Rajitha holds out
olive branch to CBK
Lands Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has made a
'U' turn. He has decided to revive the old friendship he had with
President Chandrika Kumaratunga for the sake of the country. He
says he is willing to do anything for the sake of the country and
its people and at present has agreed to cohabit with President
Kumaratunga. Discussions between the former arch rivals are
already on and both may agree to work together for a common cause
in the weeks to come.
are excerpts of an interview:
By Wilson Gnanadass
Q: We understand that in a dramatic turn of events you
and President Kumaratunga are all set to bury the hatchet and forget the
past and work towards cohabitation. Is this correct?
A: I don't know about Mrs. Kumaratunga's position
yet. However, recently at a live television debate John Seneviratne who
represented the PA was pointing the finger at 'certain members in the
cabinet' saying they do not allow for cohabitation, though the prime
minister is of a different opinion. He also said that the prime minister
and the president were all set to go for cohabitation during the first
few months of formation of the government and that the premier could not
do this because of a few members of the UNF
government. And he kept on repeating it. It is at this time I
said that the problem between the president and us came about only after
she refused to hand over the Samurdhi Ministry to S. B. Dissanayake. At
this point I said that we do not need to go through past events which
will only cause more trouble, if we are agreeable to the concept of
cohabitation. I said if the PA or the president is willing to cohabit
with us, we will forget the past. I also said that the president should
make a declaration that she is willing to cohabit and that she is ready
to work with us. It is at this juncture I said since the president is
older than I and senior in politics, I will first start from my side to
consider cohabitation with her. This is how some sort of understanding
between the president and myself started to develop. During this live
debate I proposed to set an example because John Seneviratne kept on
pointing his finger obviously at me.
Q: What brought about the sudden change and what
response are you getting from the Presidential Secretariat?
A: Though it was sudden, I have explained to you
how it all started from the live debate on TV. Though we all had
different opinions and were struggling to cohabit, we thought of the
country first. I thought if the president is willing to cohabit, why not
us? If we can come to an agreement with Prabhakaran, then we may be able
to come to some understanding with the president too. So it is like the
theory of peace and struggle. That is why I said if it is so, even I
myself could initiate it because I am not self-conscious. With this, my
friends who are very close to the president have initiated a dialogue
between the president and myself. According to the mediators, at the
moment it is well and good. I can't elaborate further at the moment.
Q: Are you expected to meet with President Kumaratunga
A: We have discussed about that also and according
to the mediators the president and myself are both agreeable to meet.
Q: Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake and you
have been at the forefront of the attack on the PA in general and
President Kumaratunga in particular. Are you now isolating your
colleague and going it alone?
A: No. I have explained all what has happened to
my pal Ravi. We had a lengthy discussion. He has a very high regard for
me and he understands me. We both agreed that we have to sacrifice
ourselves and our interests simply for the sake of the country. The
people of this country would be very happy to see unity among all
forces. Though we knew it before there was no initiative taken from
either side, because both parties were stubborn like the government and
minister is the one who initiated the process of cohabitation and who
actually professed on this, but there was no opportunity for us to make
it a reality. So therefore now we have come to a point where both sides
are ready to sit and discuss. So I must say Ravi understands the
situation. Both of us love our country and for that reason, both being
professionals gave up our idea of moving towards greener pastures and
got into politics. I will start it and Ravi will join me. If there is
real cohabitation it should not be on personal grounds. It should be
extended to everybody. What we profess is cohabitation between the
president and the cabinet and also between the PA and the UNP.
Q: How does Ravi view this latest development?
A: He has taken it well. As always he supports me.
He is with me. So there is no problem.
Q: If your talks with the president is successful, do
you foresee a tie-up between the PA and the UNP?
Q: The Supreme Court is expected to give its views on
the 19th Amendment tomorrow. If the court allows the UNF to go ahead
with the amendment without a referendum, would the UNF make use of the
chance to clip the wings of President Kumaratunga?
A: If we come to an understanding soon, I don't
think it will be required to go for any amendments. When I talk of
understanding, it is basically believing the president. We thought of
bringing the 19th Amendment because we did not believe the president. If
there is a good understanding both parties can sit together and lay out
future programmes. Then the president and the prime minister can sit
together and discuss and decide on all matters concerning the
development of the country.
Q: How do you view President Kumaratunga's accusations
against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of accepting a bribe?
A: Now if we really come to an understanding, we
will agree and decide to bury the hatchet. The prime minister is very
sincere on peace on all
fronts. He advocated peace with the
Tigers with a very open mind before the people at all elections. After
forming the government he tried his best to cohabit with the president.
So I met the prime minister today and had a lengthy discussion and I
explained all what had happened up to this afternoon. He was very happy
and he wished me all the best. He was very happy to see the turn of
events and he said he would like to see both of us meet early. Actually
what I am doing today is what the prime minister wanted all this time.
Q: You have accused President Kumaratunga of various
scandals. But now you say cohabitation is possible with her. How come?
A: It is not only I who have accused her, but both
parties have accused each other. I have already said that we are ready
to forget the past and not to live in the past. We want to start a new
chapter from today for the sake of the people. When I agreed for
cohabitation with my friend, PA's John Seneviratne, even the JVP MP
agreed with us. So I don't like to discuss about the past because at the
moment there is some dialogue going on between both parties. Therefore,
there is no use in dragging out the past.
Q: Could you explain as to how you came to understand
President Kumaratunga so soon?
A: There is nothing about understanding. The PA MP
at the live debate initiated it and I too agreed to respond and initiate
this process. If this goes successfully we can talk to each other. And
there is nothing to understand the president because I have been
associating with her from the early '70s.
Q: Does it mean you are reviving your old friendship?
A: Not so. We are agreeing to sit together to do
something for the sake of our people. But at the same time if this goes
far it will obviously be a revival of our old friendship. My friends who
are still with her for some time have appealed to re-establish the
friendship, so that we could work out a formula for the sake of the
country. However, I did not want to take any action behind the curtain.
This time I agreed with my opponent from the PA openly before the
Q: The situation in the east seems volatile. How
seriously will this affect
the peace process in your view?
A: I personally don't think this would have any
effect on the peace process. Investigations are going on to ascertain as
to what really has happened. But I feel we must act with a sense of
responsibility. The situation in the north and east is very complex. The
Tigers who were waging war against us have laid down their arms. We must
not expect them to make a 180-degree turn and expect them to be the best
of the law abiding people immediately.
We must be very cautious when taking action against them.
We cannot expect much from them at this juncture. It will take a long
time for them to develop a civil society in the north and east. If we
expect them to have a licence for every thing, I think that will lead to
misunderstandings. We must understand this and practice a 'give and
take' policy. As a person who has professed peace with the Tigers I have
always said that there will be many a setback in this process and we
should never be sensitive to such incidents. In my view the main
requirement at the moment is peace, and every other thing comes second.
Peace must supercede all other things and both parties must sacrifice a
lot to achieve peace.
Whether we like it or not we must make up our minds to
appreciate the Tigers for entering the peace process and coming all this
way. LTTE came to the peace process not because they were weak. They had
other reasons like the international pressure. We must understand they
are strong. This time both parties have come to the table because both
sides are frustrated and tired of war. So it is the government that must
be more responsible than the Tigers in achieving peace. The government
troops must do their best to achieve peace. If we fail to achieve peace
it is the troops and not the other prophets who will have to sacrifice
their lives again. We cannot demand civil licences from those who have
been carrying RPGs.
Q: You visited the LTTE prisoners who are held at
Kalutara prison. What was the mood of the prisoners with regard to the
A: I am happy they have given up their hunger
strike. I had a long discussion with Minister Moragoda and requested him
to get the officials to move quickly in order to avoid any unwanted
situation arising. I had lengthy discussions with the prisoners and they
said whatever happened to them the peace process should move forward.
They said it should progress even after their death. A total of 139
prisoners were involved in this protest. Ten to 15 were in a bad
condition. Some had been administered saline. The majority of the
prisoners were innocent citizens who begged for their release. There
were a few hard nuts. I was with them for over three hours with my
colleague Minister Maheswaran. I explained to him my experience in the
peace process and our discussions with the LTTE in the 1980s when the
entire country was against such a process. And I explained to them the
sincerity of the prime minister on this issue and said that this is the
best prime minister with whom the Tigers could strike a deal.
With all that they wanted something concrete. I said
certain cases could be withdrawn with the consent of the AG. The second
category would be with a cabinet decision, while the third is for those
who are pardoned by the president. I had a long discussion with Minister
Moragoda which prompted a discussion yesterday with the prime minister,
the TNA and the AG who all visited the prison. I was asked to
follow up this issue because the Kalutara prison is in my electorate.