements did not even try to pay back the LTTE in similar coin?
A. Once again, the issue of leadership qualities comes to the fore. Prabhakaran, whether right or wrong, was completely committed to his organization. It is because I am totally committed to my organization that they have not been able to eliminate me.
Q. You were never afraid to confront the LTTE. Similarly, in the east, there is the Karuna-Pillaiyan group which is not afraid to confront the LTTE. Since there is a qualitatively different leadership now, don't you think things are looking up?
A. We welcome these developments, but everything should be in the interests of the people and the nation. Karuna is a good orator in Tamil, even better than Balasingham. When he broke away from the LTTE, I told him to take to politics, because politicians need to be good orators. I have told my people in the east, not to disturb the status quo in the east. We may have disagreements with Pillaiyan, but he has many challenges to face. His immediate problem is Karuna. If you have internal problems, then you can't face external problems. Then he has to face the LTTE and the Hisbulla faction as well. So he has to face a lot of problems. He will not be able to survive if he is not very clever. His organization is not politically developed. His organization depends on coercion. So I told our people, we are the alternative, and we have to strengthen that.
Q. In the 1980s it was impossible for the military to hold on to Tamil areas because the people supported the Tamil militants. But today, we find the military holding onto large portions of Jaffna and the whole of the east, without much difficulty.
A. In Jaffna, there may be some LTTE elements but not the entire community. They have lost confidence in the LTTE. Tomorrow, if you allow free movement from the Vanni, 80% of the people will come to this side. The people didn't get anything from all this violence. They have lost even what they had. In 1994, when I contested for parliament the first time, the LTTE said that nothing can be achieved by entering parliament and they forced people to boycott the election. But a few years later in 2000, the LTTE was forced to enter the parliamentary contest through the TNA. The people may not be supporting the EPDP, but they supported the democratic process. At the local government elections in 1998, the LTTE said that there was no point in having elections. But in 2006, they gave in nominations here and there. So we have shown people the way forward. We were the first organization to show the people that you could get together with the government and solve the problem. All the others followed us. In 2001, Anandasangaree was being hugged and congratulated by Prabhakaran for 'giving Douglas Devananda tight' from the Lions own den. Today, Anadasangaree is criticizing the LTTE for different reasons. Tomorrow this situation may change. There is the saying that tigers never change their spots. But so long as the LTTE is around, we will not change. Others don't have such problems. They may criticize the LTTE today and join them tomorrow.
Q. As you said earlier, the LTTE is facing defeat. The man who has established control over the east is 22 years younger than Prabhakaran. Pillaiyan should be addressing his former leader as 'uncle'. Why, in your view, has the LTTE been reduced to this?
A. One reason for this that there were several opportunities to solve the problems of the Tamil people but Prabhakaran failed to make the best use of these opportunities. The other reason is the anti-democratic tendency of the LTTE. This type of organization will not last. What happened to Pol Pot, Hitler, Mussolini and others? The LTTE has kept the people under their control through violence. But they have never won the people on to their side politically.
Q. Are the Tamil people ready for life after Prabhakaran?
A. There is a question mark on that. We have to show the people an alternative way, as my organization has been doing since 1994. When the special task force for the northern province was established, I asked for at least six months to convince the people that we can deliver. It is only after this that I will go to Delhi and the Diaspora to get their support.