Chennai: Douglas Devananda, 61, is the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and a MP in the Sri Lankan Parliament representing Jaffna. He was a Minister in the Cabinets of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and later Mahinda Rajapaksa. In this interview on the sidelines of his participation in the meetings of the parliamentary delegation from his country in New Delhi, he spoke to Deccan Chronicle on various issues dogging the Tamil people in the Island Nation.
How did the meeting of the Sri Lankan Parliament delegation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi go?
DD: PM Modi explained the Indian position that it is important to maintain cordial relations with all the neighbours and in that context and spirit, India is keen on extending all help and cooperation for Sri Lanka.
What about the Tamils issue?
PM Modi exhorted us to regularly be in touch with India–with Government of India and also with the state governments in India, particularly the TN Government. The leaders in the delegation representing their respective parties in Sri Lanka, presented their views.
We gather from our Delhi sources that your representative R Sampanthan (of the Tamil National Alliance, TNA) did a complete turnabout on the Tamil stand and told PM Modi that the Tamils recognize Sri Lanka as a Buddhist State. Your comment.
(laughs) First, let me clarify Mr Sampanthan is not the leader of all the Tamils; he is the leader of only the TNA. I represent EPDP and Mano Ganesan the Tamil Muropokku Munnani (Tamil Progressive Front, TPF), besides Rauf Hakeem who is the leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. We three were also present in this delegation in Delhi. And as for Sampanthan’s statement that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist State, that is unfortunate he said that. That may be the TNA stand, but not that of the Tamil people. We say that Sri Lanka is a secular State where all the people must enjoy equal rights in all aspects.
It is almost 10 years since the Eelam war ended. What is the situation with the Tamil people now?
There is now peace, but with a difference. While there is no war, there are anti-social elements having a field day with abductions, extortion, rape, murder, and so on. The society that had got used to the violence of war for three decades has now embraced the violence of societal crime mainly due to lack of proper Tamil leadership. This spurt in violent crime is unfortunate because in my student days in the early 1970s, the Tamil society was so civilized and there was no crime even without any policeman’s supervision. We would get down from our bicycles in reverence when we see our teacher. Now it is the other way about as the teachers seem to be scared of students. I think it’s the hangover of the war.
We have seen reports quoting UN officials saying one lakh people died in the decades-long Eelam war. What is your estimate?
It is difficult to fix a number or go anywhere close to a good guess. Enough to say vast amount of Tamil blood had spilled on our land and in the most gruesome and the most unnecessary war. Let me explain. At the time of signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord (1987), not more than 2,000 people had died and that included 652 as the Eelam war casualties-they called them martyrs-acknowledged by the LTTE.
The majority of Tamils world over feel strongly disturbed and angry at the manner in which the Eelam war ended-in the death of about 40,000 people, mostly civilians in the final phase at Mullivaikal and the weeks preceding that. There is anger at India for being a ‘silent spectator’ to that gruesome spectacle. There is anger at the international community, the foreign governments. There are accusations they all collaborated with Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cruel brother defence minister Gotabaya. What is your take on this?
The Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka should be blamed more than anyone else for the massive loss of lives in our land. The LTTE followed its principle, its philosophy: ‘To kill and to be killed’. The (Indo-Lanka) Accord was a golden opportunity to get the Tamil solution but unfortunately, the Tamil leadership did not use that.
You too have been accused of being a collaborator of the Sinhala regimes against Tamil interests.
That is false propaganda triggered by the LTTE and spread by the Tigers’ paid loyalists. They made all sorts of charges against me, such as abductions, extortion and murders. But subsequent government investigations have proved my innocence. History will show all this.
How did you manage to create some sort of a Guinness Record as the greatest survivor of the LTTE assassination squads that had the distinction of failing very rarely?
I managed to stay alive by remaining clear-headed and alert, 24×7, all days in life. I have escaped 13 assassination attempts by the LTTE and there could be many more unrecorded ones. While I managed to stay alive, those attacks on me have left me badly injured and hurt my health. I lost my left eye in one of their brutal attacks on me.
Why is the political solution evading the Tamils still?
Because of lack of proper leadership for the Tamils.
What is the best solution for the Tamils in the present circumstances?
A practical approach would be to implement the 13th Amendment (of the Sri Lankan Constitution, brought under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, 1987) in full and move stage by stage as the people-to-people understanding between the Sinhalese and the Tamils consolidates so as to meet the political aspirations of the Tamil people. The 13th Amendment is the closest to the Indian model of devolution of powers between the Centre and the States.
Even after more than three decades of political struggle and armed war, the Tamils are still unable to get what is their due in Sri Lanka. Does this mean that the Eelam war failed?
The Tamils were not defeated, but the method of violence failed. Prabhakaran was defeated; he should have stopped his violence and accepted political solution offered at various stages starting with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Instead, he persisted with the gun and that led to the huge loss of lives and destruction. And he too perished. What was gained from all this violence? Nothing.
We see a lot of Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Comment.
China is using the poverty in Sri Lanka to further its global expansionist designs. I hope India understands this.
What about investments from India?
I am appealing to the entrepreneurs from Tamil Nadu to invest in a big way in Sri Lankan north and east. They should take advantage of the post-war situation and come there in a big way.
Your take on the release of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts?
I have always believed that killing does not deliver any solution. True, I had started as an Eelam militant hoping to achieve a solution to the Tamil question and gain all our Tamil aspirations through armed struggle, but after the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which we were the first to accept and lay down weapons (he was then the head of the EPRLF military wing), I have been completely on a political track shunning violence. Coming to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts, it is not desirable and proper, in both legal and humanitarian terms, to either carry out the death sentences now or continue with their jail terms endlessly.
They have all served 28 years in prison — much more than what a life convict would have done. It is time they go home to their families.