The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

5th, May 1996



Rahula hits back

Buddhist scholar Ven Dr. Walpola Sri Rahula Thera Chancellor of the Kelaniya University, says that Sri Lanka is the only Buddhist - Sinhala country in the world and no one should be allowed to divide it. In an interview with The Sunday Times on the eve of Vesak, the scholar monk said, the LTTE did not understand the language of Maithri and understood only the language of fighting. Thus he felt that to fight terrorism was not against Buddhism .

Ven. Dr. Rahula Thera lashed out at President Kumaratunga saying there was no proper governance and the state of the nation today was lamentable.

Excerpts from the interview:

-- By Roshan Peiris --

Q: It is reported that you declined an award to mark Premier Sirima Bandaranike's 80th birthday. Why?

A: That is another sad story I'll show you a letter sent by Minister S. B. Dissanayake asking me to be one of the 140 chosen to get special awards. I refused. Is this the sort of letter to write to me? Just read it. It should have been sent by the President. R. Premadasa would never have made such a blunder and would have known to write it befittingly.

Q: What do you think of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike?

A: She was an efficient and effective ruler. Even now she has not got her lines crossed. Her perspectives are correct.

Today unfortunately, the country is in a sad position. There is no proper governance.

So give my message to the country that this is the only Buddhist Sinhala country in the whole world and we cannot allow it to be truncated anyway.

Q: What is your view of how President Kumaratunga is carrying out her duties?

A: I know her well. I knew her in Paris too. I considered it an error when she was elected President. I have said this quite openly. I believe she lacks commitment. I feel a person who is often late for her appointments cannot properly govern a country.

Q: In the spirit of maithri and peace could not a dialogue be held with even the LTTE?

A: You are talking of peace and maithri. What peace and maithri is there when the terrorists in the North and East are trying to divide our country asking for Eelam. We are so small that four times our country could be accommodated in just one Indian State.

Get this straight and quote me. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist Sinhala country. Let no one make a mistake. Seventy percent of the country consists of Buddhists and Sinhala people. Also make this clear that Sri Lanka is the only Buddhist Sinhala country in the world . If we don't live here, are the LTTE and some of the Tamil Parties asking us to jump in to the sea?

I got angry with Mr. Premadasa because he chose to call Sri Lanka a multi-national and multi- religious state. No. It is a Buddhist Sinhala State but we show no discrimination to other races or religions. I would ask the Tamil political Parties to tell us whether they are debarred from holding any post or have lost the right to buy property wherever they choose to live. Tamils have had high positions such as Chief Justice and Attorney General, so can they say we Sinhala people are discrediting them or still worse discriminating against them on the grounds of religion or race?

Q: What about the Devolution Package?

A: More than 2,000 members of the Sangha including the prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatte, had a meeting at which I too spoke. We cannot support the devolution package. It seeks to merge the North and East. Otherwise the Tamils will not accept it.

This an eye wash. The Tamils are seeking Eelam

Q: Not all parties are asking for Eelam. The TULF has dropped this demand.

A: May be. But eventually it will be so. Why should we divide our little country, the only refuge of the Sinhala Buddhist people?

The LTTE does not understand our language. It only understands just one language and that is fighting .Anuruddha Ratwatte understands its language - the language of military process.

Q: But according to the Dhamma, is that correct?

A: Why not? Take King Kosala a disciple of the Buddha. He did fearlessly fight terrorism in his Empire. The solution has to be the solution of the majority of the people

Q: Tamils feel that the North and East are sort of refuge for them as it was in 1983. What would you say?

A: That was an exception and I hope such a thing will never happen again in this land of The Buddha . But now don't the Tamils have rights I repeat, please tell us what rights they don't have, be it in education, professionally or in acquiring property?

CWC not in Govt.-Thonda

By Malinga H. Gunaratna and Shyamal Collure

CWC leader S. Thondaman in the centre of a political storm over his party's no-confidence motion against Plantations Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake says he sees no inconsistency or conflict of interest on the issue.

In an interview with The Sunday Times Mr. Thondaman said the motion was filed by the CWC and just because he was in the Cabinet of Ministers it did not mean the CWC was in the government. On the contrary the CWC was in the opposition side in Parliament and its MPs had full freedom.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Don't you think that it is unethical to bring a no-confidence motion against a Cabinet colleague?

A: The no-confidence motion was not brought by me, it is the CWC and the Opposition that are expressing no faith in the minister.

Q: Do you mean to say you were unaware of such a move or not consulted on the matter?

A: How can I say I was not aware or not consulted when I am the President of the CWC? I was consulted in my capacity as the President of the CWC. Consulting is different. This is not a private motion brought by me.

It is the decision of the entire CWC. Just because I am in the Cabinet of Ministers, it is wrong to say that the CWC is in the government. The CWC on the contrary is in the Opposition and its MPs are seated in the Opposition. They should be allowed to exercise their rights as MPs.

Q: There is speculation that you might offer to resign from the portfolio if the motion is defeated. Your comments?

A: Why should I? I am not a coward. What is there to win or lose. There are so many ways of focusing attention on matters. As a minister I had talks with the government but the CWC was not satisfied with what was offered. This was more to manifest the deep dissatisfaction of the plantation workers. The government has not monitored the plantations properly. The conditions prevalent at the time the plantations were taken over have deteriorated. This is the first time that 200,000 Sinhala workers had joined the strike.

Q: What future trade union action do you have in mind if your demands are not granted?

A: We will take action as and when causes of action arise. The CWC has been involved in peaceful trade union action over the last 50 years. Our activities are not understood by many. Our action has always been peaceful and non-violent. I do not think that any further action is necessary if the management can come to agreement.

Q: How confident are you that the CWC can push through the motion?

A: The CWC does not want to win the motion. It was designed to bring to the public notice, the grievances of the plantation workers and to give an opportunity to the government to re-assess the situation and remedy injustices done to the plantation community.

Q: Why did UPFs P. Chandrasekeran a Deputy Minister who joined the strike intially, withdraw from it later and how did his union's withdrawal affect the strike?

A: Nobody invited him. He thought he would be exposed if he did not fight for the interests of the plantation workers. His withdrawal had no impact at all.

Q: What is the real idea behind this motion. Was it to put pressure on the government or to win the demands?

A: About 600,000 workers went on strike. We are fighting for the betterment of their living conditions. Foolish people might say the CWC is putting pressure on the government. Its because of people like them that the country is having such a racial issue.

Q: Will the UNP support the motion?

A: If the UNP is really genuine and committed, it should support. It is for the UNP do decide.

Q: Has the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked you to get the support of the other Tamil parties first?

A: It was CWC General Secretary. Arumugam Thondaman who had talks with Mr. Wickremesinghe. I do not think that Mr. Wickremesinghe is communal to have made such a statement.

Q: Will you contest the local government elections, due later this year, on your own or with the PA?

A: Its too early to comment on that. We will wait and see.

Q: What were the decisions taken at the CWC May Day Rally?

A: We do not take decisions on May Day. It is a workers' day where they express their feelings and aspirations.

Q: What is the aim of the no-confidence motion?

A: Through it we hope the government will reassess our demands. The recent strike saw the whole country, including areas like Deniyaya, Galle and Kalutara participating. This demonstrates the deep-seated frustration of the plantation community. The CWC is in the opposition. Only I am in the government. This is a move within the democratic system to obtain redress to grievances. The CWC has every right to move a motion of no-confidence. The government has failed to recognize our demands. We had a procession on Maddecombra and Sheruk Estates. Four people have been taken into custody. This is an attempt to ridicule the plantation workers and make our demands a joke. Because the CWC is making the demand some try to make it communal. But now the entire Sinhala plantation community too has responded to our call.

Q: Do you feel that people are suspicious regarding these demands because you are making them?

A: Yes. Then majority of the plantation workers are Tamils. I make ten demands on behalf of the workers. They happen to be Tamils but this time all the low country estates that are manned by Sinhalese too join us.

Q: Most political parties promise you anything before elections to obtain your support. Do they ultimately honour their promises?

A: I have to extract. They seldom honour on their own.

Q: Have you taken up incidents of mismanagement of tea estates with the plantation minister?

A: We have made our views on privatization known. They have been ignored. We are asking for 300 days work to produce more and work more. This is the only country in the world, where managements do not want the workers to produce more.

Q: Do you think the PA administration understands the plantation culture?

A: If it tries to, it can.

Q: There is a lot of agitation for an increase in productivity. Cannot a dialogue be established to achieve this?

A: We are always ready for a dialogue, provided what is decided is implemented.

Q: One allegation is that you make your demands when the government is launching a fresh offensive against the LTTE?

A: Our demand is for the plantation workers. The Sinhala plantation workers too joined the strike. Are they helping the LTTE? Those allegations are made to arouse communal feelings. In fact by my non-violent struggles I have been responsible for maintaining peace in the plantations.

Q: It is reported that the Transport Minister Srimani Athulathmudali is planning to move a no- faith motion against you. Any comment?

A: If she entertains such an idea, she will have to first resign and join the opposition. It is only then that Ms. Athulathmudali can bring a no-confidence motion against me.

Continue to the News/Comment page 3 - Dialogue for peace that never was

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