We want the North and East merged – Sivagnanam Sritharan
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Former TNA MP Sivagnanam Sritharan is contesting the General Election from Jaffna. This is the third time he is representing the TNA.
Following are excerpts:
Is there any reason why Tamil political parties in the North carry negative propaganda and want to defeat the TNA in the polls?
A: The TNA is strong and the Government has this military-backed governance to reduce the strength of the TNA. They have advocated many independent group and others to spread negative news about us. They have been funding those groups to work against the TNA. We know that these up and coming political parties and independent groups were brought against us.
How is election campaigning in the North and East?
A: Compared to the last poll, we see much enthusiasm and this time many would go out to vote. TNA will get about 21 seats or no less than 18 seats. We reckon we will gain about seven seats in Jaffna, six in the Vanni, five in Batticaloa, two in Trincomalee and one in Ampara, plus one bonus seat.
Tamils mostly voted for Sajith Premadasa at the last Presidential Election. Do you think those votes will be acquired by the TNA?
A: Yes, those votes will come to the TNA as we decided to endorse him then.
How sure are you that you will enter Parliament?
A: I am sure and have no second thought about it.
What is your take on the allegation that the TNA had jointly worked with the Yahapalanaya Government and that the Government and TNA had not attended to the needs of the Tamil people?
A: We worked with them to come to a political settlement for the Tamil people and also to boss the Northern economy. We were straightforward with them on our agenda and have worked to a certain extent that was satisfactory.
The TNA wants a solution based on a federal system which southern politicians don’t agree with. How can you promise this solution to the Tamils when it is being rejected by the majority?
A: The Tamils took up the struggle and then continued with an armed struggle to fight for their land and their aspirations and in the process lost thousands of lives. Now we are not talking about that kind of a struggle, but want the Government to understand that there is a need for a political solution for the Tamils.
The wanting of a meaningful devolution of power within a united undivided country where the Tamils could live with self-respect, dignity, and also enable them to determine and find answers to the problems faced in their localities. We also wanted to merge the North and East. We have been quiet and intelligently moving towards our goals and the Government should be ready to face this scenario sooner or later.
They will be forced to work on these lines and go for a referendum of the new Constitution and to know what the people of the North and East want. This political pressure on the Government will continue and we will not back out from it too. But if they don’t, then we will want international intervention to sort out this burning issue.
Tamizh Makkal Thesiya Kootani led by C. V. Wigneswaran and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam are speculated to be a challenge for TNA. Do you agree?
A: We don’t see any political threat from Wigneswaran as many know he is a misfit in politics. Also, Ponnambalam was rejected by the people and he will be rejected this time too.
There is need for development in the North to uplift the lives of the people there and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reiterated that he will carry out development throughout the country and will not neglect the North and East. Do you find his statement a welcoming sign?
A: Development doesn’t mean building houses, providing reliefs and giving handouts to convince people to vote. In the North and East, there are so many industries that have closed down and defunct. We have factories for glass, tiles, paper, clay, chemicals and many other industries that need to be revived soon. We also need to get all the basics amenities for the people. New roads and railways should be built too.
But before all that, we need a political solution and the merging of the North and the East. We cannot reject these fundamentals before development. We don’t see the need for development without a solution for the Tamils concerning their safety and security, land ownership and being free from step-motherly treatment. We need to come out of it fully before talking about the rest of the needs. So in our view, a political solution is priority and then comes the development and boosting of the economy and we can work together as brothers and sisters in a united Sri Lanka.
On the missing persons and the victims’ families, continuous protests in the Northern Province accuse the TNA of not stepping up to find a solution and also they have been accused of being a political tool used by several other Tamil political parties. How will you resolve this issue?
A: We have been highlighting this problem all the time and even spoke about it in Geneva in 2015 and have done so at every session since. We see the need to address this issue and we worked on the four pillars of peace-building and also established the Office of the Missing Persons with the former Government. We jointly worked with the former Government and we can reiterate that we will continue to work on it after the poll win. Justice to those people must be met and we will return to voice on these setbacks.
The TNA has been pivotal in advocating women’s representation in politics but it seems only two or three women have been nominated to contest at the General Election. Why is that?
A: We have one candidate in Jaffna and one in the Vanni. We see that the women are not willing to take up the challenge. We wanted more women to come forward, but we see there aren’t many coming forward. To come forward they also should show a keen interest in serving the community and also have the passion to serve people in whatever manner. Those who are doing those activities are most welcome. It’s not about coming forward and just giving their names. We have selected only two this time around.
Can you tell us three of the promises that you have made to your people and will strive to implement after the polls?
A: As we have been saying all the time, A) We will fight for a permanent solution for the national problem and work on merging of the North and the East, B) Economic development and the strategies that we have tabled to the people will be implemented and
C) Work on the release of Tamil political prisoners who are detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and work on the implementation of the Geneva resolution.