by Meera Srinivasan, ‘The Hindu,’ Chennai, March 12, 2015
PM Modi’s visit will be the first bilateral visit of an Indian leader to Sri Lanka in 27 years, and the first ever to Jaffna. How do you perceive this visit?
Hon’ Modi has been a source of strength and inspiration for the Tamils of Sri Lanka as he has risen from humble beginnings with sheer commitment and determination to the highest office in India despite determined and formidable opposition against him over decades, due to his yearning to serve the people of India and to create an India to be taken note of in the 21 century. His ascendency to power and the change he has begun to usher in the political, economic, social and cultural landscape of India are worthy lessons to be learned by us in Sri Lanka, particularly by us Tamils. While appreciating Indian concerns with regard to its foreign policy towards Sri Lanka, Mr. Modi’s forthrightness in wanting the full implementation of the 13th Amendment when Mr. Rajapaksa met him was a step in the right direction though the path to ultimate settlement is going to be long and arduous. Thirteenth Amendment can never be the final solution. Be that as it may, we welcome him. We know we have a friend in him. We appreciate his concerns for us, in wanting to come to the North. We would recommend to him that it is time to reconsider the 13th Amendment, which was a fall out from the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and to replace it with a more dynamic system, which would ensure maximum power sharing for the North and East.
After all Hon’ Modi had been an excellent administrator. He transformed Gujarat into a successful State. He was there for over ten years. He brought international recognition to Gujarat and conceived the Gujarat model for development, which I referred to in my congratulatory message to him in May 2014. He transformed Gujarat. His excellent leadership and people-centered approach was possible due to the nature of center-periphery framework and content and quantum of devolution that is prevalent under the Indian constitution, which is a Union, secular by design. Even after becoming the PM he has dismantled centralized planning process to facilitate greater performance and productivity among the States in the Indian Union. In other words, he is a proponent and an advocate of devolution.
I have been to Gujarat and heard firsthand about the transformation from friends there. He would understand the nuances of the power structure which could bring about such transformation. India we must remember is a Union and is secular. The powers given to the States are considerable.
Under our unitary constitution there is no chance of our performing the way Hon’ Modi performed. Indian Constitution provides for the facilitation of sustainable development, internal security, law and order, policing and questions pertaining to lands and so on within the State. Our inability to function our Province to the extent he was able to help his State under the Indian Constitution would be understood by him. Especially the inadequacies of the Thirteenth Amendment would no doubt be understood by him. His visit and understanding would be very vital in the ultimate finalization of our constitutional problems.
After the new government was elected in Sri Lanka, do you see India’s position having changed in regard to the Tamil question? The recent NPC resolution [on the alleged genocide] points to members’ dissatisfaction with the government. How confident are you of India playing a role in pushing for devolution and a durable political solution?
As I said we see positive signs in the manner in which Mr. Modi is dealing with our affairs. It cannot be said that the NPC is dissatisfied with our new Government. We are dissatisfied with the attempts by certain sections of the new Government acting irresponsibly following the age old political tactics of the past which had led to the worsening of the ethnic issue. Our President is refreshingly different. We are therefore interested in a new culture among the leadership of the new Government whose election was determined by our people too. May be India can play a positive role in bringing about such a change in political culture. Let us not forget India represented our Tamil interests at the time of the enactment of the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987.
How would you like India to engage on the Tamil question, in the context of the Human Rights’ Council’s deferral of the report on Sri Lanka, and an apparently softer stance taken by the US?
We Tamils are the victims. There is a need for a victim centered and rights’ based approach in this regard. It is useless saying even Sinhalese have been affected and so on. If they have been affected they should bring resolutions to that effect from whichever quarters interested. The regime change should not be considered as an end in itself. If so considered the efforts of the UN body so far might get stultified. We are hopeful under Hon’ Modi there would be positive action taken to resolve our problems. There should be talks among the Indian Government, Sri Lankan Government and the NPC, without taking refuge under protocols to find ways of resolving the central problem of the Tamil speaking people within the extended time granted, in an innovative and creative manner bearing in mind the root causes of the conflict and post war needs and priorities of the Tamils of NP and EP. I distinguish between justice having to be rendered in respect of the war crimes on the one hand and justice and fair play to be established in the political arena and the constitutional framework in Sri Lanka on the other.
It must be remembered that our former President in May 2009 immediately after the end of war released a joint statement with the UN Secretary General during latter’s visit to Sri Lanka relating to the core issues and post war context and the causes of the conflict. In addition, somewhere in January 2010 he promised Mr.Manmohan Singh that he will go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment. Mr. Modi will no doubt take note of the commitment expressed by the then Sri Lankan Head of State, consider our post war context, needs, priorities and concerns.
On more than one occasion, you have placed on record your appreciation for Prime Minister Modi. What expectations do the Northern Tamils have of the Indian Prime Minister?
Forthrightness and fair play. We expect him to empathise with us. His integrity and sense of fair play is only too well known. He is a people centered politician and places people at the center of development. We expect him to take cognizance of the evolution and changing contexts since the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 particularly taking into consideration the historic communication late TULF Leaders Amirthalingam and Sivasithambaram and present TNA Leader Sampanthan had addressed to the then Indian Prime Minister, late Shri Rajiv Gandhi on 28 October 1987, pointing out how hollow and inadequate the 13th Amendment promulgated by the former Sri Lankan President J R Jayawardene had been and sought the then Indian Government’s intervention on behalf of the Tamils of North East Province of Sri Lanka. Let us not forget when Indo Lanka Accord was negotiated, as a solution to Tamil Question, India whilst addressing Indian Security and Strategic concerns, stood as a guarantor on behalf of the Tamils of North-East . In my opinion, the situation prevailing in North-East Provinces in SL today is almost akin to the context that prevailed then, meaning July 1987!
What is your response to PM Wickremesinghe’s remarks on “shooting Indian fishermen” found poaching in Sri Lankan waters, which has sparked a controversy in India?
I am still to respond to certain other statements allegedly made by him. But since you have asked this now I could only say these are inappropriate statements by a Prime Minister of a friendly country of India, a country which has very close socio cultural and religious ties. While our President is showing much statesmanship and restraint in his responses such statements by the Prime Minister cannot bring benefits to our Country.