Wigneswaran jailed Tamil liberation fighters in the 1980s - Devananda


Douglas Devananda

In this interview, Jaffna parliamentarian and EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda speaks to C. A. Chandraprema about the post January 8th politics of the North.

Q: At the January presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena received over 50,000 more votes than the TNA received at its height during the 2014 Northern PC election. The NPC election was held in the midst of a wave of Tamil nationalism sweeping through Tamil Nadu with the victory of Jeyalalitha Jeyaram. That affected Tamil sentiment here as well with the possibility that Jeyalalitha would pressurise the Indian central government to take up the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. That was also the time when Channel 4 released their second war crimes documentary on Sri Lanka. On top of that the USA was getting one resolution after another passed against Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council. That was one of the finest moments for the TNA. How is it that Maithripala was able to get more votes than the TNA at this presidential election when Tamil nationalism was in the doldrums with Jeyalalitha out of the picture, the Channel 4 documentaries all but forgotten and the UNHRC resolutions producing nothing worthwhile?

A: As far as the Tamil population of the North is concerned, their enemy number one was Rajapaksa because of the war. Anybody contesting against Rajapaksa whether he be Sarath Fonseka or Maithripala Sirisena or even a Buddhist monk would have got the majority of the votes in the North.

Q: In 2010, Fonseka did not get more votes than the TNA. He got something like half of what the TNA got at the preceding election. My question is how was it that a Sinhala politician got 50,000 more votes in the Northern province than the Tamil nationalist party?

A: That was due to the principle of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. What counts in the North more than development or livelihood are the feelings of the people. The reason for this overwhelming vote may have been due to the people being emotionally dissatisfied as their aspirations were not met. Take for instance the Omanthai checkpoint. There were no such checkpoints in other parts of the country but only when entering or leaving the North. I thought that was unnecessary. If you treat people with suspicion, the people will take that as a sign of discrimination. In some areas, our government made mistakes.

Q: That is to say that that terrorism was defeated but the government failed to win the hearts and minds of the people. What should a government do to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people?

A: Most Southern politicians have the idea that if the Tamil people have roads, cities and development the problem will be solved. But the Tamils in this country consider themselves a separate nation. They don’t want biriyani or biscuits, they are willing to live in their underwear.

They need honour and dignity and self respect. In India, Uttar Pradesh is a massive state but there are small states like Nagaland with a population of two million - even tribal people have been given honour and dignity. They are willing to live in the Indian union because they have been given due respect. This is what is lacking in this country. All Southern politicians including Maithripala are not willing to acknowledge that there are two nations in this country.

Q: What does that mean in practical terms? What is the state structure that the Tamil people are looking for?

A: The Sinhalese don’t like the word federal because they think that if a federal state is granted, it will be a stepping stone to an independent state. That feeling is natural.

Q: If there is a federal state, what reasons would anybody have not to go one step further and have a separate sovereign state altogether?

A: If people are given their due respect and dignity there is no need for them to secede. Take Switzerland where there are four different nationalities and the Cantons have even more power than the American states, nobody in Switzerland wants to secede.

Q: In Sri Lanka, in what way are the Tamils not treated equally?

A: We feel that we are not treated equally. Take that matter of the Omanthai checkpoint...

Q: In security terms, you can’t pretend that nothing has happened. It’s only a few years since the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation based in that part of the island was defeated. Leaving the checkpoint aside, what I want to know is how the Tamils living outside the North and East are treated differently.

A: All the Tamils living here (in Colombo) are emotionally attached to the North.

Q: My question is in what way are the Tamil people treated as second class citizens in this country?

A: If you take India, nobody feels second class. Tamilians live in Delhi. A lot of Gujaratis and Marwari’s live in Tamil Nadu nobody feels second class. Whenever a nationality feels that they are not on par with the majority, they feel alienated. The difference between me and the TNA is that I feel that it is only through reconciliation that we can settle this problem. But the TNA is propagating hatred of the Sinhalese.

Q: Because of the poison that S.J.V Chelvanayagam spread many Tamils grew up expecting a Tamil state which was the expectation that the ITAK or the "Tamil State Party" evoked in people. Isn’t that really the cause of all these feelings of dissatisfaction – because there is no Tamil state in existence?

A. We work hard in the North genuinely for reconciliation and for the development of our area. Even when we were bearing arms we never allowed extortion or holding people to ransom. But the other groups allowed it. But now that they have joined the TNA, everything has been forgiven.

Q. Before the January presidential election, the Sinhala voter did not expect the minority voters to turn against the candidate who had the majority of the Sinhala vote in that manner. Now an ethnic dimension has been introduced into the voting pattern. At future elections, the majority of the Sinhalese may also tilt to one side. Where is that process going to leave this country?

A: Both sides should realise the danger. In the North people are criticising the TNA but that does not mean that the people will vote with the Southern based parties. Some people were telling Mahinda Rakapaksa that he lost in the North because of Douglas Devananda and his worthless candidates. But in actual fact the TNA’s candidates are no better than the candidates that I have. In the Northern newspapers, if Champika Ranawaka or Wimal Weerawansa makes a Sinhala nationalist statement, it will get prominence in the front page but if we speak of reconciliation, it will be relegated to a back page if it is published at all.

Q: Where do you stand when it comes to the next parliamentary election?

A: I haven’t taken a decision. But, we have to work with whoever is in power. The TNA is now opening various projects that we completed. When we were developing the North the TNA went around saying that they don’t want roads or railways but they enjoyed what we built through our efforts. We could not reap the political benefit of what we did. In any case between the Northern PC election of 2013 and the presidential election of 2015, we managed to double our vote.

Q: Chief Minister Wigneswaran has been saying that drug abuse is spreading in the North due to a Sinhala conspiracy to destroy the Tamils. He has been saying that even before he entered politics.

A: I don’t agree with that. Anti-social elements are making use of the opportunities available to them. The newspapers reported that some TNA supporters were distilling hooch in Chavakachcheri when the police raided the spot and there was a confrontation. When Vigneswaran was in the judicial service he participated in suppressing liberation fighters by jailing them in the 1980s. If wanted to he could have resigned from the judicial service then and got into politics. It’s only after retirement that he thought of getting into politics as a career. When he brought that resolution in the NPC alleging genocide of the Tamils, he could have brought it under the Rajapaksa government if he was genuine. But he didn’t.

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