Tamils have rejected politics of suppression
Former North East Province Chief Minister
Varadaraja Perumal and one of the key Leaders of the EPRLF in an
interview with the Daily News expresses his views on a number of issues
including the recently concluded elections, the dawn of peace and hope
in the North and East, influence of the Tamil Diasphora and his
controversial days in the office of Chief Minister, North East Province
(1988 - 1990).
Q: The first post-conflict Parliamentary polls in the country
has just concluded. What are your impressions on the elections in
general and specially of the verdict delivered by the people in the
North and East?
Former North East Province Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal.
Picture by Saman Sri Wedage
A: The people as a whole has reiterated their trust and
confidence in the present regime ably led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
They have given a very clear mandate, a near two-thirds majority. In
relation to the results in the North and East and specially the verdict
of the Tamil people has been very encouraging. If you take the results
in the Tamil dominated Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa districts you could
see that more than 50 percent of the voters has rejected the TNA formed
by the LTTE in 2004. Thus a majority has rejected the politics of
Q: But the voter turn out has been very low in these areas?
A: This could be attributed to several facts such as the
lingering fear which yet exists in the minds of a community which was
oppressed by a terrorist organisation for nearly three decades. People
are not yet fully settled and their economy is in disarray. Also their
confidence in the political leadership is yet to blossom. But these are
slowly gaining momentum. However it would take some time, the change is
already in the air.
Q: What could the Government do to accelerate the process?
A: The larger responsibility in this regard lies with the
Government to heal the wounds, build trust and provide basic needs to
the affected people. As I see the three Rís Relief, Rehabilitation and
Reconstruction should go hand in hand and should be productive and this
would no doubt pave way for sustainable reconciliation. In addition the
people need a fully equipped civil administration structure. Illegal
weapon carriers (if there are any) should be disarmed. People want the
complete rule of law. Also the Security Forces presence in the areas
should be reduced. The devolution of powers to the provinces (what is
possible) should take place. The amount of power devolved could be
discussed later but Government should provide first what is possible.
Q: Who should be the major players in this exercise?
A: Of course the President and the Government should play the
lead role. The UNP too should give due priority and join hands with the
Government in resolving the national issue without engaging in petty
politics. Eligible Tamil representatives too should make their
contribution in an effective manner. If the two major political powers
in the country get-together in resolving the national issue it would
give the much needed confidence to the Tamil people.
Q: What about India?
A: The Government of India is doing everything possible to
extend help to the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamils. The pre-1990
and post-1990 relations between the two countries are different now.
They have a genuine commitment towards Sri Lanka. We have to understand
that the conflict affected India too. So India wants peace, harmony and
development in Sri Lanka.
We also need their help in many spheres such as technical,
industrial, investment development etc. Specially in Tamil Nadu the
situation has improved much. The recent visit to the country by Tamil
Nadu politicians has gone a long way in bridging the gap. This is a good
beginning we should nurture and develop this newfound friendship.
Q: You were Chief Minister of the North and East in 1988-90.
What was your experience on the question of devolution of power and
A: At that time Premadasa was the President of Sri Lanka. At
that period I was not Chief Minister of the North and East with the
powers that the Chief Ministers enjoy. I was a Chief Minister striving
for devolution of power. I presented a 19-point agenda which had
proposals which came under the provisions of the existing Constitution.
The proposals did not even consider federalism but came under the
limits of the existing PC system. However, the regime at that time did
not give due consideration. If they had done so the country would not
have faced such a disastrous situation. Since 1990 over 150,000 people
have been killed. This includes more than 40,000 Tamil youth and an
equal number of soldiers in addition to civilians. Another 60,000 women
in North East alone have been widowed, not to mention the rest of the
The cream of the Tamil society was murdered by the LTTE. The then
Government helped LTTE. The Premadasa regime did not even wont the PC.
We had to sacrifice the lives of 3,000 EPRLF cadres at that time.
Q: But you were accused of hoisting the Eelam flag?
A: This is totally false. It was a malicious campaign against
me at that time. In fact I hoisted only two flags during my tenure as
Chief Minister. The first occasion was the Independence day on February
4, 1988 when I hoisted the National flag. The second one I hoisted was
the North-East Provincial Council flag, which was used until 2007. I am
not even familiar with the so-called Eelam flag. I am ready for any
challenge on the issue.
Q: The LTTE was a force to reckon with for a long time?
A: We should not harbour the misconception that the LTTE had
been so far giving leadership to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. It is a
terrorist group which destroyed the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership starting
from the killing of Srisabaratnam (TELO) in 1986 followed by the
liquidation of Amrithalingam (TULF), Padmanabha (EPRLF), Neelan
Thiruchelvam (TULF), Keetheswaran (EPRLF).
The LTTE under Prabhakaran suppressed any intellectual opinion.
Prabha wanted to be the only leader. There was no democracy.
Q: But there are moves to revive the LTTE by the Diaspora
through the concept of a Trans-National Tamil Eelam?
A: As far as the Tamil Diaspora is concerned they are
controlled by a few individuals with vested interest. Most of these
Diaspora leaders are commission earning money collectors. They earn as
much as Euros 12,000-15,000 a month as commission from the money which
is extorted from innocent Tamils abroad by force. Now they have nothing
to sell and as a result they have lost their income earning avenues. So
they are trying to create something. This would not sell. Everybody
including the Tamil people, their countries of residence and all are fed
up with the culture of violence. It is over.
Q: How did President Mahinda Rajapaksa achieve the stupendous
task of defeating the LTTE whereas all his predecessors had failed?
A: He was driven by singleminded purpose of eliminating the
source of LTTEís terror. Many other things also fell into place such as
the defection of key LTTE leaders. International community getting fed
up with LTTE atrocities etc. Also the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime never
gave any breathing space which they got during tenures of former leaders
such as Premadasa, Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Q: Finally do you have any political ambitions?
A: I have no interest in positions or perks. But I wish to
work among the people and for the benefit of the people.
I can derive strength from my vast experience to work towards the
benefit of the people. Donít forget that I was the Chief Minister of
North Eastern Province from1988-1990. Tamils now realise they missed a
golden opportunity at that time. I also stayed in India for almost 20
years and have studied their form of governance extensively. I also
enjoy a very good relationship with political leaders from both India
and Sri Lanka (both North and South). So with this experience to count,
I am hopeful that I would be able to work with the progressive forces
and contribute my share to development, a lasting political settlement