In the following interview Varadaraja Perumal, the former Chief Minister of the north and east in Sri Lanka, speaks to Mainstream editor on the changed scenario in the island state following the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo, on May 18, 2009. Perumal was the CM of the north and east in 1988-90; he is one of the leaders of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) that had to bear the brunt of Prabhakaran’s ire, and at present resides in India.
Are you convinced that Prabhakaran is no more?
VP: Definitely, there is no doubt about that. The photographs are there for all to see. Then, Karuna was taken to the spot and he identified the body.
Was Karuna the closest to Prabhakaran at one time?
VP: He was the second-in-command in the LTTE till 2004.
I also want to tell you that there is no reason for the Sri Lankan Government to lie about Prabhakaran’s death.
If this is true then would you say that the LTTE has become an orphan today?
VP: This is the end of the LTTE though there are still 500-600 LTTE cadres who are moving around in the eastern province and the deep jungles of Vanni in the north.
Do they have weapons?
VP: They have some weapons.
Do they have any leadership?
VP: They don’t have any leadership. So these LTTE cadres’ operation as armed groups could be for a short period—after all, how would they replenish their weapons?
In this scenario who will give leadership to the Sri Lankan Tamils?
VP: We should not harbour the misconception that the LTTE had been so far giving leadership to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. In fact the LTTE is a terrorist group which destroyed the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership starting from the killing of Srisabaratnam (TELO) in 1986 followed by the liquidation of Amrithalingam (TULF), Padmanabha (EPRLF), Neelan Thiruchelvam (TULF), Keethes-waran (EPRLF).
More than 10,000 leaders and fighters of the Sri Lankan Tamils, belonging to different organisations other than the Tamil Tigers, were killed by the LTTE since 1986.
The LTTE under Prabhakaran suppressed any intellectual opinion. In fact that LTTE spread terror among the Tamil people—that is, it injected terror in the minds of the Tamil people—wherever they lived.
But how do you explain the groundswell of support for Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers among the expatriate Tamils in particulars?
VP: Well, if you consider the Tamil society as such, its members did not view the issues logically or rationally, with deep passion and anti-Sinhala sentiments they supported the LTTE.
As far as the Tamil diaspora is concerned, they are a lost population to the society of Sri Lankan Tamils. Among them vested interest is intertwined with their support to the LTTE. To stay on in their country of residence they need to have refugee status which is ensured if the war in Sri Lanka continues interminably thus making their return to the island state next to impossible.
What will happen now in Sri Lanka?
VP: The killing of the LTTE leadership as a whole, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, has removed the major hindrance to the development of the democratic movement among Tamils—the democratic leaders are now in a position to go and work among their own people without any impediment.
But what is the objective of the Sri Lankan Government? Haven’t there been grave human rights violations in the latest fight-to-the-finish against the LTTE?
VP: The objective of the Sri Lankan Government and human rights violations are no doubt important, but the primary issue is the Tamil question. Till now the Tamil cause was hijacked by the LTTE under a separatist banner.
The majority of the Tamil people know that separation or secession, that is, Eelam, is impossible. But all of them thought that by fighting by the side of the LTTE they would be able to wrest their demands from the Sinhala leaders. However, while fighting for the Tamils the LTTE could not deliver any benefits to the Tamils. Rather, by killing the Tamil leaders, the LTTE prevented any rise of Tamil leaders or organisations not affiliated to the LTTE.
Are you saying Eelam is impossible?
VP: The struggle for separation or secession died many years ago—when the LTTE attacked the TELO and killed the TELO leaders in 1986 the movement for secession had died a premature death.
But won’t the demand for Eelam come up once again in the future?
VP: The point is that the struggle of the Tamil people will continue if the Sri Lankan leaders do not create an environment in which the Tamil people are able to enjoy an autonomous political system.
Would the Tamil struggle be violent or non-violent in the coming days?
VP: In future the struggle will be mostly non-violent. Already the Tamil people have experienced violent struggle in the north and east of the island state. Non-violent struggle alone will create conditions for the Sinhala people to understand and accept the Tamils’ reasonable demands.
You were Chief Minister of the north and east in 1988-90. What was your experience on the question of devolution of power to the Tamil areas?
VP: At that time Premadasa was the President of Sri Lanka. Earlier during the tenure of President Jayawardene, the 13th Amendment was passed and this affectively prevented the devolution process. The 13th Amendment has many lacunae—there is insufficiency of powers in it; moreover it is a bad law and liable to be misinterpreted. At the same time it goes against the spirit of both devolution and the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987. There was no willingness on the part of the Sinhalor leaders to go for devolution then and they used the 13th Amendment to prevent devolution. At that period I was not Chief Minister of the north and east with the powers that the Chief Ministers enojoy in the different States of India—rather, I was a Chief Minister striving for devolution of power.
However, if a President is sincere he can interpret the 13th Amendment such as to carry out devolution. In President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time a new devolution package was sought to be presented. Opposition leader Ranil Wickrema-singhe accepted a federal structure.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa can also use the 13th Amendment to bring about devolution of power. In fact, under the chairmanship of Minister for Science and Technology Tissa Vitharana an all-party committee has been set up by the President to look into the devolution package.
Do you think there is a possibility of carrying out devolution by President Rajapaksa?
VP: Of course, nothing has been closed.
How do you want the Government of India to play a positive role in this regard?
VP: The relations between the governments of India and Sri Lanka are now quite good. Both the governments should speak to the Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim leaders and bring about some settlement. The leaders of Tamil Nadu must also be involved to substantially contribute to the process.
Do you think that in this new situation following Prabhakaran’s death new avenues to resolve the Tamil problem have opened up?
VP: Yes. Till now the Sinhala leaders had been saying that so long as the LTTE is continuing its violent activities in the north and east it is impossible for us to speak about devolution. Now that pretext has gone.
I personally feel some kind of trust between the Sinhala leaders of Sri Lanka and leaders of Tamil Nadu should be built as soon as possible. That will definitely benefit the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
How did President Mahinda Rajapaksa carry out this stupendous task of liquidating the LTTE whereas all his predecessors had failed in such an effort? What is your take on that?
VP: President Rajapaksa was driven by singleminded purpose of eliminating the source of LTTE’s terror. As for his immediate predecessor, President Kumaratunga was beset with numerous problems even though she too sincerely wanted peace and solution of the Tamil question.
One more point: the Government of India did not in any way disturb the Sri Lankan military operations against the LTTE.
But the Government of India is worried about the humanitarian problems before the Sri Lankan Tamils today.
VP: The Government of India is doing everything possible to extend humanitarian help to the Sri Lankan Tamils. However, this is a task which must be taken up not just by India but the entire international community. The international community must be generous in providing relief to and rehabilitating the displaced Sri Lankan Tamils.
Do you anticipate some terrorist activities in Sri Lanka after Prabhakaran’s death?
VP: Not for long. If the Sri Lankan state is serious such activities cannot continue for long.
You have known Prabhakaran for a long time. How would you describe him?
VP: He was one of the most ruthless terrorist leaders in the world. But at the same time he was politically a coward.
Kindly explain how.
VP: He was not able to face any political challenge or any critical opinion.
Today happens to be former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 18th death anniversary. We all know he met his death on May 21, 1991 under orders of Prabhakaran. Now that Prabhakaran has been killed would you say that Rajiv Gandhi’s family has been able to secure justice?
VP: Yes, of course. God has secured justice to the families and friends of Rajiv Gandhi, Padmanabha, Keetheswaran and others who were brutally massacred by Prabhakaran.
I recollect all my memories of Rajiv Gandhi today because he was a person who committed himself personally to deliver political benefits to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka while maintaining his commitment to ensure Sri Lanka’s integrity. I wish Rajiv Gandhi was alive to witness this event of the elimination of the murderer Prabhakaran who brought so much misery to the peoples of Sri Lanka and India.
What lies in the future of the Sri Lankan Tamils?
VP: The Sri Lankan Tamil people would now have to find out those leaders who are capable of fighting for devolution and effectively conducting the devolution movement.