In the backdrop of a crisis at the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), its Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, during an interview with the Daily Mirror, spoke about the current status of politics and the way forward. The crisis emerged after a team of members belonging to his own party placed a no confidence motion against him. Later, it was withdrawn following consultations with everyone concerned. Here are excerpts of an email interview done with him:
In the wake of the recent crisis at the Northern Provincial Council involving you, how do you look at the future of TNA politics?
Future of Tamil Politics is safe. There is awareness of the fact that united we stand divided we fall.
Former TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said Tamil people were in need of a new leadership. He even said people wanted you to be the leader. What is your response?
Greater awareness of our real political problems and a united effort to solve them with understanding is what’s needed. Our leadership should become aware of its shortcomings and there should be concerted effort on all our part to move forward and achieve what we promised our people. This depends on each of us.
How do you look at the present TNA leadership in Parliament in advocating the political rights of Tamil people?
Not as robust as it could be. Our ground level problems haven’t been adequately explained to the non Tamil Members. It’s useless our Members of Parliament talking in Tamil to the large percentage of non Tamil Members. They hardly listen to the translations. Many don’t understand English as well. And we Tamils hardly speak Sinhalese. There is a severe gap between the North and the South in appreciating each other’s problems. The TNA must do something about it. It’s understanding (Which is needed) among the major communities that could solve our national problems.
You were nominated as the Chief Minister candidate by the present TNA leadership. How do you feel about it?
I’m still in the TNA! So what about it?
What instigated you to take to politics?
There was no instigation. It was a continuous bombardment from various Tamil interest groups and Tamil leaders. I withstood it for six months almost. Finally I said if all agree I would consider coming. I expected them not to unite. But they did! That’s how yours truly is here.
What is the model of power devolution you propose for the north and the east?
We must understand the difference between Decentralisation and Devolution on the one hand and Federalism and Sharing of power on the other. Decentralisation is where all power is vested in the centre, but for easy administration powers are delegated to the periphery. Devolution differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the sub national authority may be temporary and are reversible, ultimately residing with the central government. Thus, the state remains de jure unitary. Legislation creating devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed or amended by central government in the same way as any statute.
In federal systems, by contrast, sub-unit government is guaranteed in the constitution, so the powers of the sub-units can’t be withdrawn unilaterally by the central government (i.e. without the consent of the sub-units being granted through the process of constitutional amendment). The sub-units therefore have a lower degree of protection under devolution than under federalism. Federalism and Power sharing are what we want.
Historically the British brought in separate units of sovereign power centres together. When the territorial representation system was introduced in early twentieth century, power fell into the hands of the majority community. They made sure such vesting of power in them gave all the benefits to the majority community and deprived the minorities of their powers and privileges. They knew the Tamils were the majority community in the North and East, but went on to deprive them of their rights. Sinhala only was one such move. We have now got to give what was taken away from the Tamils back to them. It’s their right to look after themselves. Their individuality needs to be recognized. We could do so within the territorial integrity of the island. It’s done inter alia in other countries like Switzerland, Belgium and Canada. A federal power sharing method is what I advocate. Both, our NPC as well as the TPC have also advocated same.
If the north and the east are to be merged again, what is the mechanism you propose to ensure the rights of Sinhalese living there?
The Sinhalese will have the same rights the Tamils and Muslims will have in the other Provinces.
What do you propose for Muslims?
Muslims must have a unit for themselves within the Eastern Province. Let me tell you it’s in the interest of all communities, indeed the whole of Sri Lanka, to have a Federal State consisting of nine provinces with adjustments made to help minority interests in certain areas. Let all powers we Tamil speaking expect for ourselves in the North East, be given to Uva, Sabaragamuwa, Southern and all other Provinces. In fact each of those Provinces expect so.
“The Sinhalese will have the same rights the Tamils and Muslims will have in the other Provinces.”
What is your position on a separate state as a solution to the problem?
A separate State in today’s context won’t solve the problems of the Tamils. They will be forced to become appendages of other power units. We would fall from the frying pan to the fire. But if Sri Lanka continues to suppress the Tamil speaking people, then a time will come when the Tamil speaking people would say ‘why not jump from the frying pan into the fire’. So it’s not my position which is relevant. What matters is the position of powers that be within the majority community.
In Sri Lanka, most Tamils live outside the north and the east. In the event of these two provinces being recognized as the traditional homeland of Tamils, what will happen to those living outside?
There is nothing to recognize the North and East as traditional homelands of the Tamils. They are the traditional homelands of the Tamils and it has been already recognized in successive Agreements entered into between the State and the Tamils. The Indo Lanka Accord of 1987 too recognized it.
You have some misconceptions. Don’t forget we already live in a federal type of atmosphere. The Thirteenth Amendment created that ambience. When a Federal Unit for a merged North and East comes into being, we are only giving greater powers to the North and East to look after themselves with less Central Government interference and intrusion. We would continue to be an integrated one, single and whole country. But the Central Government would lose the hegemony that it has on the periphery under Federalism. So those Tamils living outside North and East could opt to return to their traditional areas if they have interests there or continue to live where they are presently living.
What is your position in the present government and with regard to President Maithripala Sirisena in terms of deliverance of your demands?
My relationship with him is good. He is humane. That’s for sure. But he too suffers from a wrong perception of the Tamil problem. Then he has his political constraints. In terms of deliverance of our demands, there is therefore delay and hesitancy. I am glad Mr. Austin Fernando has now come in as Secretary. He is a seasoned public official. He was a Samasamajist in the old days. He might add greater dynamism to the President. (Daily Mirror)