by P. Krishnaswamy
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman and Jaffna District Parliamentarian, M. A. Sumanthiran is of the view, given the fact that Tamils have repeatedly given overwhelming mandates to the party to work for a just solution to their problems, it would be appropriate that a lasting solution to the issue comes from the TNA. In an interview on constitution making with the Sunday Observer, the Parliamentarian who is also a respected Human Rights lawyer says the TNA proposals to the Constitutional Assembly would be drawn from the Mangala Moonesinghe recommendations, the three proposals of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s APRC expert committee report.
Q: The Third Republican Constitution is in the making to resolve the ethnic problem. What are the salient features of the TNA proposal on the Tamil problem to be presented to the Constitutional Assembly?
A: We have articulated our position regarding the Constitution. That is well-known to the people and the government. When we held talks with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2011, we came to an agreement that this could be solved on the basis of the former governments proposals -the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals, the three proposals of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s APRC expert committee report. Our position today is the same. Ever since the 13th Amendment was identified as being insufficient to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people, there have been various efforts. All these documents that I mentioned came as government proposals. These were not our proposals and we are willing to resolve the issue on these proposals.
Q: Do you think you will get the consensus of all ranks within the party?
A: Our party has a clear position on settlement, because at the 2010 General Election we articulated that position. In the Provincial Council election too we confirmed it and in our manifesto for the August 2015 election, too we expressed the same desire. Right from the start, our people have given us an overwhelming mandate to pursue that solution. The consensus was arrived at within the ranks of the TNA.
Q: If you are asking for a unit of devolution based on the unification of the North and the East, are you holding talks or have you held talks with other stakeholders in the provinces, especially the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and other Muslim parties, on reaching a consensus?
A: Yes, we have already held a series of meetings with the stakeholders. We had one meeting with the SLMC because it is the oldest of the Muslim parties. We have not come to any conclusion as yet.
Q: Do you think the SLMC will submit its own proposals to the Constitutional Assembly
A: That, I do not know.
Q: Do you expect any pressure from the Tamil diaspora organisations or any other outside forces on the devolution package that you should ask for?
A: There is no pressure from anyone, either from within the country or outside. Nobody can dictate to us or pressurise us to change that position. Our position is in our manifesto and has been endorsed by our people.
Q: Can I take it as India being included as well?
A: Talking about India, the current Provincial Council system was implemented as a result of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. However, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as a sequel to the Accord, is insufficient to address the problems of the Tamils and did not interpret the principles and spirit of the Accord in the Constitution. The Indo-Lanka Accord is a significant milestone in the constitution-making process and the principles incorporated in it should be adhered to.
The President on January 9, clearly said that both the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact are important. Had they been implemented there would never have been a separatist war. The Indo-Lanka Accord has specifically dealt with certain crucial issues and we are of the stand that all aspects of the Indo-Lanka Accord should find their place in the new constitution of Sri Lanka.
Q: TNA’s Northern Province Chief Minister (CM) C.V.Wigneswaran who launched the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) with several other Tamil leaders, in December last year is going his own way against the decisions of the party leadership. Your comments ?
A: The TPC is a creation of various people who have been marginalised by the people at elections. It seems like it is an outfit to bring back proposals that have been rejected by the people time and again. Nevertheless, if they want an outfit like that and want to make their own representation and present a proposal, it is welcome because everybody must have the right to have a say in this process.
Anyone who belongs to any particular political party must first abide by the policies of that party. Any person belonging to the TNA cannot take a decision contrary to the principles of the party on matters relating to the Tamil people.
The CM’s participation in the TPC meeting was not known to us until after the outfit was set up. Everything was done in secret behind the back of the TNA. Such an exercise cannot be considered a transparent process for the people’s participation. The people who accuse the TNA on issues of transparency have not, up to this moment officially informed the TNA as to why this was formed and what the objectives are. We keep getting contradictory messages.
Spokesman Suresh Premachandran says it will evolve into a political party, while CM Wigneswaran says it is not a political party but a citizens’ forum. There is confusion as to the true nature of the TPC.
Anyone has the right to form organisations and agitate democratically for demands or aspirations. There should never be a barrier. If they belong to a party which has a specific policy on matters concerning the people, they cannot take a different stand.
Q: You have insisted to the party hierarchy on disciplinary action against CM Wigneswaran but no action has been taken. Why?
A: I never insisted on disciplinary action against the CM, instead I only spoke against his actions at the party central committee meeting which I had the right to do. That was leaked to the media and the media blew it out of proportion. The issue that I raised was his defiance to support party candidates at the August 2016 general election and the statement he issued, which was interpreted by many people as a request to vote for a rival party. That is not something any political party will condone.
Q: Some leaders of TNA constituents, especially Suresh Premachandran anad Sitharthan have collaborated with the activities of the TPC. Will it not contribute to politically weakening the TNA?
A: It does not and cannot happen. The TNA has got the approval of the people. The party repeatedly got the endorsement of the people. If the ‘rejects’ get together, to form an outfit and seek the support of the people, it can never cause damage to the TNA because it is the people who elected the TNA and endorsed its policies.
Q: How far are they correct in their accusations that the TNA has fallen in line with the UNF Government and is not capable of wining the just and legitimate rights of the Tamil people?
A: They are wrong in that assessment. The UNF government is drafting the constitution. We cannot stay outside and criticise the process. Instead we must get in and make our contribution to enact a new constitution.
Q: Do you believe that with the TNA proposal incorporated in the new constitution it would be endorsed by the people at a referendum?
A: This is a negotiating process. Eventually something should evolve which was agreed to by the UNP, the SLFP, the TNA, the SLMC and others. If it is passed by a two-third majority in Parliament with the consensus of all political parties, that will reflect in the referendum.
Q: The TPC with leaders of political parties whom you said as rejected by the people seems to take a radical stand with regard to a solution to the Tamil problem. Do you think that it will unduly delay a lasting solution and do you think that they have any hidden motives?
A: I do not know whether they have any hidden motives but certainly their proposals cannot delay a lasting solution to the Tamil problem. The people have given us a clear mandate to represent them and play our role in enacting the constitution.
Q: During his recent visit to the hill country, Mavai Senadhirajah said the TNA will stand by the plantation community and work for their just rights. Is that the policy of the TNA?
A: The TNA has always stood for the rights of the plantation people. We will continue to stand for the rights of the plantation Tamils and also for the rights of the Muslims.