TNA is open to dialogue with any govt., says Sampanthan

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

The Tamil National Alliance which backed opposition common candidate General (retired) Sarath Fonseka at last month’s presidential election is going it alone at the upcoming parliamentary elections after the party overcame an internal crisis which saw close to a dozen former parliamentarians being denied nominations.

In a telephone interview with the Sunday Times, the 77-year-old Rajavarothiam Sampanthan who led the TNA in Parliament for a decade, said, he was confident of the alliance’s performance in the coming election.

Speaking from his political base in Trincomalee, an electorate he represented for 33 years, Mr. Sampanthan, also said he was open to dialogue with the Government on the Tamil issue, but his party was “not prepared to be taken for a ride”.

Sampanthan also said he was not convinced that General Fonseka’s arrest was “justified.” Excerpts:

Q: What is the TNA’s outlook for the upcoming parliamentary elections?

We are confident of doing reasonably well. Our people have reposed their faith in us. They are convinced that the TNA’s position with regard to finding a political solution is good for them. Our people believe that the TNA will not compromise on their future or on their desire for a lasting political solution.

Q: Are you prepared to engage with President Rajapaksa’s government after the poll?

I cannot predict now about what might happen after the election. But we are willing to engage with any government. With regard to Rajapaksa, any talks depend on what his government wants to give us. This will depend on how his government wants to engage us. The TNA has planned to play constructive politics and we are willing to be constructive partners of the government in finding a solution to the Tamil question. However, I must add, we are not prepared to be taken for a ride any longer.

Q: Are you expecting a solution based on the 13th Amendment or would you insist on a policy re-look?

I cannot comment on the matter now.

Q How do you view General Fonseka’s arrest given that the TNA had supported his candidature at the presidential election?

Well, I am not convinced that General Fonseka’s arrest is justified. I am not convinced that it is not for political reasons. I am not in a position to advise the government on what it should do in this regard, but, like I said, I am not convinced.

Q: Why were 11 of TNA’s 22 members in the last Parliament denied nominations this time?

We took the decision to field new people at the elections because some of the former MPs are either out of the country, some of them are not well and some did not want to contest this election. But we have found the best possible candidates to represent the Tamil people at April’s general elections. The changes were necessary because the Tamil people should believe that the TNA is not cheating them.

Q: Two former TNA MPs -- M K Sivajilingam and Nallathamby Srikantha of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) -- have been shown the door. Does this indicate cracks within the alliance?

The TNA is not a divided house. Our decision on the new list of nominees was evolved on the basis of maximum consensus among political parties representing the alliance. TELO is very much a part of the TNA. TELO leaders Selvam Adaikalanathan and S Vino Vinothakaralingam are among TNA candidates contesting from the Wanni district.

Q: Prior to the presidential election, media reports had suggested that the TNA dissidents had been influenced by the ruling party. What is your response?

No comments.

Q: The dissidents had earlier remarked to the media that the TNA leadership looked towards New Delhi for directions. What is your response?

India has not been influencing us that way. Although, Indias role in finding a political solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is both acceptable and inevitable, it must be said at the same time that India is not laying down the TNA agenda.

Q: What is your view on the Government’s resettlement and rehabilitation programme for the displaced, eight months after the war?

People are still suffering. Most Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have not been resettled in their places of origin. Neither have they been rehabilitated. Nothing actually has been done for the IDPs.

Q: In the last Parliament, you had spoken about what you called the increased militarisation of the north and the east. Has the Government allayed your fears?

I had raised the matter in Parliament some time ago. I had also taken up this matter with President Rajapaksa and his political advisor Basil Rajapaksa. Nothing has been done on that front as well. But the TNA will continue to hold more discussions in this regard.

Q: Your critics say that after the annihilation of the LTTE leadership, the TNA’s politics is lost on itself. What is your response?

I don’t think those people even know what they are talking about.

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