Mavai Senathirajah, who took over the leadership of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi from R. Sampanthan, on September 6 (yesterday) spoke to The Nation on several issues including the position of the party and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the invitation extended by the Government for talks.He stated that the TNA was not averse for talks with the Government as long as the latter was genuine in its approach.
Senathirajah joined politics as a student in 1960 and had worked with eminent personalities such as S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and Appapillai Amirthalingam. As a student, he served in the youth wing of the ITAK during the early 1970s and had been part of protests against the 1972 Constitution and 1978 Constitution reforms.
He first entered parliament in 1989 as a National List MP representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), in place of Amirthalingam who was assassinated in 1989. He served as a Parliamentarian till 1994.
Senathirajah once again entered Parliament in 1999 till 2000, in place of Neelan Thirucchelvam who was also assassinated while holding office.
In 2000, he was elected to Parliament through the TNA and continues to be an MP representing the Jaffna District.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q. You are selected as the new leader of the ITAK. Would the ITAK adopt a fresh approach towards issues concerning the ethnic question and issues faced by the Tamil people?
We as a party and as an alliance have expressed our concerns and views with regard to the issues of the Tamil people. Those views and concerns stand as they are. We are focusing on issues such as forcible land grabs by the military, ensuring livelihoods of the resettled people and ensuring safety and security of the people.
There are over 150,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in India as refugees. Many are in refugee camps while others are outside the camps. They cannot return since their lands have been occupied by outsiders.
The other concern that we had raised was the gradual effort of the Government to change the demography of the Tamil speaking areas. Those issues that we have mentioned must be addressed. In addition, the military presence in the North should also reduce further
Q. About the ethnic question?
During the talks with the Government we submitted a document containing our proposals. It included the recommendations made by the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC), appointed by the President himself. There have been a lot said about the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment is not the solution. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pledged to India that he would go beyond the 13th Amendment in order to find a solution.
In addition, we are looking at the possibility of forming a National Council with the participation of Tamils, Muslims and representatives of progressive forces of the South. The purpose of it would be to look into our demands and back us.
Q. The Government had recently agreed to talk to the TNA if you were willing. What would be your response?
We had several rounds of discussions with the Government two years ago. It was the Government that walked out of the talks. We have to consider the invitation and take a decision on the matter. However, the TNA is prepared to talk to the Government if it is genuine towards the talks and issues concerning the Tamil people.
Q. How would you know whether the Government is genuine unless you start talking?
Well, as I had mentioned earlier, we have raised our concerns pertaining to issues such as land grabs, livelihood and several other issues. We want the Government to create a conducive environment for talks by addressing the said issues.
Q. There are efforts made by the TULF Leader, V. Anandasangaree to join forces with several Tamil parties to form an alliance with the intention of sending the TNA home. As ITAK is one of the main constituents of the TNA, do you see this move as a threat? If so, how would you face it?
I wouldn’t want to comment on such a matter right now. I don’t know about such moves. There have been several moves like these in the past and this is one of them.
Q. Anandasangaree who was part of the TNA and who had contested the Northern Provincial Council polls under the TNA ticket has accused the TNA of misleading the Tamils. What do you have to say?
We have the backing of the Tamil people. It was evident at the past elections, including the Northern Provincial Council polls last year where we obtained over 80% of the total votes in the North.
These accusations are baseless. The people would not place their trust in us if they feel they are misled.
Q. Are you willing to discuss with Anandasangaree and come to an agreement on issues that he has raised?
I wouldn’t want to comment on it at the moment.
Q. The TNA continues to contest under the ITAK symbol. Members of the constituent parties have constantly requested the ITAK to register the alliance as a political party. Would the ITAK take steps with regard to their requests?
Well, that is not an important issue at the moment. Right now we are focusing on the needs of the Tamils and issues that need immediate attention. These matters pertaining to registration of TNA as a party would be addressed soon. (The Nation)