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"The Tamils have now been left on the road"
– Sivanathan Kisshor

Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Sivanathan Kisshor entered politics in 2004, after serving as an official of the Red Cross for fourteen years. He raised eyebrows on both sides of the political divide this week, by participating in the Yaldevi run from Vavuniya up to Thandikulam and by abstaining from voting at the extension of emergency on Tuesday. In this interview, Kisshor speaks to C.A.Chandraprema on the reasons that led to his decision to strike out on an independent path.

Q. What is the politics of the north going to be in the post-Prabhakaran era?

A. In 2001, before the ceasefire, the four party alliance of the TULF, EPRLF,Tamil Congress, and TELO was formed and became the Tamil National Alliance. At the parliamentary elections held that year, they got 15 seats. Had they contested separately, they would not have got the 15 seats. In 2004, with independent people like myself, also contesting on the TNA ticket, we got 22 seats in parliament with of course the backing of the LTTE. They were fighting for a cause. The Tamil cause. It was they who got these parties together. I tried to get PLOTE also to join the TNA. Siddharthan agreed. But in 1994, PLOTE had won three seats in parliament and they asked for three seats. But the TNA said only Siddharthan himself can be taken in. So PLOTE did not come in. If Tamil people all got together for one cause that would have been easy for everybody. Chelvanayagam tried the democratic path for 30 years, that didn’t work. Then came the armed struggle for thirty years, and that also failed. That is the position of the Tamils now. At the emergency debate last Tuesday, I asked all Tamil parties, to get together to ask the government to give something to the Tamils, and all the Tamil parties must accept that. When various parties hold various views, and pull in various directions, we will end up getting nothing. We must get something for our Tamil people for the future. That is my policy. The TNA has decided to speak with all the parties, PLOTE, EPDP, TMVP, Karuna and other people also. For the Tamil people’s sake we have to get together.

Q. Given the past experience of the Tamils isn’t it dangerous to have one entity representing the community? Earlier Chelvanayagam’s Federal Party represented the Tamils, Then Prabhakaran’s LTTE represented the Tamils. Isn’t it better to have a multiplicity of ideas rather than to have one entity that may make a mistake and bring the whole community down?

A. I am not expecting anyone to renounce their party identities. All I am saying is that they should get together to get something for the Tamils. The Tamils have now been left on the road. Nearly, 300,000 people are in the refugee camps. Because of that they must think of the Tamil people. They started fighting for the Tamils, to get freedom. That failed. Now we must talk to the government and the president to get something for the Tamil people, and then we must live in peace, the way the Sinhalese and other people live.

Q. Are you suggesting a kind of collaboration with the political parties holding power in the south?

A. Without going to them, we will not get anything. All these days, what has been happening? We were thinking of foreign countries, Europe, India, but nobody helped us. The fighting was going on, they didn’t stop that. Earlier problems like the Rajiv Gandhi assassination may have been among the causes for this. Now the Tamil parties must get together, if not the Tamils will be finished, the Tamils will not be respected.

Q. Do you believe it is possible for the Tamils and the Sinhalese to live together amicably?

A. It is possible because the president said in his speech in parliament, that there will be no majority or minority. That’s good. But he must implement it and show the Tamil people. Incidents like 1958, 1983 must not happen again. For thirty years, with the war raging, I lived in the north. I didn’t go abroad, nor did I stay in Colombo. I maintained a balance between all forces and lived in my electorate. I am in Colombo only when parliament meets, on other days I am with the people who voted for me. We can talk and get something and then live together with the Sinhalese and the Muslims.

Q. The policy followed by the likes of Chelvanayagam and Prabhakaran was not that. Do you think they were wrong?

A. No, I will not say they are wrong. When they were around, that policy may have been correct. Now, it is a different situation. For 30 years, we struggled democratically with Chelvanayagam. Then for another 30 years, we waged war, and finally what have we got? Nothing! A lot of Tamils were killed and a lot of property lost. Our achievement has been zero. Our base, the north east merger, is finished. We have not achieved anything. Even now we are waiting until India puts pressure on the Sri Lankan government to give us something. I don’t think they will do anything. Wednesday’s newspapers reported Shivshankar Menon as saying that India will not put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to do anything.

Q. In hindsight, do you think it was wrong of Prabhakaran to stick to that separate state policy without compromising?

A. He was fighting for a cause, and he was dragging this on for 33 years. It can be wrong or right. I don’t want to comment on that. If he had succeeded, we would have said that what he has done is correct. Because he has failed now, we can blame him. I donwant to do that. In one sense he was right, but on the political side I think he was not diplomatic. Through Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ceasefire, he had got something. He made a mistake at the presidential elections of 2005. He did what he wanted, and the people didn’t open their mouths due to fear. If he had succeeded, we would all say that what he has done is correct. Now that strategy has failed, and what is finished is finished. Now we must think of the next step.

Q. People are curious as to why you went on the Yaldevi up to Thandikulam and why you abstained from voting at the extension of the emergency on Tuesday…

A. Even when Prabhakaran was alive, whenever the government did something good, I participated. Other MPs kept away, but I went for meetings and for openings. The restoration of the railway after 25 years, is a good thing. We must now develop our areas. Even as an opposition MP. I started a nursing school in Vavuniya. All these days our people had to go to Batticaloa and Jaffna to learn nursing. Usually nursing students are taken only from the bio-science stream. But I spoke to the health minister and told him that because of the war there is no bio-science stream in the Vanni and obtained approval to recruit arts and commerce qualified students. I also started a teacher training school in Mannar. A large piece of land had been allocated for the Vavuniya campus of the Jaffna University. I have put in a request asking that this be converted into a separate university - the Vanni University. That is now being processed. When I was a TNA parliamentarian, I was speaking to the government and getting some things done. On Tuesday, in parliament, there were only eight TNA MPs present out of a total of 22. I abstained, because I must look after myself also. I am not like other MPs staying in Colombo or abroad. Now the war is finished. My vote is not going to make a difference on the extension of the emergency. All these days I was opposing the emergency. Last Tuesday, I abstained. In my speech during the emergency debate I said that I wanted to support the president in the resettlement programme, to resettle these people who voted for me. I became an MP because of their vote, but we cannot go and see these people, because they are not allowing opposition MPs in. I don’t want to be an MP for name’s sake. I want to have a dialogue with the government, look after my people and develop the area. Now the people need development. Don’t think I’m going to crossover or anything like that.

Q. Your approach is radically different to the northern politics of the past. Chelvanayagam and Prabhakaran espoused Tamil nationalism and kept sway from the government.

A. Yes, that was the earlier policy. But tell me what we have achieved from that? Only shouting and talking in parliament. The people also approved of that earlier. But now, the mentality of the people has completely changed. For a good cause I will support the government. I will not join the government or accept a portfolio. I will remain with the TNA.

Q. How do the other members of the TNA look at your stand?

A. They didn’t agree with my position. They asked me, if I am not going to vote, why did you come inside the chamber, you could have stayed outside. That’s correct. I know that my action may have been embarrassing for the others. But they didn’t take it too seriously because I didn’t support the government and only abstained.

A. Anybody working with the government to develop the north was seen as a collaborator, working against the interests of the Tamils.

Q. That was what it was like earlier. But after the 18th of May, it’s not like that anymore. Some people in fact came and asked me what we are going to do now. They suggested that I join the government and do something because by remaining in the TNA, I will not achieve anything and that everything is finished. Generally, the talk is like that. I also feel that simply being an MP, without doing anything, is useless. Even those days, when the people were supporting the Tamil cause, they would come and ask us for electricity connections, roads, even toilets. If their children are arrested, they would come to us to get them out. Being in the opposition, I would try my best to do something. I could not meet all their requests, but I managed about half.

Q. Karuna and Pillaiyan joined the government in the east. Do you think they have been able to change things there?

A. I am from the eastern province myself, but after Joseph Pararajasingham’s death, I have not been to Batticaloa. But I have heard that a lot of things are going on. When they are in the government, they can do a lot of things. This week, the Batticaloa Mayor crossed over to the SLFP. I will however not join the government, I will remain in the TNA and support the government in the good things they are doing, resettlement, redevelopment, providing electricity, water etc. When the next election comes, I will decide what to do.

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