The following response was sent by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to Dr. Sooriya Gunasekara, Chairman of a Registered Political party called ‘Sinhaladipa Jathika Peramuna’ who called the CM for a debate on the issues discussed in his interview, which was published on 19 February 2017 in Ceylon Today.
Dr. Gunasekara, who is a retired civil servant, requested the CM to come for a debate on the topic where the CM mentioned, “I am always available for talks. In fact, I like to talk to the most diehard Sinhala chauvinists.”
Dr. Gunasekara sent a mail to the CM through Ceylon Today Journalist Sulochana Ramiah Mohan stating that he would like to have either face to face talks or written conversation on print media with Wigneswaran regarding his views expressed in the interview. “We would like to keep this interview as a clarification by you of the various questions that Sinhalese intellectuals and others pose regarding Tamils rather than a debate between individuals.”
Below are the questions thrown at Wigneswaran by Dr. Gunasekara
Dr. Gunasekara: How could the CM speak of traditional areas and merger of North and East when most Tamils live outside the North East and they occupy Sinhala areas?
CM: Firstly, the question of occupation of Sinhala areas by Tamils. Tamils in large numbers do live in Greater Colombo area. But, Colombo is not a Sinhala area. It is the capital of the Island. From British times and may be Dutch times too, lots of communities have resided in Colombo. Inter alia apart from Sinhalese, Tamils from North, East and Upcountry, Indians, Muslims, Dutch Burghers, Malays, Borahs, Chinese, Africans and Europeans have all resided in Colombo at some time or other. None of them were forcibly brought by the government and made to colonize Colombo. Since the business capital was Colombo, since a number of good schools were in Colombo, since sports and recreation and entertainment facilities were available in Colombo, since Departmental Head Offices were in Colombo and for various other reasons many communities settled down in Colombo. They bought lands with their own money and settled down.
Many Tamils had Hobson’s choice in selecting Colombo to live in recent times. Successive governments were making it difficult for the Tamils to live in their own areas. When the Tamils asked for their legitimate rights our successive governments refused to grant them or cheated them after promising to grant them. They thus forced the youth to take up arms. Their violence was equated to violence found elsewhere in the world and all were called terrorists. My friend the late Desmond Fernando, PC once said, “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”. Thus conditions in the North and East made many Tamils to take up residence in Colombo or leave the shores of the Island. But, they were not provided lands or houses free by the government. In fact, when I was quite young, before we obtained Independence from the British in 1948, I had resided in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura before coming to Colombo. The old Town at Anuradhapura had a sizable Tamil population. A Tamil was Chairman of the Local Authority for over 17 years. The Tamils used to be resident then in all parts of the Island from North to South. Tamils owned vast acreages of paddy land in Tissamaharama to my knowledge. Still Trust lands belonging to Hindu Organizations exist in Galle and Matara. But, they had been forcibly taken over during the riots in 1958 and 1983 among other pogroms. The point I am making is that the Tamils were chased out from the Sinhalese areas systematically during the period after Independence especially after the Sinhala Only Act was brought in. They were sent in the aftermath of the respective riots initially by the different governments only to the North and East thus recognizing that they belong to the North and East. As I said earlier all Agreements entered into by different governments with the Tamil leaders recognized the North and East as the traditional homelands of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking people. Even the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement recognized this as a fact. After chasing out the Tamils from mainly Sinhala areas to their traditional homelands now to allege that the Tamils have no claim even to their traditional homelands borders on sadism to say the least.
So my answer to the said observation is that the Tamils no more occupy in large numbers, areas characterized as Sinhala areas. They had been chased out from there very systematically. Colombo is the Metropolis. It is not a ‘Sinhala Area’. Tamils living outside their traditional homelands could not be precluded from claiming their legitimate rights in terms of International Covenants and Law.
The next part of the question is about the merger of the North and East. The claim for merger has become more urgent today than ever before. The need for merger is intimately connected to the genocidal activities of the successive governments of the past. When it is quite patent that successive majority community governments have been hitherto only interested in protecting the majority community at all costs the need for the Tamil speaking people to consolidate their position in the country of their birth at all costs becomes even more urgent.
When I say genocidal activities of successive governments I speak the truth. The chasing out of the Tamils systematically from areas outside North and East through riots and pogroms, the patent lethargy and indifference shown by successive governments in bringing to book those who harassed, killed and maimed apart from looting and burning the residences of the Tamil people which in turn developed a culture of impunity among criminals among the majority community, the attempt even now to avoid punishment of those who indulged in criminal activities against the Tamils particularly the brutal war criminals and for political reasons trying to hobnob with criminal elements to paint such criminals and wrongdoers as patriotic personalities all contribute to the genocidal instincts of those in authority so far.
If only the wrongdoers at Inginiyagala on or about 5 June 1956 were brought to book immediately and steps taken to show that the government does not tolerate any criminal activities against any person whomsoever the path of our post Independence history would have been different. There is thus a necessity to protect our people from the thuggery and brutality of violent elements within our majority community.
Added to what took place in the past, certain violent and brutal activities have still continued under this Good Governance Government.
There is thus an urgent need to put a stop to the surreptitious colonization presently taking place both in the North and the East with the active help of the military.
Already the East which did not have a sizable Sinhala population at the time of Independence has swelled to nearly one third its population becoming Sinhalese. Those who ask “If you can be in Colombo why cannot we be in the East?” the answer is simple. It is after chasing out the Tamils from all the other areas outside the North and East this question is posed. As I said earlier the Tamils used to live throughout the Island during the time of Independence. They were forcibly evicted to take refuge in the North and East. Now the argument is trotted out “What’s wrong?” regarding the North and East. The whole episode savours of genocide.
That is what is wrong. Without acceding to the legitimate rights of the Tamil speaking people, to swell the ranks of the Sinhalese Buddhists in the North and East through dubious governmental methods only means that there is a planned displacement of the indigenous people with the idea of making the whole Island Sinhala Buddhist. With that idea in view, in recent times forcible colonization of the Northern Province is taking place with the active help of the military. The refusal to demilitarize has nothing to do with security. It has everything to do with this process of evicting the Tamil speaking people from the North and East and replacing them with the Sinhalese, especially the Buddhists.
That is why the preservation of the Tamil speaking areas of the North and East has become very urgent in recent times. The merger will give a chance for the Tamil speaking people to consolidate their position and fight the might of the Central Governments determined to change the demography of the North and East. The Muslims must join the Tamils in this venture in return for the creation of a Muslim dominated sub division of the Tamil speaking North and East to look after their interests.
Dr. Gunasekara: One final question; it is nothing to do with your interview to Ceylon Today. This concerns our former President.
He has picked holes on the efforts of the government to meet some of the demands of the Tamils. Any efforts on the part of the present government to grant concessions to the Tamils would end up firstly in punishing the armed forces for winning the war, secondly, devolving more and more power to the provinces until the central government ceases to be relevant, thirdly, destroying the ability of the Sri Lankan State to respond adequately to a breakdown in law and order, fourthly, demoralizing and breaking the will of the majority of the population and the armed forces and fifthly, creating a favourable space for separatism.
What we will be left with, will be a fragmented Sri Lanka made up of nine federal states with a very weak central government which is legally prevented from responding effectively to situations of internal disorder. From that point, it will be just one step towards a separate state. What are your observations?
CM – Firstly, I must point out that history is repeating itself. When Madame Chandrika brought out a document to solve the problems of the Tamils around the year 2000 I believe, the UNP burnt copies of the document in Parliament. Finally, no solution was found. That is how it is. The government and opposition seasonally trade on the plight of the Tamils. Meanwhile, both are surreptitiously undermining the existence and continuation of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa like any other Sinhalese politician is pandering to the baser instincts of the Sinhalese people to obtain their votes. He is this time cautioning the Sinhalese against giving any rights to the Tamils.
Whether this Good Governance Government or any other Central Government would grant any worthwhile rights to the Tamils is another question. The chances are they would not. All of them lack statesmanship and the will to give up part of their powers.
But, nevertheless, let me comment on the views of the former President.
Whoever asked the government to punish the Armed Forces for winning the War? That is a complete distortion of facts. The whole world is asking the government to identify the criminals among the Armed Forces and deal with them in terms of the Law.
By trying to support such criminals Hon Mahinda Rajapaksa might open himself to a charge of trying to protect criminals and preventing Law taking its normal course.
Secondly, I wish to ask the former President – has devolution of more and more power to the periphery in other countries made their Central Governments cease to be relevant? Have the Central Governments of Canada, Switzerland and Belgium among others become irrelevant due to power sharing? Mr. Rajapaksa might be insulting those countries by his stupid statement.
Thirdly, would power sharing destroy the ability of the Sri Lankan State to respond adequately to a breakdown in Law and Order?
Has that been the experience in India? With so many States and so much of diverse population, has India lost its ability to deal with breakdown in Law and Order in any part of India? Mr. Rajapaksa should realize more often the obligation to deal with local breakdown of Law and Order is with the State (Provincial) Government. The Centre would be called upon to deal with a situation only if the Province cannot cope. Why would the Central lose its ability just because certain rights are vested with the periphery?
His statement lacks substance and rationale.
Fourthly, he has said that power sharing would demoralize and break the will of the majority of the population and the armed forces.
Mr. Rajapaksa has let the cat out of the bag! He in effect says that it was the majoritarian hegemonic attitude of the successive governments in Sri Lanka that have kept the enthusiasm of the majority and its armed forces so far. Drop such hegemonic attitude and we would be lost, he in effect says! What he proposes is a continuance of discriminatory and even brutal and inhuman attitude towards the minority to ensure majoritarian hegemony and happiness. Hon Rajapaksa should realize that the International Community is trying to tell Sri Lanka that its majoritarian stance so far has been the cause for the impasse in Sri Lanka and sooner such attitudes are discarded the better for this country. To continue in the same strain might bring in votes for some time but people would soon realize the folly of it and they would chase out such personalities pursuing puerile political gimmicks and bring in more matured and responsible persons in to govern. Hon Mr. Rajapaksa must not forget the lesson he learnt on
8 January 2015.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s fifth and final observation that power sharing would create a favourable space for separatism is not borne out by the experiences of other countries. His statement in effect says keep your wife happy and she will want to file a divorce case!
He has also said that what we would be left after power sharing will be a fragmented Sri Lanka made up of nine federal states with a very weak Central Government, which would be legally prevented from responding effectively to situations of internal disorder. From that point, it will be just one step towards a separate State.
Is his statement true? We have large Companies functioning in Sri Lanka. Often they grant internal self governance to their peripheral units. Except for certain matters almost all decisions at the periphery are taken internally without harassing the Head Office. Who would say by such activities the Central Head Office of these Companies often become weak? On the contrary, they become stronger by devolving powers to the periphery.
We must appreciate Mr. Rajapaksa for envisaging nine federal units for Sri Lanka. Not so long ago when there was unanimous opposition to the Central Government’s draft Bill on Development from the Provincial Heads I had remarked that the North is no more alone. Our brethren from all other Provinces now realize the need for devolution, I said. Nine federal units conforming more or less to the existing Provincial boundaries with the option given to two or more Provinces to merge would be an ideal basis to solve our problems, I said. With certain reservations with regard to the existing Provincial boundaries this is an idea that may be examined positively.
Mr. Rajapaksa when he refers to the inability of the Centre to deal with internal disorder if powers are shared with the periphery, what he forgets is thatthe chances for such internal disorder that he envisions would hardly ever arise. It is the centralized hegemonic majoritarian rule by a coterie in Colombo so far that has given rise to heartaches and discontent at the periphery.
When power is shared with the periphery why would the periphery want to secede? Quebec did not want to in Canada. Scotland did not want to in Great Britain.
There is an important matter that needs to be realized by Mr. Rajapaksa and others of his ilk. The ‘Tamils may secede’ has been a hidden fear among Sinhalese politicians for a long time. The path they chose to prevent secession was the path of discrimination and violence. Once the Sinhalese come to realize that the forefathers of certain Tamils of Sri Lanka had been the original inhabitants of this country long before the Sinhala language was born, they would then shed their wrong perception that Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists and so on. Once the Sinhalese and Tamils and other groups of citizens begin to look upon the entire country as their own, the need to secede would disappear.
Therefore, the statement by the former President lacks substance, cogency and validity. He is talking like any other street politician to pander to the baser instincts of the Sinhalese. I am sure the Sinhalese have learnt sufficiently in recent times to take him seriously.