Interviews

No one should be sidelined based on ethnicity or religion – Wigneswaran

  • Freedom and equality only when intrinsic rights of people in North and East recognized
  • Lots of wrong historical perceptions in the minds of Sinhala-Buddhists
  • I am not in favour of any force or violence and believe in people’s movements

By Sarah Hannan

Justice Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran, the former Northern Province Chief Minister, contested from the Jaffna Electoral District and got elected to the ninth Parliament with 21,554 preferential votes under the Thamizh Makkal Thesiya Kootani (TMTK), which he founded in 2018 after he broke away from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and in which he serves as the Secretary General.

Originally from Colombo, Wigneswaran was able to experience life in different cities of the country due to his father being in the public service sector and had to serve in different districts throughout his career. Wigneswaran therefore moved frequently from city to city with his parents and was educated at Christchurch College, Kurunegala; Holy Family Convent, Anuradhapura; and Royal College, Colombo.

The octogenarian is not a new face to Sri Lankan politics and to the country’s state service, as he was a member of the judiciary for 25 years and prior to that practised law for 15 years. He obtained his BA from the University of London and LLB from the University of Ceylon Peradeniya. He was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 2001 by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Up until his retirement from the field of law, Wigneswaran served as a magistrate and a district judge in Batticaloa, after which he was appointed as a district judge for Colombo. With his appointment to the High Court, Wigneswaran was able to serve in the Northern, Eastern, North Central, Uva, and Western Provinces.

Wigneswaran served as the Chief Minister for the Northern Province during the previous Government under then Governor Maj. Gen. (Retd.) G.A. Chandrasiri from 2013-2018.

His movements and words are closely scrutinised by the majority of politicians as well the ultranationalist groups nowadays, as he seemed to have ruffled some feathers with his maiden speech at the first session, which concluded with him saying “kala kala de pala pala de”. Reading through the speech made on 20 August, one would understand what Wigneswaran attempted to underscore with the Sinhala idiom (refer text in box).

This week, The Sunday Morning placed C. V. Wigneswaran MP on The Hot Seat to ask as to what he meant by the idiom and questioned him on how differently his party would continue its political journey, given that many other political parties representing the Tamil-speaking population of the country had failed to deliver on their promises.

Excerpts of the interview:

Can you explain what you meant by the endnote of your maiden speech? It seems to have irked many people, especially the ultra-nationalists. Are you instigating Tamil nationalism or separatism to take root?

Having lived in various cities in Sri Lanka during my childhood and my service as a lawyer, I was exposed to all ethnicities and regional lifestyles. I would never want to see our multi-ethnic, multi-religious citizens be divided due to political differences that are prompting separatism. In fact, I support interracial unions and I’m waiting to see a time where we would leave our differences and bitter experiences aside and work towards true reconciliation.

What I meant from the endnote was that every action will have an opposite reaction. No one in this country should get sidelined based on their ethnicity or religious beliefs. I believe the Tamils of Sri Lanka have undergone too much of it over the past decades and it is only right by them that they are allowed to voice their thoughts without being suppressed or branded for their political ideologies.

As I said in my speech, freedom and equality could dawn only if we shed the false historical perspectives and recognise the intrinsic rights of the people living in the North and the East of Sri Lanka, who are entitled to the right of self-determination as per Article 1 of Chapter One of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in addition to their hereditary and traditional rights to be recognised as a nation.

What are the crucial areas that need to be developed to ensure that the sovereignty of the Tamil people, not only in the North and East but the entire country, is safeguarded?

Creating understanding among all communities is a crucial area. Lots of wrong historical perceptions have got into the minds of the Sinhala-Buddhists. For example, they identify Tamil-Buddhist (Demala-Bauddha) archaeological sites as Sinhala-Buddhist sites. We need to discuss this in earnest with the intellectuals among the Sinhalese and get their input. Once there is understanding of these historical details, prejudices would ease out slowly.

As a member of Parliament and a representative not only to the Tamil people, but also to the rest of the Sri Lankan ethnicities, what community development work will your party execute in the years to come?

I had not distinguished among Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims when it came to development work while I was Chief Minister. Yet, my concentration would be mostly in the North and East. We need to make our people self-reliant. We will make efforts to create employment by joining hands with provincial councils, the Central Government, foreign governments, Tamil Nadu, and the Diaspora to do community development work in the North and East. We have also created a trust to do development projects. We shall undertake training and courses in order to increase our capacity to produce goods and to increase our skills for innovation.

Are you satisfied with the way the recent election decided the change in the political landscape of the North and East?

No. I wouldn’t agree that the election results are an indication of the change in the political landscape in terms of Tamil nationalism versus development. Tamil people have reacted to the selfish policyless behaviour of the TNA (Tamil National Alliance). The erstwhile TNA votes have got divided mostly among the three parties: TNA, cycle party (AITC), and us. Those who are working with the Government, such as the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party) and Angajan Ramanathan, had expressed their commitment to the Tamil nation and self-determination. Tamil nationalism is very much in vogue.

The TNA seemingly failed to deliver on the promises they made to the Tamil people. How differently will the TMTK approach these issues in Parliament, now that you have secured a seat?

We would make the best use of the opportunities that come our way. We would also be in touch with those who are our well-wishers in all communities and obtain their help too. We will maintain contacts with all countries so as to ensure the protection of the Tamil people and to enable political, economic, social, and cultural development. India is important in this.

Our activities would be undertaken after being overseen through institutionalised structures. When we say institutionalising, we mean that any matter that is political or social or economic would be checked for its sustainability. The techniques of the activities related to them will not depend on any single person, but would depend on collective responsibility. We are to pursue activities on this basis, co-ordinating the Tamil intellectuals living all over the world and forming structures to oversee and advise at home and abroad.

Do you believe that diplomacy was a failed approach and the only way out is through a radical and nationalist agenda to resolve the ethnic issues the Tamil people have dealt with for decades?

I am not in favour of any force or violence. I still believe in people’s movements, diplomacy, and international relations in achieving the aspirations of our people. International diplomacy can certainly help reinforce our struggle for self-determination.

Education is the source of power for diplomacy, and education is the never-ending divine gift to the Tamil people.

But involvement in international diplomacy is something new for the Tamil people. Yet, I am hopeful that our diplomatic skills will further grow and develop over time and enhance the prospects for our cause.

What measures would you take to improve the participation of youth political activists in diversifying the representation in Parliament for future governments?

That is an important facet of our party’s outlook. Soon, a youth front for the party would be formed and deliberate, decisive actions would be taken to help the youths become self-reliant, innovative, and

dedicated.

Are you still looking at establishing a federal government? Why has it taken over 60 years to establish such a governing system?

We have chosen the federal system to put an end to the interference by the Central Government into all our local affairs. If there is a better system, we are prepared to examine the same. Our Sinhalese brethren have been fed with incorrect, nay, false facts with regard to federalism. Even regarding our history, our Sinhalese brethren have been cheated by their intellectuals. It has taken so long for the Sinhalese people to face truths about their history as well as about federalism.

Will Sri Lanka have a truly democratic rule in the future?

I doubt it. Leopards cannot change their spots. Military men cannot think apart from their military-based thinking, although they are very much our people. Change is only possible by living the proper way and setting an example to others, while, at the same time, enthroning understanding in the minds of men and women.

How will you contribute to change the current political system which is filled with nepotism?

You expect too much from me as a person representing Tamil people who were subjected to genocide. But it is a fact that the Sri Lankan people have got used to threats and violence. Even in the last Parliament, violent behaviour was rampant but tolerated, nevertheless.

Nepotism started with the Uncle Nephew Party (UNP). After 50 years (1956-2006), the Bandaranaike name lost its magic. The Rajapaksa name too has an expiry date. It is only by our behaviour, savouring of goodwill, and sincerity that we could make a positive impact.