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'Indian unity at stake if Tamil issue is not resolved'


D. Pandian

The Tamil Nadu General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, D. Pandian says the unity of India will be at stake if the Congress Party Government does not address the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka and ensure a ceasefire.

In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Pandian could not give an assurance the LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan will agree to a negotiated settlement within a united Sri Lanka but said they will use their good offices with the Tigers to persuade them to enter into a peaceful settlement.

He also said if India fails to address this issue speedily the youth in Tamil Nadu may question the viability of continuing within the union of India.

Following are excerpts of the interview.

 

By Lasantha Wickrematunge in Chennai

Q. Mr. Pandian, you have been agitating for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement for the Sri Lankan issue, particularly with regard to the devolution of power for the Tamil people. What is the basis for this push on your part?

A. The whole world knows the basic reasons for it. For more than five decades, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has not been resolved. If only the government had really wanted to settle the problem, it could have been done a long time ago. Instead, they thought that the people who demand certain political rights can be subjugated through force and that they can be kept under their thumb.

Such an attitude in any country particularly in the modern period will not yield results however mighty the power might be. Even if the opposite side is less in number, less in equipment, it can continue the battle using different methods. Because, the war methods have changed. The whole world knows it. Even a handful of individuals can terrorise an entire society and a nation. Should we promote it and encourage it? Is not the Sri Lankan government inviting such terrorist attacks against them?

The root cause is to settle the ethnic problem. If they think that the problem should be settled according to their terms, they can spell out. So that the other countries and the other side can express their opinion. They may demand some modification or amendments here and there. The world also can talk to both. They can appeal to the Sri Lankan government to concede a little more, and also appeal to the other side to accept it for the time being and restore peace.

Q. The Sri Lankan government is arguing that this is an internal matter and an issue of national sovereignty and that international players should not get involved in this process and that there are terrorist problems in several countries including in India and therefore, the government will deal with this situation, as it seems best. How would you respond to that?

A. We agree that Sri Lanka is an independent country and we don not want to infringe upon the sovereignty of that country. We respect it. But, if they think it is purely an internal matter, why are they seeking military aid from India, China, Pakistan, Israel and using not only the arms, but their personnel as well? If it is an internal affair, it is for them to fight and settle it.

The moment they started receiving military training in India, on our soil, and inviting our armed personnel to assist them, because, we do not know what they are doing on the ground, how they are operating. Such details, we do not know.

Q. But is India really helping militarily in that respect, except giving logistical support?

A. When the Sri Lankan President recently visited India, he openly said that 1200 Tamils have been inducted into the Sri Lankan army and they were all trained by India. What does it mean? It is like using my finger to pierce my own eye.

Q. So what do you intend to do about this situation?

A. That is why, when you started saying that I'm agitating. I will substitute that word. We are not agitating. We are only pleading, requesting and then demanding basic human rights and democratic rights, and we do not want any special power or special right to any linguistic sections. What the Sinhalese people are enjoying on the soil of Sri Lanka, let it be extended to the sons of Sri Lanka who are speaking Tamil. Nothing more.

Q. The position of President Mahinda Rajapakse in that respect is that he has already liberated the east of LTTE terrorism, and has given provincial council powers to a council elected, where a former militant, in fact, a former child soldier has become the Chief Minister. And he says that after clearing the north, he will also establish a provincial council there. Would you say that it would satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people?

A. He is an elected President. And we respect him, as he has been elected democratically. When he says that 'I have liberated an area', what is the country that had committed aggression and captured the area? Let him say openly to the world from where and from whom did he liberate that territory. If he is the President of Sri Lanka, and speaks of sovereignty, I would like to know, wherein comes a liberated area within Sri Lanka? What happened to his sovereignty? What happened to his power?

Q. Mr. Pandian, given your experience with regard to the Sri Lankan situation, are you convinced that the LTTE, which is banned in India, will agree to a negotiated settlement within a democratic framework?

A. We will also plead with them. Because, in any event, even during the first world war, a peace treaty was signed. Even during the most cruel second world war, a treaty was signed. Even after any bitter, bloody war, there must be a peace agreement. Why is it for 50 years no such agreement has come in Sri Lanka?

Q. The Indo-Lanka Agreement came in 1987, but the LTTE did not accept it and continued to fight with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF)?

A. What you say may be true. Let them resume it now. We will plead with the LTTE to accept it, come to the table and negotiate. Tamils all over the world will compel and persuade them to argue with the other side to attain all the rights they want and demand. When we say not to use arms and that a military solution will not do good, it applies to both.

Q. Would you say Mr. Pandian that it is your position and that of your party that there cannot be a separate state in Sri Lanka, that the LTTE's struggle or fight for a separate state is unjustified?

A. On that question, what we want now is the war to end. The primary duty rests with the Sri Lankan government to come out with a package with any programme and agenda to solve that problem. We will go through it and see whether it is satisfactory. And we will persuade the Tamil sections also to consider it seriously and try to avoid this internal quarrel.

Q. You in fact made an inquiry on what the LTTE's position is with regard to the ceasefire and the LTTE said in a statement that they were agreeable to a ceasefire. Following which you wrote to the Indian Prime Minister as well. What was the response that you got from the Indian Prime Minister to that request?

A. That is the crux of the problem. That is a very good question. The banned organisation operating under very serious constraints replies to our demand made in a public paper. But, a citizen, writing to our own Prime Minister is not getting even an acknowledgment.

Q. Does that mean that the position of the Prime Minister and the rest of the Congress government is that there should be no ceasefire?

A. They are not acting. At least they can speak out and say whether they want peace in Sri Lanka or not. Let us forget the quarrel between the LTTE and the government for a moment. Do you want peace in Sri Lanka or not? Does the President think that Sri Lankan can progress without restoring peace? For the development and even for the Sri Lankan Sinhalese to live, there must be peace in the island. Restore peace in that island. When peace is restored, it will do good to the Sinhalese and equally to the Tamils.

Q. How would you respond to the position of the Sri Lankan President on that very issue? He said that it is to restore peace and ensure economic development that he wants to militarily defeat the LTTE. Because the LTTE will never agree to a negotiated settlement and once the LTTE is destroyed, he will introduce a political package for the north as well.

A. I think he must be reading all the papers. Chechnya is a small place in Russia. And the Russian army is known for its ability and power. Even such a red army couldn't subjugate Chechnya. And they had to enter into an agreement to restore peace.

In today's world, the size and the number of population does not decide the whole thing. Rajapakse should understand that. He thinks that he can achieve. He says that he has liberated an area. He can also say that they have liberated the whole area and hoist the flag and say that his army has overrun the other side. Let him remember that the next day there will be some quarrel somewhere. I'm not an astrologer. But, as a politician, I can say that it will continue in different forms.

Q. President Mahinda Rajapakse has already ruled out even a resolution adopted unanimously in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly when he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where the President had stated that he is agreeable to a ceasefire provided the LTTE lays down their weapons. Going by the statements made by the LTTE, it is not willing to do so. Therefore, we have an impasse with regard to that issue. How do you think that deadlock can be overcome?

A. Now the main dialogue is between the central government and the Indian citizens. Because, we cannot directly speak to Rajapakse. But as a friendly nation, the Indian government should speak and exercise its influence. And in the name of humanism and humanitarian aid, they should call for a ceasefire. That is the duty of the Indian government. So, we are going to press the Indian government to speak out.

Q. But, hasn't the Indian government by implication rejected that call when you yourself say that the Indian government is training Tamil youth to join the Sri Lankan army, that they are giving military aid and logistical support? Doesn't that indicate that the Indian government would also want the LTTE militarily defeated?

A. I don't want to plunge into the motive. But, in Tamil Nadu, if the central government does not take speedy action to solve that problem, the political repercussions will be very bad for all the political parties in Tamil Nadu, not only for the Congress.

Q. Are you talking on electoral terms?

A. Not only in electoral terms. But for the unity and integrity of India. Because, the Tamil people feel, despite the unanimous resolution passed in parliament, despite speaking through the Chief Minister and all the political parties, when the central government is turning a blind eye to all these requests, then comes a big question as to where are we as Indians in India.

Q. Are you saying that there might be a demand for a separate state within India?

A. I may not raise it because I belong to the Communist Party of India (CPI). I may keep mum. The Congress Party may keep mum. But, we can't keep the mouths and the hearts of the people of Tamil Nadu.

Q. There is a perception Mr. Pandian that this issue is being agitated now because of the upcoming elections here in India scheduled, they say, around April?

A. Let me tell you, if they don't take speedy steps and try to resolve it quickly, those parties in Delhi who are now sharing power or ruling India will be wiped out of Tamil Nadu.

Q. Mr. Pandian, the question would arise that a similar situation to what is happening in the north where it is reported that over 200,000 people are internally displaced because of the conflict, a similar situation prevailed in the Eastern Province when the government was fighting the LTTE last year, using the government's terminology, to liberate the east from the LTTE. But, there was no outcry from Tamil Nadu or any other place at that time. Why now, when the government claims it is on the verge of defeating the LTTE in the north?

A. True. As responsible all India political parties, we have been raising it in the parliament assembly, and thought the government will respond and take speedy steps to solve it. When we found that nothing was happening, and the cries of the affected people reaching our ears, we cannot keep quiet.

Q. President's brother, the Senior Presidential Advisor, Mr. Basil Rajapakse was in New Delhi recently before President Mahinda Rajapakse's visit. Following which, a joint statement was also issued regarding certain agreements that were reached including the issue of the Indian fishermen who were shot. Are you satisfied with that agreement?

A. Not at all. They have shot four or five fishermen last week. Wounded fishermen are in the hospitals. They have not stopped it. They only shoot and deny. Then what is the mysterious force that is shooting and killing them? At least that must be revealed.

Q. Now some of these issues Mr. Pandian, you have raised in your letter to the Prime Minister. The CPI was until recently, till the dispute over the nuclear agreement, was part of the alliance government. Are you taking the position now that the Prime Minister and the Congress government are not responding to you because you had withdrawn from the government?

A. No. That may not be the reason for that. Because, not only the CPI, the entire Tamil Nadu is demanding, the central government's partner, the DMK is demanding.

Q. But, there has been at least some positive response to the claims made by Mr. Karunanidhi.

A. The mindset of Delhi is against the Tamil people. Not only Rajapakse, but Manmohan Singh also has a closed mindset.

Q. Is that because of the murder of Former Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi?

A. What did they do in Tamil Nadu or in India after that murder? For your information, just to refresh your memory, I was the most seriously injured man in that blast. Because I was next to him. I should not respond to any issue subjectively simply because I was wounded or hurt. That is not the way. Innocent people are being slaughtered. Is it not a fact? Why don't you allow the media to go there?

When we want to send relief materials, we clearly stated that we do not want to send any politician or our volunteers to accompany the goods. We said that religious leaders will be sent to watch, supervise and console those affected people. Why is it that both, the Indian government and the Sri Lankan government, which prays to Lord Buddha had not responded to that request?

Q. But, haven't they agreed to allow the relief supplies?

A. No. It goes to them. Through them.

Q. Not to the government. According to the official statement issued, the relief supplies will be delivered to the Indian High Commission in Colombo, which will in turn distribute it through the UN agencies and the ICRC. That is the official position. Are you disputing that position?

A. I'm suspecting that position. I'm not disputing it. Because, the Indian government is also not very sympathetic towards the Tamils. I don't think these people will help them. They are sending arms. How will they feed them? Even if they go and supply very delicious food, do you think that the Tamil people will accept it?

Q. Is the Indian government in your view opposed to the Tamil people or to the LTTE?

A. That feeling is increasing in Tamil Nadu, which we want to prevent. But, despite all our efforts, it is gaining. That is the signal we are giving to the central government to wake up. Indian unity is going to be at stake.

Q. Because of, according to you, the lack of response from the Congress government?

A. Yes. Because India has been demanding for peace. Not only here, but, everywhere in the world. When the Suez Canal was bombed, it was our prime minister who issued a statement to stop the bombing. Wherever it happens in the world.

Q. But, isn't the Indian government in fact pushing for greater devolution? In fact Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had repeatedly called for an improvement on the 13th Amendment saying that there must be an improvement on the 13th Amendment when devolving power. Doesn't that indicate that the Indian government wants the Tamil people's political aspirations fulfilled?

A. You are helping me to simplify the answer. They said it is an internal affair. The Indian government's position is also that it cannot interfere, as it is an internal affair. How did Rajiv Gandhi go there? Why did he go there? Why did he sign an agreement with his Sri Lankan counterpart? He was then, the prime minister of India.

Similarly Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri and so many had gone to Sri Lanka and had discussed with their Sri Lankan counterparts and signed agreements. Because, the problems are interlinked. It is not only a Sri Lankan problem, but an Indian problem as well. Inseparable Indian problem.

Q. How is it an Indian problem?

A. Your refugees are in camps here. We have been feeding them for the last 30 years. They are homeless people. What will happen to that generation? Where will they study? How will they go back?

Q. Mr. Pandian you made a very important and significant statement when you said that the people of Tamil Nadu are beginning to realise their status in the union of India is in question, because of the lack of response to the resolution by the Tamil Nadu state Assembly. Where would this situation lead to in Tamil Nadu?

A. That is what we are really afraid of. As a disciplined political party due to our ideology and commitments, I may not speak for separation or division of India. But, not my son. I can't prevent my son from speaking about it or taking up the flag. Wherever I go and meet the college students, high school students, industrialists, workers, despite all these differences, they are unanimous in one voice that our government should speak on our behalf.

Are we requesting the Indian government to send the army to subjugate Sri Lanka? No. Did we ever request the Indian government to throw bombs on Sri Lanka? Never. We are only requesting them to stop the war. What elementary demand can be there other than this?

Q. Going by what you are saying, wouldn't the Indian government have a genuine concern that if the LTTE continues to operate, given the developing scenario, the militancy if you like, in Tamil Nadu strengthening the LTTE at this time in any form could in fact fuel the separation of Tamil Nadu from the union and maybe for that reason alone, Indian government has an interest in ensuring that the LTTE is defeated?

A. Exactly. These are the true perceptions. By solving the problem, you will be politicalising the LTTE. There is a possibility. Because, whatever said and done, they are also human beings. But, by attacking, you are brutalising them. You are forcing them and compelling them to take up arms. Because, they are getting killed. If the Indian government could not understand this elementary lesson, then they will not be able to solve any problems.

Q. If the Government of Sri Lanka puts forward a set of proposals, which would meet the aspirations of the Tamil people, let us say an improvement on the 13th Amendment. There is an APRC going through a set of proposals. Some are critical of it. Some feel there is no credibility. Others believe it has some credibility. Leaving that aside, if a political package is put on the table, and the LTTE nevertheless keeps out of the democratic mainstream, in that situation, how would you, your party and Tamil Nadu respond to the LTTE?

A. If that happens, we will try to speak to the LTTE's friends and try to argue with them, persuade them to accept for a solution.

Q. Does that mean that in that situation, you will stop even taking up their cry in the event that the government has to pursue them militarily?

A. You see the cries will come to an end when the Sri Lankan government stops the war and the bombing. The political question begins by rejection or accepting by the LTTE isn't it? If they reject, then they will intervene and request the LTTE to consider it.

Q. And if they refuse even at that stage?

A. That is a contingency at that time. We will respond accordingly.


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