COLOMBO: The Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader Suresh Premachandran told the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar, that India’s plans for the economic development of Sri Lanka’ Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces cannot bear fruit unless there is a political solution to the Tamil question.
Meeting Jaishankar as part of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation here on Monday, Premachandran said that political stability is necessary for economic development and that economic development cannot be assured till the political and other issues facing the Tamils are solved.
He pointed to the many agitations taking place in the North over the return of seized lands, disappearances and the continued imprisonment of political activists or LTTE cadres.
Premachandran spoke at length about the demand for the re-merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces to form a single Tamil-Speaking and Tamil-majority province – a demand which has far-reaching consequences for the Tamils.
Premachandran was reacting to Jaishankar’s saying that India is keen on investing in the economic development of the North and East to create assets and jobs for the youth and that it will be helpful if the TNA stands united and cooperates in New Delhi’s economic endeavors.
The EPRL leader highlighted the issue of the merger of the North and East partly because it had been the main theme of the Ezhuga Tamil rally held recently in the Eastern town of Batticaloa. Premachandran is a key member of the Tamil Peoples’ Council which organized the rally.
The merger of the North and East is considered important by the Eastern Tamils because it helps them face the Muslims who tend to dominate them economically and politically. If the East were to be merged with the North, the Tamils will be in an overwhelming majority and can run the province as per their wish, and also bargain with Colombo more effectively for more powers.
But the Muslims are opposed to the merger as their proportion would be reduced from 35 % to 12%. At any rate, successive Sri Lankan governments have been against a merger as they fear that a strengthened and united Tamil province will be in a better position to secede from Sri Lanka. It was to destroy the unification of the North and East wrought by the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 that some Sinhalese and Muslims, enjoying tacit government support, challenged the merger in the Supreme Court and got a favourable verdict in 2006.
Premachandran pointed out that India has a moral responsibility to ask the Sri Lankan government to re-merge the North and East as it is part of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. If the Accord is still valid, every part of it should be deemed to be equally valid and implemented, he argued.
He recalled that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had solemnly promised that the merger would remain and that the proposed referendum would not be held. He also recalled that the EPRLF had fully cooperated with India on the implementation of the Accord, and like the Indian Peace Keeping Force, had lost many men in the fight against the LTTE which opposed the Accord. India has a moral responsibility to keep its promise and persuade the Sri Lankan government to re-merge the North and East, Premachandran said.
But Jaishankar ruled out going back to the past. He appealed to the gathered Tamil leaders to use the opportunities currently offered by the Sri Lankan government and move forward while keeping the merger issue on the talks table.
Selvam Adailkalanathan of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) said that Jaishankar was mostly interested in knowing what is happening in the constitution-making process and in seeking the TNA’s support for India’s plans for the economic development of the North and East.