Exclusive Interview: Time to Return Our Diamond

2 mins read

“Returning our Diamond will make us believe that Britain is remorseful for the exploitation of our people and our resources,” Vuyolwethu Zungula who is a Member of Parliament representing the African Transformation Movement (ATM), told Sri Lanka Guardian while joining the “Talk to Sri Lanka Guardian” series.   

Mr Zungula is the President of the African Transformation Movement. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University, and an Honours degree in Business Management from Unisa. He has been a Member of Parliament since 2019.

“All stolen minerals and other artefacts must be returned to the rightful owners,” he said.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question:  Tell us about the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and its political vision to uplift the livelihoods of the country’s people.

Answer: The ATM is grounded by the ideology of Humanism where we subscribe to the concept of One race for everyone, the Human race. The ATM is a values-based organisation and one of our chief values is UBUNTU. We believe that corruption is the absence of UBUNTU. All those who abuse taxpayers’ money lack UBUNTU.

Q: You propose that South Africa withdraw from the Commonwealth while demanding “compensation for all damages done by Britain”. Tell us why your country should leave the Commonwealth.

A: The ATM believes in genuine sovereignty. The fact that a deal breaker to be a member of the Commonwealth is that members must agree that the Head must always be the Crown. This to us means agreeing to be subjects of the British Monarchy. We reject that notion. The continued exportation of our raw minerals to the UK is part of being a quasi colony.

Q: By endorsing the statement of known activist Thanduxolo Sabelo, you have reaffirmed that “the Cullinan Diamond must be returned to South Africa with immediate effect.” Tell us more.

A: We are told that Queen Elizabeth was a champion of Decolonisation. Returning our Diamond will make us believe that Britain is remorseful for the exploitation of our people and our resources. All stolen minerals and other artefacts must be returned to the rightful owners.

Q: What is the next step if the British authorities ignore your request?

A: They shall have declared enmity on the African people and we shall continue with our campaign against the disguised colonisation.

Vuyolwethu Zungula, President of the African Transformation Movement, South Africa [ Photo © Sri Lanka Guardian]

Q:  You are a dynamic and outspoken young politician in the country. Give us some thoughts on the current political situation and your plan to overcome the challenges.

A: The country under Ramaphosa and his administration has become a failed state. As ATM we have initiated an Impeachment or will continue advocating for a No Confidence vote remove Ramaphosa.

The ATM will work with other like-minded parties to Put South Africa 1st and rescue it from the failed state situation. The key to that is transforming the minds of South Africans so we get to work together in service to the country. South Africa must aggressively work on a localisation campaign where raw materials are processed in the country before being shipped to other nations, South Africa must produce what it consumes. The oligopolies dominating our economy must be dismantled to allow for more participation in the economy. With these, we believe poverty and unemployment would be tackled and South Africans would enjoy a better quality of life.

Interview: We Are Eelam Tamils

8 mins read

Sri Lanka will not become an economically viable country without a political resolution to the demands of Eelam Tamils, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran a New York-based Attorney who served as the legal advisor to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, told Sri Lanka Guardian in an exclusive interview.

While recalling the memories of slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, he says that “his vision, his dedication, his determination, his passion, his resilience, are always with us.”

Rudrakumaran is the prime minister of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam which is a transnational organisation among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora which aims to establish Tamil Eelam, in the North-East of Sri Lanka. This interview is a part of our series of interviews with noted minds in Tamil Diaspora. The Government of Sri Lanka, recently, renewed its request in which they invited members of the Tamil Diaspora for political and social cohabitation.

Following are the excerpts of the interview;

Question: Rudra, it has been a long time since we last communicated. Thank you for taking the time to sit with us. What latest updates can you offer us on your organization TGTE?

Answer: Our main political program is that the Eelam Tamils, as a distinct Nation, have the right to self-determination and they should decide their political future through a referendum.

Today this vision is gaining acceptance in the international community. As you know, many former presidents, former UN undersecretaries and prominent academics regularly participate in our functions. 

Our viewpoint is also finding resonance amidst the Tamil domestic leadership, despite the oppressive military environment and threat posed by the  Sixth Amendment, which penalizes peaceful advocacy for an independent state. I also would like to highlight the fact that in a letter sent by the Tamil parliamentarians to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dated August 9th, 2022, have called for the repeal of the Sixth Amendment.

We will be soon filing papers with the registrar of the International Criminal Court acceding to the jurisdiction of the ICC in the state of Tamil Eelam. Our accession is based on the fact that the de jure state of Tamil Eelam exists. As you know, the Tamils did not consent to the 1972 as well as the 1978 constitution- our argument is premised on the international legal concept of reversion to sovereignty. In this connection, I would also like to state that the former UN high commissioner Al Hussain called upon the Sri Lankan state to accede to the Rome statute.

I would like to mention that the continued proscription by the Sri Lankan government of the TGTE, which is committed to establish the state of Tamil Eelam through democratic and diplomatic means, is testimony to our effectiveness in the pursuit of our goal.

Q: We heard that your father was a government servant who worked as the Mayor of Jaffna from 1979 to 1983 and passed away in 2020. What legacy did he leave for you to pursue?

A: My father was not a government servant. He was a successful criminal lawyer. He firmly believed that Tamils can live with security and dignity only in an independent Tamil state. He quit practicing law in 1983, since he refused to take oath expressing allegiance to the Sixth Amendment of the constitution. I would also like to point out, when he was the mayor of Jaffna, he refused to receive the then Prime Minister Mr. R. Premadasa. Honesty, sincerity, hard work, commitment to the cause, and commitment to the people, are the hallmarks of his legacy.

Q: Do you recognize yourself as the successor of slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran?

A: I do not consider myself as the successor of the Tamil national leader. I believe that no one can be a successor to our national leader. However, I feel I have a moral and political obligation to contribute effectively to the struggle. The Tamil national leader has elevated the Tamil struggle to the international plane and made the Tamil national question an international issue. His achievement/contribution and vision in the realization of Tamil aspirations for an independent state will guide us in moving forward to the end. Our national leader once said that the mode of our struggle might change, but not the goal. We will move forward with democratic and diplomatic means to achieve our goal. The fact that Sri Lanka continues to remain a racist, ethnocratic state only strengthens our resolve.

Q: Do you miss him?

A: His vision, his dedication, his determination, his passion, his resilience, are always with us.

Q: Let us consider the preliminary document prepared by the Advisory Committee of TGTE where you have reaffirmed that Mr. S J V Chelvanayagam is “Eelam Gandhi”. Do you believe in non-violence?

A: I strongly believe in Peoples’ Power. As I mentioned in the answer to the earlier question, we have adopted a non-violent path to achieve our goal. I would like to point out the tradition of sacrifice by Thileeban and Annai Poopathi who also adopted a non-violent mode of struggle.

Q: What mistakes did the LTTE make?

A: The LTTE was committed to the Tamil cause that was not well matched with the interest of international powers. It can be described as a geopolitical conflict. Between the thirst of Tamils for an independent and sovereign state and the interest of the existing international powers. The reason for the way the war ended in 2009 was that the big regional and global powers did not want a new power center in the Indian Ocean. The powers did not want to make a change in the power structure and balance of power in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean. Given the present collusion between China and Sri Lanka, as demonstrated by the Hambonthota 99 years lease, the arrival of the Chinese submarine in 2014 and the arrival of Yuan Wang 5 last month, that position will surely change in the days ahead.

Q: The same preliminary report of your Advisory Committee lamented the plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka and advocated a secular state. But we don’t see any Buddhist or Islamic representatives in your top committee of TGTE. Why?

A: prominent Sinhala human rights activist, Dr. Brian Senewiratne who happens to be a relative of the former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, has been a prominent member of the TGTE Senate. In 2016, we recognized his contribution to the human rights of Tamils and gave him a “Lifetime Commitment Award”. In our Freedom Charter, promulgated with the participation of more than 100,000 people, rather than playing with words like in the Sri Lankan constitution, we stated in article 14 of the Freedom Charter that “Tamil, Sinhala, and English shall be the official languages of Tamil Eelam.

In the Freedom Charter, we explicitly recognized the distinct identity of the Muslims. Moreover, unlike Sri Lanka, which places Buddhism as the foremost religion, article 7 of our Freedom Charter states that Tamil Eelam shall be a secular state and no religion shall be given foremost place in Tamil Eelam. I must also say that a Sri Lankan Muslim academic also participated in the conference promulgating the Freedom Charter. We are also contemplating having a seminar with the Muslim community regarding our Tamil Eelam referendum campaign.

Q: You strongly believe that the only way Sri Lankan Tamils can protect their rights is to create a separate Tamil homeland. This position can be understood by assessing Sri Lanka’s past records that you have no real intention to solve the problems of the common men and women in the North East but lag behind the unrealistic goal. Correct us if we are wrong. 

A: I would like to first categorically deny the identity of our people as “Sri Lankan Tamils”. We consider ourselves as Eelam Tamils and People of Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka is a Sinhala, Buddhist, fundamentalist state that has systematically been engaged in structural genocide of Tamil people. An independent sovereign Tamil state is the only solution for safeguarding Tamil people from the genocidal policies and actions of the Sri Lankan state.

In fact,  Ms. Michelle Bachelet, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights , in her report issued 6 September 2022 expressed concerns about “the trend towards majoritarianism… former president Rajapaksha actively promoted a Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian ideology with the support of the military and Buddhist monks.”

As the East Timor president and noble laureate, Dr Jose Ramos Horta at the fifth Mullivaikal Memorial lecture on May 18th 2020, stated “The ruling Sri Lankan state must ask themselves why Tamils are actively seeking a separate state and acknowledge what may be going wrong.”

The scuttling of the P-TOMS by the Sri Lankan judiciary and the utter failure of the provincial council clearly demonstrates that until a political resolution is reached, economic development cannot happen.

I also take issue with your characterization that Tamil Eelam is an unrealistic goal. In fact, the continuation of Sri Lanka as an ethnocratic state, ruled in perpetuity by racist Sinhala elites is an unrealistic goal. The growing recognition of the fact within the international community that the Tamils were subjected to genocide accelerates the process of realising our independence. Law and morality dictate that as a form of remedial justice in order to ensure “Never Again”, the formation of an independent state is the proper form of remedial justice.

I also would like to point out that given the fact that the island of Sri Lanka is situated in a strategically important place in the Indian Ocean, and it is the Tamils who inhabit two-thirds of the coastline, the evolving power dynamics should also be noted in this connection. As you know, since 1990, more than 30 states have been established. We believe that history is moving in the direction of Tamil people achieving their highest political aspiration.

Q: Do you hate Sinhalese? When was the last time you communicated with a Sinhala Buddhist?

A: Neither I nor other Tamil leaders and the Tamil people hate Sinhala people. Our struggle is against the chauvinistic and genocidal Sri Lankan state. I provide legal representation for many Sinhalese here in the US. Some of my Sinhala clients even seek my advice for their family matters. Some of my Sinhala clients have also stated, during the current economic crisis, that the reign over the whole country should have been given to Mr. Velupillai Pirabaharan. In their opinion he would have governed the country with honesty and discipline. I think you should check my reputation among the Sinhala and Muslim working-class diaspora in New York city.

Q: How do you read about the present economic meltdown in Sri Lanka?

A: The present economic meltdown is primarily caused by the atrocity crimes committed against the Tamils and the continued military subjugation of Tamils.  The militarization of the country contributes heavily to the present economic catastrophe.  The UN high commissioner, in her report dated September 6th 2022, stated that “the Defense Ministry was allocated – 354 billion Sri Lankan rupees (US $1.86 billion) which accounted for 15% of the total government expenditure making it the highest allocated sector in 2022″.

Coupled with the above, the disrespect for the rule of law for decades has enabled corruption to go so deep that it has destroyed the Sri Lankan economy. Another related factor in more recent times has been the reliance on China for high interest loans for useless projects. The Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine only tipped over a thoroughly rotten system.

Q: How can you support Sri Lankans to overcome the current challenge?

A: I take this question as how Tamils can support and overcome the current catastrophe. As we have stated earlier there first needs to be a political solution to the Tamil national question by holding a referendum to decide the political future of Eelam Tamils. I must state here that our current referendum campaign does not hinge the consent of the Sri Lankan state. A referendum for independence in Kosovo was held without the approval of Serbia.

Sri Lanka will not become an economically viable country without a political resolution to the demands of Eelam Tamils. Such a solution will bring peace and prosperity for everyone.   It will also motivate the Eelam Tamil Diaspora to invest in Sri Lanka also.

Q:  The President has invited the Tamil Diaspora to be part of rebuilding Sri Lanka. We believe it’s a great opportunity for you to put your feet on the ground and do something substantive. Would you like to communicate with the government?

A: I think the answers given to previous questions are relevant to this question too. When I left Sri Lanka in 1982, my intention was to finish my one-year master’s degree and return to Sri Lanka. After the 1983 racial pogrom I felt that based on my credentials, I could contribute to the liberation of our people more effectively by being outside. Given the fact, there’s no space for Tamils for justice or to articulate their political aspirations fully, it is imperative for me to continue to stay outside the island. I am sure I will return and put ‘my feet on the ground’ and that will be on the soil of an independent Tamil Eelam.

She was a Miracle: Arundhati Roy remembers her mother

1 min read

For Arundhati Roy, her mother Mary Roy, who passed Thursday, was a miracle. But the celebrated author was also generous enough to share the goodness of her mother — to whom she offered the last kiss Friday afternoon — with everyone that mattered.

Mary Roy, the renowned educationalist was cremated on the premises of ‘Pallikoodam’, the school that she founded.

Arundhati had dedicated her debut novel, ‘The God of Small Things’ to her mother: For Mary Roy, who grew me up. Who taught me to say ‘excuse me’ before interrupting her in Public. Who loved me enough to let me go.

A copy of the book that fetched her the Man Booker Prize for fiction had been placed by the side of Mary before she was cremated.

“All people have spoken about my mother, what an extraordinary person she is and I don’t need to explain that to anyone because all of us know what a miracle she was,” Arundhati told a small gathering of friends and family that grieved the death of Mary Roy.

“She was one of the fiercest, most fabulous person that ever walked this earth. But the reason I wanted to speak now was to say that she didn’t do it alone.

“All of you, all of you, your faith and your love in her, especially at a time she was a single, divorced woman with two little children, with no backing.”

Mary Roy’s Pallikoodam had a humble beginning before it revolutionalised the education system in Kerala. It is known how Arundhati had suggested that name to her mother, who had been the institution’s head for 42 years.

She was 89 and is survived by two children, daughter Arundhati Roy, renowned writer and activist who won the 1997 Man Booker prize and son Lalit Roy. [ Photo ©  maktoobmedia]

“We remember we were five and six years old. We used to arrive at the rotary club. We were little, we had ‘choolu’, we used to come in the morning, we used to sweep up the cigarette stubs.

“We used to clean up the place, we used to put up tables and stools and it used to be the school. That is how this school started,” she remembered. “It started with the faith from a very few people, who believed in Mary Roy,” she added.

Arundhati Roy thanked everyone that shared the ‘extraordinary journey’ of her mother. “Without you, we will not be we, my brother will not be who he is, I will not be who I am. This town made us, sometimes by being cruel but that’s good too, you know. We didn’t turn out to be people who expect the world to just open up for us. It’s been such an extraordinary journey.”

This story is a part of SLG Syndication. Click here to read the original article published in On Manorama.

Interview: Tamil Diaspora is the Product of Downright Failures

6 mins read

The government must realise, that the Tamil diaspora is the product of its downright failures and must go as far as to revise its failures in a substantive way, Rajasingham Jayadevan said in an interview with Sri Lanka Guardian. Speaking from his residence in London, Jayadevan did not hesitate to recall his past experiences with the LTTE saying that the “failure of LTTE was its own making. LTTE’s fundamental mistake was to move away from a just struggle of the people to a struggle for the redemption of traditional homelands.”

Mr Jayadevan is a social worker, writer, and influential voice of the Tamil Diaspora based in London. He is the Secretary, Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam, and Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka and private sector Finance Director.

“One needs to deep think whether Sri Lanka has the capacity to reform its path in a broader sense,” he suggested.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Jaya, thank you for joining us today. Let us briefly know your experiences before and after your captivity by the LTTE. True, LTTE is no longer active but we are sure you still have a strong memory that you would like to recall.

Answer: It is seventeen years since my incarceration by the LTTE. My experience post release was inhumane and calculated campaign against me for publicising my experience without fear. The brand name of ‘traitor’ was bestowed on me, and it was an experience worse than my captivity itself in Vanni. Friends became foes and foes became friends. Their campaign of harassment was relentless and all and sundry in anonymity. They campaigned to dehumanise me and my family in a disrespectful manner. Determination and fearlessness strived me through and I am whom I am in my onerous progression to best serve the suffering people in the post war Sri Lanka.

I have no hesitation in saying the failure of LTTE was its own making. LTTE’s fundamental mistake was to move away from a just struggle of the people to a struggle for the redemption of traditional homelands. People became victims to its hegemonic gun hoe mechanism to establish territorial control and the LTTE also failed to realise the fast-changing local and international realities on terrorism and suppression of civil wars. Over thirty years of war saw generational thinking change and the war inflicted untold suffering and pain for the people and LTTE could not preside over anymore when the Tamil feelings having negative towards the LTTE and further because of the untold misery burdened on them by the government forces.

I am very active and heavily engaged in post-war regeneration work in Sri Lanka. In the progressing decay in Sri Lanka, post war reconciliation and revival are facing hammer blow experience.

Q: At least three governments came to power after the end of the Civil War. Certain areas such as infrastructure and other social welfare facilities like education were tremendously improved in North and East since then. But we still hear the same criticism against the central government. We would like to know your take.

A: The post war effort of the government to regenerate the North and East has been bare minimum. It failed to harness meaningful resources for the regeneration of North and East of Sri Lanka. There was no laudable post war plan or consensus politics or even reparation for the victims of the war to revive their lives. Much needed international support was overtly disregarded as the government remained exposed of war crimes charges which is continuing to burgeon the country – a factor influencing the present socio-economic decay the country is facing at present.

The true cause of the war is the anti-Tamil Standardization Policy of the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the late 1960’s. It did collateral damage to the vibrant Tamil community and the aftermath was the painful history that is still impacting the country. Whatever the government facilitated post-war efforts are seen as just sweeteners and not substantive programme of work. The government does not have the resources, or the war weary Tamil community is capacitated to respond to needs on their own on the issues facing them.

Q: Tell us about your social project in the post-war period. How did you enable funds and what are the challenges you face?

A: I was a regular visitor to Sri Lanka, though last few years have constrained me due to Covid pandemic and my personal circumstances. I am heavily involved in post-war socio-economic revival work through the charity Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam – UK, I represent. Guided by my brother Late Dr R Narendran we initiated his unique idea of post war village development work. We adopted the downtrodden Pulayaveli Village in Chengaladi in Batticaloa. My bother gave us the much-needed energy to engage heavily in infrastructural development work. His sudden demise a year later in 2017 numbed us all, but his perseverance and determination laid the foundation for us to proceed further. It was uphill task as distance of 5,500 miles between London and Colombo was serious challenge for us. It has been day to day remote control management work. My day starts at 3.00am and with my other commitments in London the charity was able to build good working relationship that helped to proceed further to substantially develop the village.

Deep-rooted corruption from the office peons to the President was draining the state resources.

The devotees and well-wishers of the temple charity provided the funds for the costly work. As we progressed, we earned the goodwill of the people for our effective management and accountability. We are content that the very trust we earned with the diaspora community with our transparent engagement, is helping us to widen our work programme is in a greater scale.

I will be failing if I do not reflect my note of caution in such heavy engagement by anyone. The challenge in managing such broad-based programme has its downfalls as Sri Lanka has created a society that is habitual takers and would not doers they do not understand meaning of reciprocal engagement with their minimum contribution in return. The beggar bowl culture of yearning for handouts has weakened the capacity of the people to progress energetically.

Q: How do you see the present situation in Sri Lanka?

A: The present situation is dire. When international credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the credit worthiness of Sri Lanka three years ago, the GoSL did not consider their findings seriously to address the failures responsibly. Instead, Sri Lanka went on the anti- Moody spree to belittle its findings. Following Moody, leading international agencies continued to downgrade Sri Lanka. With their negative assessments and the consequences of Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka paying a heavy price for its failures in its economic management. Deep-rooted corruption from the office peons to the President was draining the state resources. Post-war did not witness downsizing of the military and the bloated unproductive state sector employment. Instead of stretching their hands to the IMF and other reputable international actors, Sri Lanka was playing ping pong in the international arena. Sri Lanka’s hostile stance on war crimes claims by the UNHRC is another factor influencing the decay faced by the country.

Sri Lanka, since independence, has destroyed the four supportive pillars of its foundation. The Burgers, plantation Tamils, indigenous Tamils, and the Muslims were systematically marginalised to establish outright majoritarian rule. The whole political mechanism has now crumbled with the worst form of governance inhibiting Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, all and sundry can become president and legislators and it is norm to tamper with constitution for petty parochial reasons. The nation never produced a national leader to transform Sri Lanka, and election of nationalists have caused untold misery for nation. Mahinda Rajapakse had the golden opportunity to become a national leader with the defeat of the LTTE, but he too was part of the marathon race to extend the curse of nationalist politics.

In Sri Lanka, all and sundry can become president and legislators and it is norm to tamper with constitution for petty parochial reasons.

One need to deep think whether Sri Lanka has the capacity to reform its path in broader sense. It is endless pit to find an answer as the malice inhibiting is so entrenched that and any effort for real transformation will be a dream in Alice in Wonderland. The present economic decay is giving the right message for the need for broad based responsible governance. One wonders how long this will merit when belly aching hunger is addressed.

Q: Sri Lanka cannot effort another armed conflict, but many political commentators are worrying the current social upheaval may lead to an unprecedented violent conflict. How can you and Sri Lankans expatriates help maintain social normalcy?

A: Sri Lanka brewing for social unrest in an unprecedented scale if substantive efforts are not made to bring normally in its economic performance. Sri Lankan expatriate is a vibrant resource and expecting them to help redeem the malaise is daydream. The non-resident community too is going through transformation as the marathon sticks are being passed fast to the next generation who have very little engagement with Sri Lanka. The president of Sri Lanka has made some proposals for diaspora engagement, and these are kneejerk requests without consideration of wider issues involved. His appeal can be only responded if far-reaching package is offered to the expats by the government. The government must realise, the Tamil diaspora is the product of its downright failures and must go as far as to revise its failures in a substantive way for them to engage positively in Sri Lanka.

Interview: We are ready to facilitate negotiations

5 mins read

This is the time for the government and the President to agree to allow a body of technocrats to run the country for a couple of years to revive it from an impending humanitarian disaster, Suren Surendiran, spokesperson for Global Tamil Forum, said in an interview with Sri Lanka Guardian. Global Tamil Forum (GTF) identified itself as a Tamil Diaspora organisation committed to a non-violent agenda and seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.

“If need be, GTF can play a major role in the negotiations and can be a source of investors, can also be a source of human resources that can bring to bear expertise, capacity and capability in various fields,” he responded to the Sri Lankan government, which has expressed interest in engaging with the Tamil Diaspora.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Suren, you are allowed to come to Sri Lanka as your name is now delisted. Is that something that you expected?

Answer: At a drop of a hat, the Government of Sri Lanka will list and then de-list, these arbitrary and irrational actions of Sri Lanka have minimal or zero effect on me or the organisation that I represent, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). I am very sorry to disappoint you, as there wasn’t anything to expect or not expect.

Q: Have you ever been to Sri Lanka or are you planning to visit soon?

A. I was born and bred in Sri Lanka. Like many other Tamils who fled the country looking for safety for themselves and their loved ones after the many State sponsored riots in 1958, and 1977, we left Sri Lanka after the 1983 riots when yet again the State-sponsored pogrom during when many thousands of Tamils were massacred by Sinhala mobs and destroyed many millions of dollars worth of Tamil assets all over the country. I will fail in my duty if I didn’t mention the many kind Sinhala neighbours and friends who also protected many thousands of Tamils from these State sponsored mobs, risking their own lives.

The last time I was in Sri Lanka was in 2005 before Mahinda Rajapaksa became President. That year, I was there twice. I also paid a short visit in 2013.

Q: How do you see the prevailing political deadlock in Sri Lanka?

A: It is very unhealthy for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. Without reshuffling the same deck of cards (Government MPs and Ministers) who were fundamentally the root cause of this economic catastrophe, I sincerely hope that the government and the President will agree to allow a body of technocrats (specialists in the fields) to run the country for a couple of years to revive it from an impending humanitarian disaster.

Q: What is your take on a recent decision by the Sri Lanka Government to delist a few individuals and organizations?

A: Sri Lanka under Mahinda Rajapaksa listed a few Tamil diaspora persons and organisations in 2014 claiming that we fund and support terrorism. They quoted that this action of listing individuals and organisations was based on UN Regulation 1373. What they failed to follow was the clearly articulated process and procedures of this particular regulation. Sri Lanka didn’t produce any evidence of any sort to allege that these persons or organisations were involved in/or supported terrorism. In addition, these evidence/supporting materials should have been given to the accused and given a stipulated amount of time for them to defend their positions. None of these procedures was followed before prescribing to these organisations or individuals. This action was arbitrary, irrational, and outright abuse of the United Nations Regulation. This is perhaps why the international community, governments and international institutions including the United Nations itself completely ignored this proscription, whilst some issued public statements rejecting this action as arbitrary and many others at senior government representatives’ level continued to engage with us in public.

Then the Yahapalanaya government de-proscribed most from that list in 2015. Yet again the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government proscribed the same and a few more new ones in 2021. This again was done without following due process or procedure as described in the UN Regulation. Realising that this action doesn’t board well with anyone including the media of Sri Lanka, the Gotabaya government initiated a process of reversing this action in June 2022, which then physically materialised after Ranil Wickremasinghe took over as President.

Q: Recent reports suggested that President Wickremesinghe is planning to establish a “Diaspora Office” to strengthen the relationship between local communities and Sri Lankans aboard. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Unfortunately these actions and ideas are suspected to be to appease the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights just before her report on Sri Lanka which will be presented to the Council on 12 September. These steps and actions follow a pattern of steps Sri Lanka pretends to be taking as fake measures of reconciliation between communities just before each UNHRC session where Sri Lanka has been on the agenda in the recent past (since 2010).

I bet there will be further announcements of “progressive steps” leading up to the beginning of the 51st session where a substantial resolution is expected. Sri Lanka has a track record of making announcements of various “progressive steps” but never implementing any of them in a satisfactory manner.

Q: A recent statement issued by a group based in one of the western countries noted that “if Sri Lanka agrees to amicable separation, the Tamil Diaspora is ready to sign a treaty to pay Sri Lanka’s foreign debt.” Please give us some insights to understand the reliability and capability of this “Tamil Diaspora”

A: Well, I guess you should pose this question to the said diaspora organisation. However, if I were you I wouldn’t underestimate the capacity and capability of the diaspora community spread over the world.
Imagine the possibilities of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora business community jointly with the Tamil Nadu business community start to invest in business ventures in Sri Lanka, the prospects could become unlimited.

Q: Do you think the “Tamil Diaspora” as an exclusive entity is ready to work with the Sri Lankan government, and if so, with whom should the government initiate communication?

A: There have been several reports of widespread shortages and poverty due to price hikes in the South of Sri Lanka whilst the people of North have relatively being less affected by these shortages or price hikes. Amongst many reasons, one key reason has been the constant supply of foreign exchange from friends and relatives, abroad. This demonstrates the potential of the Tamil diaspora as a steady source of foreign exchange for the entire country if conditions are conducive.

Government should take steps to constitutionally devolve substantial powers to provinces including provinces where Sinhala and Muslim communities are in majority allowing these devolved provinces to encourage direct diaspora investments. The government must take strict measures to curb rampant corruption within various government structures including the cabinet of ministers. Also must reduce red-tapes to make investment prospects conducive.

Government should initiate conversations with the elected representatives of Tamils in Sri Lanka and with established diaspora organisations with the objective of resolving the seventy-four years old Tamil National Question.

Q: What role the GTF is going to play?

A: If need be, GTF can play a major role in the negotiations which we have done in the past and can be a source of investors, can also be a source of human resources that can bring to bear expertise, capacity and capability in various fields, which again we have demonstrated in the recent past.

Interview: Gotabaya was sincere in his intentions – Nitin

3 mins read

“During the extensive interview with him, he laid out a very good roadmap for progress and prosperity of your beautiful country. He was sincere and genuine in his intentions,” Nitin Anant Gokhale, one of South Asia’s leading strategic analysts, said in an interview with Sri Lanka Guardian. However, he concluded that “a combination of factors—some politically naive decisions by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (cut in VAT, fertiliser ban), circumstances (Covid-19 pandemic, skyrocketing fuel prices after February) and sins of commission and omission by his predecessor governments and family members—meant that a political novice like him could not cope with popular angst.”

While talking about India’s multiplied responses to the port call of the Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Sri Lanka, he says that Sri Lankan “officials could have handled it better by informing India in advance about the ship’s programme and avoided a public discussion which would have prevented maximalist positions on all sides.”

Gokhale started his career in journalism in 1983. In the past 38 years, he has led teams of journalists across print, broadcast and web platforms. A specialist in conflict coverage, he has lived and reported from India’s North-east for 23 years, writing and analysing various insurgencies in the region, been on the ground at Kargil in the summer of 1999 during the India-Pakistan war, and also brought live reports from Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV between 2006-2009. Gokhale is also a popular visiting faculty at India’s Defence Services Staff College, the three war colleges, India’s National Defence College, College of Defence Management and the intelligence schools of both the R&AW and Intelligence Bureau. He now owns and runs two important digital platforms, and His most recent books are Manohar Parrikar: Brilliant Mind, Simple Life and R.N. Kao: Gentleman Spymaster.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Certain Indian media channels are accusing Sri Lanka of being “ungrateful” to India by allowing Chinese research vassal Yuan Wang 5 to dock in one of the ports in the country. Being one of the most senior journalists on defence affairs, what’s your take?

Answer: I don’t Sri Lanka is ungrateful but its officials could have handled it better by informing India in advance about the ship’s programme and avoided a public discussion which would have prevented maximalist positions on all sides.

Q: Do you think that Sri Lanka has violated or dishonoured any agreement signed with India by allowing this Chinese vassal to dock in one of its ports?

A: If one assumes that the ship is a military vessel (India certainly regards it as one), then it violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, which has mentioned not undertaking/allowing any activity on their soil which may be inimical to one another.

Q: On the other hand, many Chinese analysts think that “India regards Sri Lanka as part of its sphere of influence which is hegemonic ambitions toward Sri Lanka”. What is your take?

A: It’s ironic that analysts from a country that has expansionism as a policy and hegemonic tendency in its culture, should object to so-called sphere of influence. India is certainly a leading power in the region and would have legitimate interests in its immediate neighbourhood as all big powers including China have. So, the Chinese criticism is invalid

Q: One day before the arrival of this Chinese vessel, India was gifted a Dornier 228, maritime patrol aircraft manufactured in 1981, aiming to enhance the surveillance capability of Sri Lankan water. It is a milestone in the long-standing defence cooperation between the two countries. What are the major security threats that the two countries are facing at the moment?

A: Irrespective of the occasional bumps in the relationship, New Delhi will continue to help Sri Lanka wherever possible. The gifting of the Dornier is part of the long-standing defence cooperation between the two countries. The threats in the region are manifold as enunciated by the statements after every meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave, which again is a sign of robust defence and intelligence cooperation between India and Sri Lanka

Q: Last question Nitin; Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave you the first interview moment after assuming the presidency. In a little more than two years, he has to resign from his position due to popular protests. What do you think about his political journey? Is he a failed president? What factors do you think led India to reject his demands?

A: Over the years (since 2006) I have had several occasions to meet Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The interview he gave me in November 2019, was extensive and laid out a very good roadmap for progress and prosperity of your beautiful country. He was sincere and genuine in his intentions. Unfortunately, a combination of factors—some politically naive decisions by him (cut in VAT, fertiliser ban), circumstances (Covid-19 pandemic, skyrocketing fuel prices after February) and sins of commission and omission by his predecessor governments and family members—meant that a political novice like him could not cope with popular angst. His ouster was tragic. He, in my view, only has good of the country in his mind. But it was not to be!

Stop Fighting like Kilkenny Cats to Regain Sri Lanka

13 mins read

“Dr. Singh allowed me to formulate all taxation reforms and I worked them out with some brilliant officers of the Indian Revenue Service,” he recalled when I asked about the secrets behind the success in solving one of the most difficult economic crises India ever encountered. In his mid-twenties, he was the youngest collector ever in India and his journey is a very important trail to understanding what India is today. Revenue Secretary M R Sivaraman, who transformed the structure of excise and customs duties in India, shared his experiences not only on his personal journey but also on the institutions he worked for, including the International Monetary Fund. 

Joining the I.A.S. cadre of Madhya Pradesh in 1962 Mr. M. Sivaraman Ramanathan has worked in various departments in the state of Madhya Pradesh and the Central Government. With over 40 years of experience, he has held important positions at various levels in the Department of Finance, Planning, Finance Commission, Economic Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Finance. He has worked as Director-General of Civil Aviation & Ex-Officio Additional Secretary of Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation & Revenue Secretary, Government of India, Ministry of Finance, New Delhi. He has also worked as Executive Director, International Monetary Fund and was an Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Committee to Counter-Terrorism. Currently he is engaged in delivering lectures on Budget, Banking, Fiscal and Monetary policies. While talking about the crisis in Sri Lanka he says, “Sri Lanka should not be attracted toward models of other countries. There is a temptation that the Chinese model is great or the American model is superb. These countries do not offer assistance for charity and they have their own agenda.” Acclaimed author on fiscal and monetary policy issues Mr. Sivaraman reaffirmed that, “dynasty rule should be avoided at all costs,” while identifying the foundation for a regime that sincerely respects liberty, equality, fraternity without hesitating to admit India’s mistakes in the past in dealing with certain issues in Sri Lanka.   

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Mr Sivaraman, as a Chinese saying goes, we are living in an interesting time. Aren’t we?  The unpredictability of social calamities is becoming the norm. I, most of the time, was surprised to realize the gravity of the old Hegelian saying later popularized by Marx, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”  Let’s start this discussion on your early years as a dynamic youth. Born in British India in the 1940s and became the youngest collector ever in India at the age of 25, your footprints are a trail of what India today, as one of the main economies on the planet.  Let’s recall your early professional experiences and challenges such as corruption and bribery you saw, and how do you overcome them?

A: My first encounter with corruption was when as an assistant collector I was asked to trap a corrupt forest range officer.

The man who was asked for the bribe carried marked currency notes to the RO in a remote forest guest house and I was (all of 23 years) was waiting behind a tree near the guest house at around midnight. As soon as the notes were handed over to the RO I pounced on him with a few cops and arrested him. He tried to set his dog on us but it was caught. Then when I was collector I had caught red -handed, a senior Government of India official with a hefty bribe in his hands. Corruption is endemic in every society in different forms. There is also moral corruption when you see something going wrong and you do not stop it for fear of personal consequences. This is the worst form. In my 39 years service I was never afraid of speaking the truth almost following the Kantian categorical imperative excepting when I had to deal with my country’s safety. I had not tolerated corruption in my vast revenue department as its permanent secretary and sent a few to jail and a few I dismissed from service using a rarely used constitutional provision and my orders were upheld by the courts also.

Q: India faces several financial downturns. One of the known scenarios was during the late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure. Political instability was on a rampage, social insecurity is at the helm and the forex balance was shaking. But, Rao’s political wisdom changed the fate of the nation. He took the firmed decisions to restructure the Indian system to benefit all walks of the society. Everybody knows, that his handpick Dr Manmhohan Singh was the man behind this remarkable achievement. However, it is a smokescreen that an individual thinks that he/she alone can succeed in complicated social issues without the genuine support of a reliable and efficient team. You were the Revenue Secretary of India when Dr Singh was the Finance Minister. I know you have discussed the secrets behind this success story in many national and international forums. But I would like to have glimpses of your role and memorable incidents that you could like to recall today?

A: I had known Dr. Manmohan Singh since 1977 when I joined the Department of Economic Affairs as Director and he was my Secretary. Later he was instrumental in my getting posted as Joint Secretary there giving me opportunities to lead many intergovernmental talks and also accompany the PM on her state visits. Dr. Singh allowed me to formulate all taxation reforms and I worked them out with some brilliant officers of the Indian Revenue Service. Never did he reject any proposal of mine in the 4.5 years we were together. On one occasion I had a serious difference of opinion with him in the matter of relieving from the post of chairman of a Tribunal (equal to a High Court Judge in India) I relieved him using my position as administrative head of the Department and Dr.Singh was under political pressure to continue him not because he considered him worthy but the pressure was intense including from the PM. I declined and offered to proceed on leave. He then took the papers, studied them and agreed with me and told the PM that he would not like to overrule me. The PM P V Narasimha Rao did not overrule me. Dr.Singh was gentle and humane and kept a clean conscience as Finance Minister.

Several political luminaries including senior Cabinet Ministers came under a cloud with the SC monitoring a case of corruption under investigation by my department. Never ever I was asked to do anything contrary to my conscience and some of the cases involving surviving politicians are still pending in the court.

In my 36 years of service in the IAS never had I done anything against my conscience and nobody ever asked me to do anything. Mr. Arjun Singh the CM of MP had to quit because of a court judgement that upheld my view as correct opposing a cabinet decision. Even opposition party chiefs were always happy with the actions being taken by me.  On a few occasions there were differences of opinion between me and Montek Singh Ahluwalia Secretary Economic Affairs but invariably Dr. Singh went along with me and so did Ahluwalia.

When I approved action against Sasikala the friend of Jayalalitha then CM of Tamil Nadu there was uproar in TN and a few people committed suicide. The PM who had the support of Jayalalitha did not stop me.  Was it sheer luck or a considered decision by the PM and the FM to stand by me in my tough actions so that the people of India would know that the govt. will allow rule of law to take its course. 

I would not know. But this puts the two political leaders on a pedestal at least during my time. Consistency in such an approach makes a person a great leader. But many fall on the wayside, unable to resist pressures or suffer personal consequences.

Q: You have redesigned and reengineered the function of the Central Excise and Customs of India. Why did you think it was such an essential area that needed to be addressed immediately?

A: The Customs and Central Excise department was characterised by corruption and the only way to reduce it was by making it rule based by removing discretion and all other changes in the tax system were toward that end. When for the first time the Delhi customs was to go online in a new building the construction of which I had supervised the then current Chairman would not come for its inauguration by Dr. Singh when four other former chairmen were present. He thought that it was my project an IAS officer’s and so he should boycott it. While all the 4 former chairmen lauded the effort this gentleman was absent. He was fired by Dr. Singh later when he refused to attend to even budget files. The Custom House Agents tried to sabotage the system with the assistance of subordinate customs officials whose outside incomes disappeared. But we did not budge. Similarly computers were introduced in the management of Central Excise also.

The Permanent Account Number (PAN) was introduced during my time and now it is ubiquitous in India, a dream of mine that has been realised. It is also the basis of the registration for the GST also which I had suggested when the PAN became a reality. This wholesale computerisation removed discretion at the hands of officers and drastically reduced corruption, speeded up procedures facilitating commerce and business and reduced transaction costs. Dr. Singh supported every one of these decisions. Today India’s taxation system is computerised from end to end thanks to the initial unfailing support by Dr. Singh and also the PM. Today’s GST Council of India has its origin in the first State Finance Minister’s conference organised under Dr. Singh to consider the introduction of the VAT in all the astes.

Q: Before we are going talk about your experiences at IMF, let me ask you about an existing socio-political issue on political leadership in South Asia and elsewhere. As Plato quoted Socrates, “no man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness”. I find this statement is remarkably true, not only in ancient Greek but its validity holds even in most of the social affairs today. Mr Sivaraman, Why do leaders fail, though they tried their best to revamp the rotten system?

A: Reforms have to be thought out in all its dimensions of their short, medium and long term impact on a nation’s people and also its external ramifications. When a government has formulated reforms with those considerations in view Leaders who do not devote their heart and soul in implementing those reforms and who are morally imperfect fail. This is true also of Bureaucrats who implement reforms and Political leaders who defend them in public and parliament. A leader must have a high moral calibre that he/she is incorruptible, courageous enough to sacrifice, put public welfare above self and be above suspicion. In today’s world you have to search to find one unfortunately. 

(from left) Expenditure secretary K. Venkatesan, minister of state for finance Chandrashekhara Murthy, revenue secretary M.R. Sivaraman, finance minister Manmohan Singh, finance secretary Montek Singh Ahluwalia and chief economic adviser Shankar Acharya, in 1994.  ( Photo Courtesy: HarperCollins India)

Q: After successful years in Indian Administrative Service, your next hold was in International Monetary Fund (IMF). What triggered you to join the IMF? Who are the remarkable economists you worked with? 

A: Mr. P C Chidambaram a brilliant lawyer every inch an aristocrat succeeded DR. Singh as the Finance Minister but from a different regional political party of TN having resigned from the Congress.

I had a very good equation with him and we put through one budget together.

I never looked for any major assignment as I was certain that I had no political back up. But surprisingly Chidambaram called me in June 1996 and asked me why I had not approached him for a posting in the IMF or the Word Bank as ED, both the posts being vacant. I told him I was not aware of those vacancies. So I also offered to be considered. But after a few hours Mr. Chidambaram called me and said the PM Deve Gowda and some members of the cabinet wanted me to be the next Cabinet Secretary. I was taken aback as there were a few seniors in the service. Chidambaram told me that the seniors have been considered and were rejected and two of them could be appointed to the IMF and the WB. I told him I would accept whatever the government offered me. But political pressure mounted on the PM for Cabinet Secretary’s post as well as for the others. Finally, the PM called me and said that he was making TSR Subramanian a 1961 batch officer and senior-most, although with only 3 months service left as the Cabinet Secretary. He was a fine officer and richly deserved the post. So I had to choose between the World Bank and the IMF.

Montek Ahluwalia a fair man told Chidambaram that I should be sent to the IMF as there one had to actively participate in policy making and will be confronted with the views of some of the world’s leading economists and Surendra Singh the outgoing Cabinet Secretary not an expert in financial management who had been promised one of the posts by PM P. V. Narasimha Rao should be sent to the World Bank. That is how I got posted to the IMF.

Q: When you listen to many talks in day to day discussion it’s clear that many people do not know much about what IMF is and its structural functionality. Correct me if I am wrong, IMF is not a charity but another bank with enormous commitments and different capabilities compared to our local banks. It borrows money from various nations to make it work and lends guarantees or other financial packages to countries in need. So my question is what are the basic principles you need to keep in mind when you approach the IMF for relief?

A: The IMF is an institution which basically tries to maintain the International Monetary System and exchange rates stable, for an orderly conduct of global trade and prevent crises in one country affecting other countries. That is why the Fund has Article IV consultations with member countries built into its charter. In most cases it is an annual exercise and in some it may have different periodicity also. These consultations enable the Fund to evaluate a country’s policies from global a perspective as well from its national objectives. Its advice is not mandatory supplies but the Fund cautions a country when it sees dangers ahead.

When one approaches the IMF for assistance a country has to be sure that they may have to renounce populist decisions and adopt policies that initially may be unpalatable like pricing power and other forms of energy supplies like petrol and diesel at economic cost. Reform sales and income taxation to ensure that they are collected properly. To take measures to promote exports by having realistic exchange rate and monetary policies. On the fiscal front governments have to give up profligate policies. IMF these days are careful to ensure that their conditionalities do not affect the poor. Governments can negotiate conditionalities with the IMF.

Q: Do you think IMF is the panacea for the economic downturn? What are the success stories of IMF?

A: The IMF is not a panacea for all crises. IMF succeeded in the SEA crises by arresting the exit of international banks from the affected countries even though critics condemned many conditionalities of the IMF. I was there and some measures I had opposed myself. The IMF realised its mistakes as can be seen in the evaluation report on its performance during the crisis.

Q: Among other accounts, I was engrossed by a critical analysis of IMF and World Bank where the authors suggested these organizations are turning poor countries into loans addicted countries. I quote, “Once countries accepted the conditions of structural adjustment, the World Bank and the IMF rewarded them with still more loans, thus deepening their indebtedness—rather like a fireman pouring gasoline on a burning house to stop the blaze.” What do you think? Is there an example you would like to tell that the IMF could have done better than they did?

A: Some criticisms of the IMF are valid as the economists there are mostly theoreticians and have had very little practical experience in handling crises of any country. There are very few, probably none in the IMF who has been a Finance Secretary of a country handling such a crisis. Mere theoretical solutions to every crisis do not work as economics is not an exact science.

Q: Mr Sivaraman, let’s talk about Sri Lanka. I’m sure you need no foreword about the situation in Sri Lanka. You are one of the few who have in-depth knowledge reference to economic condition in this beautiful Island nation, your immediate neighbor. How do you read the situation, and what went wrong here in Sri Lanka? 

A:  I had the honour of representing Sri Lanka in the IMF. It is a beautiful country which successfully controlled its population, achieved near universal literacy, promoted health of every citizen and was attracting the attention of tourists and also administrators elsewhere on its success in achieving a satisfied society.

But political struggles amongst various groups became intense after the elimination of the LTTE. Actually, the return of peace should have catapulted the country to higher growth. This did not happen as the country could not resolve the Tamil issue. The hatred for Tamils by the Sinhalese and vice versa if not eliminated Sri Lanka will never be able to achieve its full potential. Both Tamil leaders and other leaders in Sri Lanka have to adopt a policy of give and take. Tamils must think as Sri Lankans and Sinhalese too have to cease being Sinhalese and be Sri Lankans. They cannot fight as they say like kilkenny cats as then only two tails will be left.

Q: You and one of the known intellects with whom I was fortune to keep fruitful communications for decades, Dr V Suryanarayan from the University of Madras, recently wrote an article about the Sri Lankan situation. The article ended by quoting the famous lines of Shakespeare in Macbeth echoes in our minds: “Alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself. It cannot be called our mother, but our grave …” This, I believe, is an attempt to get the worse scenario correct. What is the way out? Apart from giving priority to monkey politics, how can the country’s resources be mobilized to overcome this tragic situation? 

A: Sri Lanka should not be attracted toward models of other countries. There is a temptation that the Chinese model is great or the American model is superb. These countries do not offer assistance for charity and they have their own agenda. Similarly putting one country against another is a game that should be avoided. You may ask what about India. Yes India has its own interests to protect like it does not want to have countries hostile to it having bases economic or military in its neighbourhood.

I know India’s record dealing with the LTTE has not been correct to say the least. But neither India nor Sri Lanka can forget that they are linked for over 2000 years culturally and historically. History may contain many mistakes but they have to be forgotten and move on for a better future.

India has a moral responsibility to ensure peace and stability in Sri Lanka so that its people live in peace.

As regards Sri Lanka’s future I would strongly advise that when once the situation stabilises fresh elections should take place and Sri Lanka should have a Cabinet controlled government accountable to its Parliament with a President as its titular head having limited powers. Dynasty rule should be avoided at all costs. I am not prescribing any measures for its economic stability as I do not have full details on its economy.

Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP speaks after years of silence

12 mins read

The story of a man who transformed his life to shelter and educate hundreds of kids affected during armed conflict and due to social disparity in Sri Lanka. He is widely known as KP. Selvarasa Pathmanathan is now a social activist and founded the North-East Rehabilitation and Development Organization

When the world’s one-time most wanted man is given the chance to speak, what does he say? When he is given the chance to walk freely, where does he go? When he is given time and freedom, what does he do? 

His name is Selvarasa Pathmanathan, but most people refer to him as a terrorist. Known as KP, he was a driving force behind the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, the LTTE. Where is KP today and what has he been doing during the last decade since the brutal conflict ended in 2009?

In the second week of April this year, I visited Kilinochchi in the Northern Province and sat with a man, who today weighs his words more than he ever did. His life depends on his work and words more than ever before. 

He is a case study in searching for the true meaning of reconciliation. He has shown that reconciliation is not merely a game of rhetoric at international forums to gain personal desires but commitments toward helping society uplift livelihoods of ordinary men and women. 

Following are excerpts from the interview:

by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Q: Tell me about Sencholai?

Thank you for visiting me and for your organisation to give us some publicity. I have to thank the President for giving me this opportunity to start Sencholai. While I was in custody in Colombo, I made a request to the President, who was at the time the Defence Secretary; I told him I wanted to do something useful for the rest of my life, particularly for children and elders. He gave me permission and allowed me to visit Kilinochchi and to select a place and start a children’s home. It was in 2010. 

We started Anbu Children’s Home in Mullaitivu then Bharathi Children’s Home in the same area. These lands were previously occupied by the Army and when we requested these lands they handed it back to us. Over 100 girls who were affected by the war were enrolled and we are successfully running the school. Most of them are without parents, others with single parents. They lived a very difficult post-conflict life. We wanted to support them through their education. At the beginning in Anbu we had 30, within six months we had over 100 children. And then we started Bharathi. There are over 100 girls there. We are very successfully running this orphanage. This one we opened in 2013.

When I was arrested I thought that they were going to deport me. When I landed here, I thought to myself that my life was over. When I heard of the Defence Secretary who is the President today, I conjured up the image that he was a very serious, stern and tough person. When I landed here I thought they would take me to the cemetery. I said bye to my family in my heart and thought to myself that this life had ended, that maybe in the next life I could meet them again.

They took me to the Defence Secretary’s house. When I entered I noticed in the entrance a statue of the Buddha. When I saw the light I got a feeling that I was safe. I was feeling very low at the time but when I saw this light, I felt a little energised. I sat down with the Defence Secretary and he came and shook hands with me. When he sat down and began to talk, I was thinking to myself, ‘What is going on? This cannot be happening to me. This is the opposite of what should be happening to me.’ 

He was seated so freely and talking casually, contrary to the picture people painted and propagated of him. I got the belief that I was safe. Within a minute, I went from hell to heaven. It is because of this experience that I know what it is like. We discussed both the past and the future. He gave many chances for the LTTE to come to a peaceful solution but they didn’t accept it, he told me. He asked me to forget the past and told me that they were not the kind of people who would take revenge. He told me I could live comfortably without any worries. We spoke for two hours that day.

From time to time he spoke to me and we also met. Within two to three days he let me speak to my family. I think it was the next day. My wife and daughter were worried but when I called them they were happy and he told me that my family could visit me anytime. Within one or two months my family arrived. I spoke the truth. The war had ended and we had to work for the betterment of the society and the country. A friend of mine told me that I was the only one from the LTTE to win him over. The politicians here have a different image of him. If I have a chance, I’d like to write about these stories.

Sencholai – when we took this land they had already named it Sencholai and we kept the name.  Neither the President nor the other officials said anything. This is not for military purposes. There are 140 girls and 40 boys.

Q: After going through all that you went through, how do you introduce yourself?

I am a social worker, I am going to devote the rest of my life to society and children. My life should end with these children.

Q:  Why did you choose to help children?

 Elders have completed their life but these children are like flower buds. If they go to the wrong side, the wrong hand, their life will be over. But if you give them a good life and make them independent, they can live a better life. Even after the end of the war, society is messed up. The children are not safe, there’s poverty, the girls are leading an unsafe life devoid of parents to care for them. We are looking after 300 girls and they are happy. During the last Government I couldn’t do much but now I wish to continue the good work.

Q:  What in your view is the biggest mistake you made?

 I believed the politicians’ lies and I missed the life I could have lived. When I was a student I was studious but upon hearing these speeches by various politicians I went over to the other side.

Q:  Tell me about your parents?

 We lived a very difficult life but they wanted to send me a good school as well as university. I did my Bcom at Jaffna University. But at the end of the second year, I was hunted by the Military. I didn’t enjoy my life as much at university because I became involved in politics.

Q: When was your first visit to Colombo?

In the 1970s by train. Life was different here. People were happy and lived by their culture. 

Q:  Tell us about your teachers growing up?

 I remember each of my teachers and both my principals. This college made me different. They were the real teachers. It was never difficult to learn from them, they even came home and taught us.

Q:  Why did society deteriorate from what you saw when you were schooling?

Certain countries prospered and others were far behind. It was all about the management. Some welcomed the changes and here we took those changes in a different way. They spoiled our country.

Q:  You mentioned that you were emotionally influenced by the politicians at your time. Tell us more?

 Yes, there were several politicians who gave emotional speeches and we were students at the time. They not only misled me, they misled the entire younger generation.

Q: You are a case study of reconciliation, how do you view it?

 Reconciliation is not an easy task. Many people do not follow it. Every day when the situation or occurrence comes to mind, I compare and analyse it myself. So even from 2009 until now I am with security personnel; sometimes I feel something but I analyse myself and find that they are right. There’s no need for me get nervous or worried. I make mistakes but this is a chance they gave me so I accept it. I can’t go back. I have to keep my dignity and also prevent others from going back.

Q:  Tell us why you chose to teach political science and history?

 Every person ought to know their history. Children now grow up with little or no proper knowledge of the country’s history. They need to know how so many visionaries built this country from the time it gained its independence; it is only if they know that they can help build the country in the same way. 

Q: Do you think the current education system fails to teach this?

 It’s all there in the syllabus but there is a lack of teachers. At certain times teachers need to teach particular subjects in-depth but fail to do so. We have struggled all these years because politicians ruled the game but if children are taught what political science is, they can decide what is right and wrong. If they know the country’s law, they won’t go against the law. But if they are not familiar with the law, they will break the law. When we were younger we broke the law because we felt if the leaders were doing it, we could do it too. Children should acclimatise with the law of the land.

Q:  You mentioned you were reading up on biographies. What titles do you recommend?

 Our country’s history, how the kings at the time sacrificed, how they kept the peace. They never compromised the sovereignty of the country for the sake of anything. You see where Japan is today; when the children learn of their country’s history, they are very proud of it. We also don’t have movies about the lives these kings led and wars they fought. We need to bring this to the younger generation.

Q:  When you take your life, you have two eras, one is your involvement with violence and the other one is right after that. You are the best person to understand what reconciliation means and how we should reconcile with each other. Your views?

 Humanity, who a human is, then you realise that Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, it is only a symbol, a mark of religion. We have to respect your religion as much as we respect others. If you understand it, you will find that there’s no difference among people regardless of their faith. Moreover, if children go to mixed schools, they know they co-exist. Even if we have a bitter experience in the past, we need to forget it and move on. What is the point of these differences, what makes one superior to the other? Nothing. If we had to go to France, we would end up speaking French, so why don’t we speak both languages here? It’s the politicians here who urged the villagers not to learn Sinhala, but their children are taught both languages in Colombo.

Q:  If a kid comes up to you and says they had a dream and want to achieve it, what would you say to them?

 I will try my best to see that they are able to achieve that dream. I would advise them not to look at the differences of each other, to respect elders and to be ambitious. Nowadays everyone talks about Geneva, but they don’t realise how much a Sinhalese mother weeps for her child. They don’t realise how many died. It happened on both sides, that is what a war is.

Q:  Now that you are in your 60s, how do you see violence, do you realise that it is not a means to achieve anything?

Most certainly. The only way we can achieve is through negotiations. Violence can help win a war or two, but how many lives and generations are lost in between?

Q:  Since you are well aware of this issue regarding Sri Lanka at the HRC in Geneva, what do you see as being misleading messages regarding Sri Lanka?

 This will not damage our motherland. This is a tool being used by politicians to show these people that they are working on their behalf.  They know very well that both parties made mistakes.  It’s been 12 years since the end of the war, what’s the point of talking about the end of the war?*

Q:  You mentioned that you were reading about Nelson Mandela and Lee Kuan Yew. What makes them your favourite leaders?

 How they created their countries. Lee Kuan Yew is Singapore’s architect and it is the same for Nelson Mandela for South Africa. I always dream about our President in the same manner. I find him to be a visionary and serious about his aspirations.

Q:  You mentioned you had both Sinhala and Muslim students here. Tell us about how you teach them here together?

 Children are children, they are not taught nor do they see the differences among each other. When they come out to play, their differences disappear.

Q:  You also mentioned that you’ve read a lot about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism, tell us more? What do you find fascinating?

 I learned about how when you cause harm, you have to also pay the price for it. I always weigh my words and never like to hurt anyone by any means even through words. But it took me over 20 years to learn this. It will not come to you in one day.

Q:  What is your dream?

 I want to see a peaceful, economically developed country where these children have the life they dream of. I’d like to see our people go to Buddhist temples and vice versa. No more mafia, killings and trucks.

Q:  What is your responsibility to achieve this?

 My generation felt it the most because when we were growing up there was no war.

Q:  How do you see the war?

 A game played by a few politicians. Even Prabhakaran misled the youth. When we were young, we were radicalised.

Q:  I’d like to know your view about Islamic extremism as we had a bad experience two years ago. How do you see it?

 We need to look at this seriously. Because believers of Islam are calm and devout people. But someone, people from somewhere, imported terrorism. It is a mistake of the past Government. If our President had been there at that time, it would not have taken place.

Q:  What is your message to the critics of this Government?

 To be patient. Because for over a year the President has been trying to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. But he is also engaged with Tamil politicians. But I am confident that he will deliver on his promise. What I find amusing are the speeches by local Tamil politicians. We call some of them ‘puthisali madayan,’ which means ‘intelligent fool’. They want to keep people under their feet because it is only then that they can control these people.

Q:  What is the alternative?

 It should come naturally, a better, healthier political climate.

Q:  Tell me about the Tamil diaspora? Do those living abroad play a responsible role or manipulate the locals here?

 There are few who are still manipulating but most of them know the truth. In a few years those who are manipulating will give up.

Q:  What do you see as being the role of the Tamil intellectuals?

 They should accept the truth and the reality, then only can they play a role as an intellectual. If they are bent on their views of a separate state, it’s in the past and there’s no need to talk of it.

Q:  When you pray, what do you pray for?

 A happy and peaceful life for all.

Q:  Who are your remarkable students?

 This girl who is the manager here and another girl at the Jaffna and Batticaloa universities, they are remarkable individuals. They are all special to me. I want to start a school and I want thousands of students to come here and study.

Q:  What is your advice to someone who believes that violence is a way to achieve their objective?

 When you speak to a child, you advise them not to put their finger into the electrical socket or fire, Sometimes these people will touch and return because of their experience. With our experience, our country faced very heavy losses, damage, loss of lives, but at the end of the day nothing was achieved. So violence never achieves anything. We can’t go forward with violence.

I lost more than half my life to violence. In 2010, I realised my life had gone by. There’s no point in crying over it. Even my mother, sister and daughter lost their lives when they travelled by boat to India, I never saw them again. It’s my feeling of loss. All of this happened because politicians messed up.

We have now learned from the past. We need to forget about the past and whatever happened in the past. It is our country and we should live happily and support each other. Everyone suffered losses, not just one ethnicity.

(This interview was originally published in Lanka Courier, an independent and non-profit initiative started in January 2021.)

Sanctions are bringing suffering and death – UN Special Rapporteur

1 min read

The use of economic sanctions has throughout history been an integral component of the foreign policy of most nation-states. As a blunt tool of diplomacy, the concept of sanctions has been around at least from the time of the ancient Greeks, when Athens imposed a trade embargo on its neighbour Megara in 432 B.C. Since then, there has been a long history of countries blockading their enemies to compel a change in behaviour.

In the late nineteenth century, economic sanctions were generally used during times of war and took the form of Export controls on strategic supplies and blockades against targeted countries. But how did this tactic morph into today’s “targeted” or “smart” sanctions — measures such as arms embargoes, asset freezes, and travel bans on key individuals and organizations? They may be more humane and high-tech than a flotilla at sea, but are sanctions any more effective today than they were 2,400 years ago? History tells us, how sanctions failed.

The guest of this episode is Alena Douhan. Alena Douhan is a professor in the Department of International Private and European Law, Belarusian State University. Her research is focused on the law of international security, the application of sanctions by states and international organizations, the status of individuals in International law, Human Rights in the Cyber-Age, and the law of international treaties. She was appointed by the Human Rights Council, as the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. She took her office on 25 March 2020.

She talked to Nilantha Ilangamuwa, former editor of Sri Lanka Guardian from her residence in Minsk, Belarus. Click here to listen to the episode

Mafia group destroys my beloved nation Venezuela – María Corina Machado

1 min read

Unfortunately, a group of criminals have robbed and destroyed Venezuela in the last few decades. Therefore, the prevailing political crisis is deepening day by day; people are struggling to get rid of this highly sophisticated mafia rule, María Corina Machado one of the leading opposition figures in Venezuela said. In this episode of The New Normal, Nilantha Ilangamuwa, former editor of Sri Lanka Guardian talked to María Corina Machado to have insights about the situation in the oil-rich nation in Latin America.

Maria is a founding member of Vente Venezuela. She was elected a Member of the National Assembly of Venezuela in September 2010, having obtained the highest number of votes of any candidate in the race. However, for her role in civil society, she was accused by the Hugo Chávez government of conspiracy and treason and was forbidden from leaving the country without judicial authorization for several years.

On March 2014, she spoke before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, after the Republic of Panama, yielded its speaking rights so that she could denounce Human Rights violations in Venezuela. For this reason, according to her, she was arbitrarily removed from her elected post by the President of the National Assembly. She says it is a violation of due process and international customary law. She faces accusations of treason, terrorism and homicide, as well as repeated threats of incarceration. But her fight for democracy is continuing.