An Interview with Douglas Devananda
By C.A. Chandraprema
Question: You have decided to hold talks with the TNA, what do you really hope to gain from that?
Answer: There isn’t an unanimous view among Tamil political parties about the political solution that we all talk about. So our aim would be to forge a consensus among Tamil parties on this matter. The TMVP has already indicated that they are willing to talk to us and we are awaiting a response from the TNA. We are not looking at forming a coalition, at this moment in time and are only trying to initiate a discussion. We have already held talks with PLOTE and factions of the EPRLF and TELO.
Q: I can understand your wanting to talk to the TMVP, PLOTE and to Mr. Anandasangaree and others of the same ilk. But why would you want to talk to the TNA, your direct rivals in the North? If you start talking to them, the political advantage will go to them.
A: If there is no consensus among Tamil political parties, a political solution will be delayed due to those very differences. Things will just drag on and on with no end in sight. But if the Tamil parties arrive at some kind of consensus then matters will be facilitated. Even more importantly, there is the feeling among the Tamil people that all Tamil political parties should unite and work together. Some people think that the EPDP is an obstacle to unity. So we want to show the people that we are not an obstacle to unity. We came into politics to solve problems. We do not believe in being in politics without solving any problems.
Q: When you canvas for the 13th Amendment on the one hand and then hold talks with the TNA citing the need for Tamil unity, in a situation where the TNA still commands the majority of the vote in the North, you will in effect be canvassing for a TNA Chief Minister.
A: We expect a suitable person to be elected Chief Minister. I believe that I am suited for that position. Suresh Premachandran of the TNA had said recently that, they will not be having any discussions with the EPDP, because I did not agree to the demand for self-determination. When the TNA talks about things that can never be a practical reality, they will be exposed before the people. If it is the TNA that sabotages the march towards unity, they will have no place among the people. At the recently concluded parliamentary election, some 19,770 votes were spoiled in the Jaffna district. What happened was that the ballot paper was confusing.
Right at the top of the list are the various political parties and their symbols. Below them come the 12 independent groups arranged vertically and below the independent groups came the boxes for preference votes in a horizontal line. Eighty-five percent of the rejected votes had a cross before the betel leaf symbol and crosses before the independent groups as well. Many people had thought the boxes for the independent groups were the boxes for marking preference votes. What added to the confusion was that the number of independent groups and the number of candidates in the district were the same. I was told this by my friends who had been counting agents for other parties as well. If 85% of the spoilt votes were actually votes cast for me, then we will get more votes than the TNA in the district. I was expecting six seats but I got only 3 because of this spoiled votes problem. The other issue we were faced with was the mud-slinging campaign against us especially regarding the Chavakachcheri abduction and murder incident. Another issue was that all Tamil newspapers took a pro-TNA line.
Q: A news item published in the Thinakkural reports former Supreme Court Judge Mr. Vigneswaran as having said at a certain gathering that there is ‘murder, rape and cultural depredation’ taking place in Jaffna today. He also said that ‘prostitutes have been brought from the South to lure Tamil youth’, and that drug sales were allowed near educational establishments. He also said that it hurts him when he knows that "Tamil blood" were also directly or indirectly involved in these socially destructive activities. This looks like a direct reference to the EPDP. This former Supreme Court Judge was also tipped to be on the TNA list at the last parliamentary election. When members of the pro-TNA Tamil social elite talk about you in that manner, how is it possible for you to have any kind of understanding with them?
A: It is due to mud-slinging like that, that our votes have gone down in the Jaffna district. This is just scare-mongering, such things don’t happen in Jaffna on such a scale as made out by them.
Q: Then the question is, what happens if a TNA Chief Minister is elected in the North?
A: That depends on who will be preferred by the people.
Q: If a TNA Chief Minister is elected, will you be able to function freely as you do now?
A: If whoever gets elected, does not do his job properly, we will have to do whatever needs to be done.
Q: It’s the EPDP that has been working with the government all these years. How do you view the TNA’s talks with the government?
A: If a solution to this problem is to be found, talks have to be held with the government. We have no objections to the TNA talking to the government, and will be happy if this problem is solved soon. But we have doubts about the bona fides of the TNA. When we hold talks with the TNA we will be able to gauge whether they are sincere or not.
Q: When the TNA sat down to talk to the president before the last presidential election, one of their conditions was that the government should dump the EPDP. Do you have any guarantee that they will not put forward the same condition again?
A: Even though such conditions were put forward, the fact that the president ignored them shows that he has realised the actual situation in the North. If someone thinks they can bring about a solution to the Tamil problem in a more expeditions manner than us, we are willing to stand aside and let them do it. We are in the process today because we feel nobody else is attending to it in the proper manner. We don’t want to engage in a self-seeking political contest. The TNA’s vote is on the decline. They got over 100,000 in 2004 but it has gone down to 64,000 at the parliamentary election in April this year.
Q: What is the EPDP’s stand on this apparent understanding between KP and the government? When the government came to an understanding with Karuna and Pillaiyan in the East, the EPDP lost its Eastern Base. Will the same thing happen in the North if KP is brought in?
A: The East is a bit different to the North. At the last elections we too contested in the East but the TMVP has got more votes than us. If it is the fate of the Tamil people to have KP as Chief Minister of the North, there is nothing we can do about it. I wish to reiterate that we are not interested in self-seeking competitive politics.
Q: One complaint that we hear from your side is that Tamil newspapers have been spreading falsehoods about your party. Jaffna is not a very large area. Why have you not been able to counter this propaganda?
A: Most of the accusations levelled against us in the Tamil press are false. If we are to counter this propaganda we will have to have our own newspaper. There are two Tamil newspapers published in Jaffna other than the Uthayan. These two newspapers have modified their stand in recent times. When they hear something about us, they get our side of the story as well, before publishing it. The Uthayan however, published whatever they heard about us on their front page without asking us for our side of the story.
But if investigations reveal that we were not involved, that is never reported. It’s not the truth that matters but sensationalism and sales. Because we are a democratic party, they know we won’t retaliate. So if anything untoward was to happen in Jaffna - a murder or an abduction - that is immediately foisted on us. It is because we played a pivotal role in opposing the LTTE that they treat us in that manner. They would never dare do anything like that to the LTTE, because retaliation would have been swift. - courtesy: The Island -