JVP the stumbling block
Up country giant the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) has pledged to support UNP Presidential Candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe at the November presidential poll. The decision was taken last week and CWC leader and one time cabinet minister Arumugam Thondaman says he will work towards the victory of Wickremesinghe at the November presidential poll. "Nothing comes easy. But the
victory is Wickremesinghe's," he told The Sunday Leader in an interview. He said one of the reasons why he could not support SLFP presidential candidate and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was the Premier's alliance with the JVP.
CWC Leader Armugam Thondaman
"JVP killed our people and continues to threaten our people. How can we support such a party and be in the government with them," asked Thondaman. He said the Opposition Leader has a vision and he feels through his vision the country could be taken forward to face the challenges of this century. "This will immensely help the plantation workers," he added.
Following are excerpts;
By Wilson Gnanadass
Q: Once again the CWC has crossed the border to support UNP Presidential Candidate Ranil Wickreme-
singhe. What were the causes that led to the Congress taking this decision?
A: Well, there are many reasons that led us to support the UNP candidate at the forthcoming presidential election. We have been discussing this particular issue for a long time. This has also been widely reported in the media. We did not only discuss matters with Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe but also with the SLFP presidential candidate and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and finally we arrived at this decision.
Firstly I must say that Mr. Wickremesinghe has agreed to support our cause - that being the welfare of the plantation folks. We placed before the Opposition Leader a 19-point formula and this was acceptable to the Opposition Leader. On the whole we also thought Mr.Wickremesinghe had a vision to lead this country. You see, I represent the plantation workers. My whole concern is the welfare of the workers. So I must be very
careful in extending my party support to a particular candidate. I can only afford to support a candidate who I feel has the capability and the wisdom to help our people.
Q: How do you think the plantation workers are going to benefit from your support to Wickreme-
A: In many ways. If these 19 points are going to be implemented, definitely the plantation workers are going to be benefited. Firstly the 19-point formula emphasises on creating a peaceful atmosphere in the country. We have stressed that peace process should begin and a lasting peace should be found with focus on all the grievances of the Tamils in the north and east. Now if this is done, don't you think that the
country is going to prosper thereby enabling the plantation workers also to gain something out of it? So this was our thinking and this is why we thought of supporting Mr.Wickremesinghe.
Q: What is the guarantee you have that Wickremesinghe could usher in an era of peace and also help the plantation workers?
A: Well, during the short time he was the Prime Minister, we know that he took a bold decision to sign the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. And as a result even today we enjoy a peaceful climate though there are minor incidents here and there. I don't think any politician has taken this bold step so far. So we feel if he is elected as the next president of this country, he will be able to do more.
Q: Your party also held lengthy discussions with the SLFP presidential candidate and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. Why do you think Rajapakse could not have delivered the goods to the plantation sector?
A: It is not that Mr. Rajapakse could not have done this. But we were very worried and disturbed over his decision to sign pacts with the JVP and the JHU. Though Hon. Rajapakse as a separate entity could have done something better to our society, we knew well that after his alliance with the JVP he could not have done anything. Leave alone our community but the entire country, I must say.
In fact I appointed a committee comprising senior CWC officials like Mr. Sellasamay, Mr. Yogarajan and Mr.Sachchidanandan and their reports did not prompt me to extend support to the SLFP candidate. I had all my trust in this particular committee and I know these three gentlemen had the experience to feel the pulse of almost everything. And their reports did not motivate me to support the SLFP candidate.
Q: Why should Rajapakse's alliance with the JVP irk the Congress?
A: Ours is not a party that could support the JVP at any time. This is a party that has caused immense hardships to the ordinary civilians. I must tell you that the JVP has killed a number of plantation youths and even today plantation people are being threatened by the JVP. The entire country is aware of the JVP's atrocities caused to the people and the country. The entire country knows that the JVP is a party that is
anti Tamil. We all know that this party is a communal minded party and we wonder how Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who has been right throughout a strong SLFPer, could sign agreements with the JVP. So we feel, Prime Minister Rajapakse could never achieve his peace tasks when travelling with a party like the JVP.
Q: Senior government ministers say your decision to support the UNP presidential candidate does not reflect the will of the plantation workers at large. What is the truth behind this?
A: I am amazed those so called government ministers have come to know the workers' feelings at a time like this especially when an election is round the corner. I would have been happy if those ministers had the same feelings for the workers even when the elections were not around the corner. I wonder how could anybody other than those actually representing the plantation workers talk for the workers.
We had a series of discussions with the workers through various committees that I appointed. It is only after an in depth consultation with them that these special teams appointed to interact with the workers reported to me that it is their will that we should support the leader. Also the executive committee and the working committee comprising representatives from all the districts gave me the sole authority to take a final
decision. Now isn't this an indication that the party has confidence in the decisions that I take?
Q: Referring to your support for Wickremesinghe, Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera says it is political suicide while Deputy Sports Minister Sripathi Sooryaarachchi says Rajapakse could win even without your support. What is your response?
A: Answering the first question about Mr.Samaraweera's statements, I must say that one must wait and see whether it is political suicide or not. Also when I have a close friend like Mr. Samaraweera, it does not matter to me whether it is suicide or not. Replying to my friend Mr. Sooriy-
aarachchi's comments, I must say there again we have to wait and see on the day of the election. The election results will give all the answers to these questions and doubts. Let me put it this way..one of the reasons why I decided to support Mr.Wickreme-
singhe is that I did not want my friend Sooryaarachchi to become a liar (laughs).
Q: It has been accepted by the Congress that more work in the plantation sector had been done for during the PA, UPFA regime. It is a known fact that it was President Chandrika Kumaratunga who created a separate ministry for this sector. But yet you have decided to support Wickremesinghe?
A: Yes. I must admit that it was under the President's leadership that this sector obtained most of the facilities. But yet we have to look at the future. For what the President has done for us, we are forever thankful to her. She has been a non-communal politician and also been a good friend of ours. We don't deny this. But yet we have to think of our future survival. As I mentioned earlier, one wonders how
Mr.Rajapakse could deliver the goods to the plantation sector joining hands with parties like the JVP and JHU.
Q: Another serious allegation leveled against you by the JVP is that it is President Kumaratunga who requested you to support Wickremesinghe. Is it true?
A: No not at all. It is true we met the President to pay our tribute to her. As I told you earlier, she has been a very close friend of our community and we thought it was fitting for us to say 'Thank you' to her. And during this meeting we did raise our concerns about Mr.Rajapakse's alliance with the JVP and she told us she will talk to him and come back to us. She was also a great friend of my late grand father. But
she did not influence us to support Ranil. Let me put the record straight. Nobody can influence me.
Q: Another allegation is that the UNP bribed you to obtain your support for Wickremesinghe?
A: There again there is no truth in it. I know this rumour has been going on for a long time. Strangely the ones who are responsible for spreading the rumour know very well of my financial strength and my status. With all this they do this. I feel this is typical Sri Lankan style.
Q: But UNP MP, T. Maheswaran is even prepared to challenge you over this allegation?
A: Who cares about Maheswaran. He is non-existent in my life. I can't afford to spend my time talking about him. He has said if I support Mr. Wickremesinghe he will contest the presidential election. And I am waiting to see this. Once again I want to say I do not wish to talk about a kerosene oil seller. Empty vessels make the biggest noise.
Q: Is it true that the CWC ministers will quit the government once the President comes back to the country?
A: Yes. We have a minister and a deputy minister. They will quit the government and hand over all the vehicles they obtained from the government. We also have another deputy minister Mr.Faizer Mustapha, who stabbed behind my back and ran away. I don't know what he plans to do.
Q: What are the chances of Wickremesinghe's victory?
A: Nothing comes easy. But we feel the victory is Ranil's. We will ensure his victory. We will go all out to make sure he is elected as the next president of Sri Lanka.
Q: Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has vowed to solve the ethnic crisis through a unitary system of government. Do you think it is possible?
A: No. I think there should be substantial devolution for this particular crisis to come to an end. And such devolution is possible through a dynamic federal set up. In fact in our formula we have emphasised this fact.