The government’s efforts to promote national unity in Sri Lanka will break down unless there is reconciliation, according to the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
“I think it is absolutely crucial,” Ms. Kumaratunga told The Hindu in her first interview to international media in some years.
Recently invited to head a special presidential task force on reconciliation, she said it would be transformed into a permanent office on national unity and reconciliation. “We have been very encouraged by the reaction we have had already [received] from the international community, including India which is offering us a lot of help to do all this work,” she said.
‘Sri Lanka restoring ties with India’
Sri Lanka is now reverting to a foreign policy based on a principle of “dynamic active non-alignment”, Ms. Kumaratunga said.
She said the country was working hard to re-establish good relations with India after they were “completely sabotaged” by the past government.
Ms. Kumaratunga — who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Sri Lanka in March – said Mr. Modi, was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country in a long time, and also two months after the new government came in. “So it was a very strong message of friendship that he gave us.”
Ever since her return to politics late 2014, backing the joint opposition platform against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ms. Kumaratunga has been actively engaged in the reconciliatory efforts of the new government under President Maithripala Sirisena.
Attired in a summery white kurta and trousers, Ms. Kumaratunga spoke to this correspondent in the high-roofed reception room of her home in the heart of Colombo.
Currently focusing on rebuilding the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) — founded by her father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, subsequently led by her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike and later herself — which according to her was effectively weakened by Mr. Rajapaksa, she plans to travel across the country with President Maithripala Sirisena to speak to the people at the field level and “alleviate the problem”.
Mr. Rajapaksa, she said, was defeated by the people of Sri Lanka in a democratic election mainly for his bad governance “his family’s corruption, the lack of human rights and some murders and the lack of freedom overall”.
Commenting on the regime change that the island witnessed in January 2015, the former President said: “One thing that everybody says, including his Ministers, is that even if we get nothing the feeling of freedom we have, after the Rajapaksas went, is so great. This was a police state. The people voted them out.”
After the new government took over, the engagement between Colombo and the Tamil National Alliance, the main Tamil party representing Sri Lanka’s northern Tamils, in her view, has been “excellent.”
“They [the TNA] have to shout once in a while to keep their identity but we have very good relations,” she said, on concerns raised by sections within the TNA over the pace and direction of the new government’s efforts.
Rules out return to ‘ugly’ electoral politics
Observing that she would now like to contribute to reconciliatory efforts in the country, Ms. Kumaratunga however ruled out returning to electoral politics. Asked if her son Vimukti would — amid local reports speculating on his entry to politics — she said: “I don’t want to speak for my son but I definitely will not come into electoral politics. I think it is very ugly.”
This, she noted, despite sections among the international community insisting that she consider returning. On whether India was among those countries keen on her return, she said, “No comments.”