Colombo: The newly elected chief minister of Sri Lanka’s eastern provincial council was a child soldier in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), only 15 years old, when former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991. In his first interview with an Indian newspaper, S. Santira Kanthan, alias Pillayan, calls the assassination a big mistake on the part of LTTE. Edited excerpts:
What made you join the LTTE and what do you think about it now?
I joined the LTTE in 1991 when I was 15 years old and I thought that through the armed struggle, we could achieve the rights of the Tamil people. One time the LTTE was very strong, the people believed that it was the only hope for the Tamils, but now they are struggling. That is why the people ended up voting for us.
Why did you leave the LTTE?
In 2004, differences between the northern and eastern provinces became accentuated. I am very attached to the Eastern Province people because I was born there and I know how they were discriminated by the LTTE. I knew that it would be difficult to get Tamil Eeelam (independent homeland for which the Tamil rebels are battling) because the LTTE started killing their own Tamil people. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was a big blunder which we will never be able to rectify. We lost the dream of Tamil Eelam and left the LTTE and thought better to start a political party through which we can get the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people (fulfilled).
Where were you when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated?
I was in the LTTE training camp.
What was the feeling in the LTTE, then and today, about Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination?
At the time, the LTTE had a short vision. They wanted to take revenge on IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) so they killed Rajiv Gandhi. The LTTE was cornered, the Tamil people lost a big voice, which is India. Now the LTTE is regretting but it’s too late for them to rectify their mistakes.
There is regret within the LTTE?
Yes, of course, but they can’t do much. But people around (LTTE chief Velupillai) Prabhakaran, I am pretty sure they are regretting, but it’s hard to rectify what was done.
As an elected chief minister of the eastern provincial council, do you think you should build bridges with India?
I strongly believe that bridges should be built and I will do everything as chief minister to put my whole effort into this. The north-east provincial council was established by India to give the long-suffering Tamils relief. But...this council was unable to do any development work. So we need strong support from India. India is the country which drafted the 13th amendment for the Sri Lankan Tamils, this should be implemented. I am prepared to do anything to build these bridges.
What else do you expect from India?
India is a neighbouring country, and we have so many things in common. In recent years we have lost a lot. India is a very big power in South Asia and should be able to help a lot. We want help in education, agriculture and fisheries, so that it improves the livelihood of people.
Why didn’t you meet India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan?
It was very sad for me. I feel India has a responsibility to encourage us because I left the armed struggle and entered the democratic stream. India should support me in this. We thought we were going to meet honourable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; that was the promise given to us. And at the last moment, they said no, you’re not going to see him but instead of him, the national security adviser. I felt very sad.
The Indian Prime Minister met people who don’t even have one seat in Parliament such as Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam and other groups, except me.