TNA should support Northern empowerment, or they will be history - Dr Suren Raghavan | Daily News

TNA should support Northern empowerment, or they will be history - Dr Suren Raghavan

Dr. Suren Raghavan
Dr. Suren Raghavan

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) while not being supportive of the development in the North also has several internal battles. If the TNA does not support current development initiatives and if they continue with these internal issues, TNA will be history very soon.

I have had several discussions with three 'murties' of TNA, Sumanthiran, Mavai Senathirajah and R. Sampanthan and I feel they don’t have a genuine agenda to develop or support Northern empowerment.

These views were expressed by former Governor of the Northern Province and Parliamentarian Dr Suren Raghavan in a special interview with the 'Daily News' on matters concerning Tamil politics, burial rights and uniting Sri Lanka.

Following is an extract of the interview…

Q: How supportive was the TNA when you were the Governor of the Northern Province?

The TNA politicos are seasoned personalities. I think their minds are always trained to look at everything from a political angle. The level of support I received was very minimal or no support at all.

I know they were watching me, and observing everything that I was doing. I know they wished for me to fail from the start, I was a newcomer and gaining my footing in politics. My approach was to look at the issues from people’s point of view, and not to get politics involved.

I was able to secure around 4,000 government jobs the Northern Province and 8,000 families were granted lands and there was much more to be done. I was involved in the development of the education, social, economic and women’s welfare in the province. All my work is well recorded, in the minds of the people and I wish had more time do carry out more work. I am thankful to former President Maithripala Sirisena for giving me this opportunity. I felt I was a threat to the TNA and other Tamil politicians. It was not my fault, but the TNA’s narrow-minded thinking. My approach was to communicate with the people, and this was what TNA lacked. I understand the TNA’s national political approach. My aim was always to I empower the Tamil people and do democratic politics.

Q: What made you address Parliament about Tamil political prisoners now, and why didn’t you do it before?

I have addressed the political prisoners issue my before I came into politics, and it is a wrong assumption to say that I did not address the issue before and I am only now taking it up in Parliament. As the Governor of Northern Province, I raised the issue with the then authorities involved in the matter concerning the prisoners.

I had requested the authorities to treat this as a special concern, and it will strengthen the reconciliation process and we had come to a point of achievement but due to the 2019 Easter Sunday attack there was a setback and everything went back to square one.

Currently, there are around 79 political prisoners, and those involved should find a way forward to this matter. From the 79, only six are severely convicted. My first approach was to categorize, and accordingly treat them. Last year-end March I was persistent on the matter, within two months of governorship and it came to a mutual agreement. This didn't see light due to the Easter Sunday attacks. I still will be vocal about this and there will be some sort of solution soon.

Q: Now that the topic has been put forward to the Minister of Justice, what measure are you taking regarding this?

The minister has given his support and agreed upon this issue to be re-addressed. Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, from his end will direct his officials, to coordinate and conduct monthly meetings on progress. This issue has been taken to the President and the current Cabinet Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekara. From January we have proposed monthly meetings with all parties concerned and agencies involved to reach some kind of framework by April, and there shall be a working committee.

Hopefully, these agencies will come to a common ground and these prisoners will receive some sort of justice, as there are prisoners from various categories and nationalities.

In the previous Government, you were appointed as the Governor of the Northern Province. What developments were you engaged in and what are the matters to be looked into?

I don’t want self-glorify myself. I opened the Jaffna International Airport, which operated flights to India. I did the necessary formalities. The current Indian government promised INR 300 million for further development.

I am in discussion with the Sri Lankan Government to pursue this project, it’s a must and I see a way of reconciliation and harmony among communities. My aim is by 2022 we will have a fully fledged airport, having flights from Europe and the Middle East. Even the current Indian High Commission agreed on this matter and this must be done.

Q: There is a lot of unrest and complex issues with Tamil politics, what are your thoughts?

Tamil political disunity has been a threat, and over the years it was very evident. In Tamil politics, it’s about not being a second to anybody. I would call it a social arrogance, and this social arrogance has been converted to political activities. Their refusal to work with decision makers in the South can be seen in their behaviour.

The social attitude needs to change, the Tamils fear the insiders and if you put together five Tamil persons, they will create five Tamil political parties within two hours. This has been the bane of our issues.

In the Ninth parliament, we can see the division among Tamil politicians, more than before. There so much division in this small Tamil political fraternity, this is because they cannot work together. One reason that contributes to this issue is the caste factor which we have to put aside and work for progress.

Q: Your opinion on the Muslim community’s struggle for burial rights?

More than 100 countries permit burials, the World Health Organization (WHO) is promoting it and India, a country strong about interfaith harmony and religion is allowing burial. If the national scientists are debating the matter, the benefit of the doubt should go to the deceased's family and that’s how the law functions. I have told the President and other ministers to let the covid-19 related deceased to be buried.

When this issue continues in the form of cremation we are igniting hate and religious disharmony and we may create religious radicalism among youth. This should stop, and let them be buried and let there be harmony among communities.

Q: The Indian fishermen issue is prolonging even today, and during your tenure as the Governor, the issue was also brought to your attention. What action did you take to resolve the issue and what is currently being done?

India and Sri Lanka, share a narrow sea strip and the Northern fishermen, for various reasons haven’t been aggressive fishermen. It’s not Tamil Nadu, but some fisher traders sponsor fishermen to cross the borders. This scenario happens in other parts of the world too, and this only can be resolved by discussions.

As the former governor, I encouraged discussion with both parties, consisting mainly the Catholic churches of Tamil Nadu and Jaffna which can be the agencies of negations and it’s pointless arresting those fishermen who come on a leased boat and get imprisoned for several months and years.

I raised this issue with the former Indian High Commissioner and we were reaching an agreement, but the Easter Sunday attacks took place. I believe this relationship between the two Catholic churches should be built and both influencers should come together to sort the issue.

Q: Currently how involved are you in the Northern Province?

I want to be a flag bearer of change in the political scene in the Northern Province. I want my contribution to be unique and change the negative approach to the Northern Province politics. I will work for those disabled, women who are war widows and those disappeared persons. I will render my social service and if those people feel I should be elected from the North let them decide that.

Q: Some sections of the ruling party are adamant that a new Constitution, which excludes the 13th Amendment, should be drafted. At the same time, the Tamil parties are emphasizing the devolution of power with the right of self-determination. What is your position on this issue?

The 13th Amendment came as a result of bilateral discussion with India and Sri Lanka, and Prime Minister Modi is very careful and emphasized more than twice in his speeches about the 13th amendment and the Lankan government should uphold that. Some call the provincial councils a white elephant and those are people who have no political knowledge.

Provincial councils should be extended and fully empowered, the 13th amendment will bring a stable Sri Lanka and address 90% of the Tamil issues and it’s wrong to abolish it in the new Constitution. 

Former Governor of the Northern Province Dr. Suren Raghavan flew on Alliance Air AL 9I 102 from the Jaffna International Airport to Chennai last year is seen colleting his ticket