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Tuesday, November 05, 2013 - 05.48 GMT

India’s national interests dictate that PM should represent country at CHOGM


The Indian External Affairs Ministry recommended that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo amidst the pressure mounted from within the Union Council of Ministers.

In view of India’s “paramount security and strategic interests” in and around Sri Lanka, a senior MEA official told The Hindu, India’s national interests dictate that the Prime Minister should represent the country at CHOGM, a view that seconds the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Prime Minister is understood to have dwelt on the issue during his inaugural address to the country’s top diplomats at the Heads of Mission (HoM) conference on Monday. “The MEA recommendation is there. It was made at the ministerial level and now it is up to the powers-that-be to take a decision,” confirmed another MEA official.

For the government, the issue has become tricky with MoS in the PMO V. Narayanasamy and MoS (with independent charge) for Environment Jayanthi Natarajan joining Union Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan, who had already made known his opposition to the Prime Minister travelling to Colombo. Interestingly, the Congress Core Group — the party’s highest, if informal, decision-making body — is also divided on the issue, says The Hindu.

However, the Prime Minister can draw solace from the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party has adopted a positive line on his travelling to Colombo even though, given the political sensitivities of its potential political allies in Tamil Nadu, the party remained shy of articulating its position in public at this juncture. “We have no issue with anyone, including the Prime Minister, representing India at the highest level,” a senior BJP leader told The Hindu, adding, “Our concern is solely about justice and equal political rights for Tamils.”

“We understand the sentiments of the people in Tamil Nadu, but … Indian foreign policy has to be guided by larger interests of the country and our geo-political interests,” the leader said, stressing that it wasn’t in India’s interest to antagonise a neighbouring country — its objectives are better served by a policy of engagement and dialogue.”
Meanwhile, within the Congress Core Group, two Ministers have also expressed their reservations about the Prime Minister making the trip. They are Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony, party sources say. Mr. Antony, it is understood, has said that even if a small section of Tamils is opposing the visit, it could create a security problem. He has also made the point that the delegation need not be headed by the Prime Minister. The last meeting of the Group on October 30 was attended by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon; Mr. Khurshid made a presentation on the issue at the meeting, favouring the PM’s participation.

However, even within the Congress’ Tamil Nadu unit, there are differences; Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president B.S. Gnanadesikan and MoS for Commerce E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan are backing the visit, with the latter saying India should be there at CHOGM to highlight the grievances of Tamils in Sri Lanka and to ensure their welfare. Mr. Gnanadesikan, for his part, pointed out that if the communication link between India and Sri Lanka was cut off, it might adversely affect the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka and Indian fishermen. There was an elected government in Colombo, he added, saying, “If we don’t talk to the government in Sri Lanka, then with whom should we speak?”






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Last modified: November 05, 2013.

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