Those who have mounted a sustained campaign to force the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to skip the CHOGM in Colombo beginning November 15 have targeted Rajapaksa. This is understandable. Apart from being perceived as the victor of the civil war and the man who re-united the island, the Sri Lankan president has come across as a man who is not amenable to pressure, both domestic and international. A leader with a firm grip on the public pulse, the president is keenly aware that the psychological scars of a long-standing ethnic divide can only be healed by a combination of peace and prosperity, Swapan Dasgupta wrote in The Telegraph, Culcutta.
Actually, India has little reason to complain about Rajapaksa’s balancing act. Immediately after the civil war ended, New Delhi’s thrust was on the revival of ‘normal’ politics in the Tamil-majority areas through the devolution of power. Fears were expressed that the president would ride the crest of Sinhala triumphalism and dilute the 13th amendment — which New Delhi views as an article of faith solely because it was negotiated by Rajiv Gandhi. It was well known that Rajapaksa personally favoured district councils over provincial councils. However, notwithstanding his personal preference, the president has stuck to the commitment he made to India.
Likewise, fears were expressed that the elections to the provincial council in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province would be put off indefinitely and that any election would be unfair. The September election which produced a conclusive majority for the Tamil National Alliance and the election of a well-respected former judge of the supreme court as chief minister has put an end to these fears. Rajapaksa, it is clear, has stuck to his side of the bargain.
Under the circumstances, it makes no diplomatic sense for India to succumb to the extremist pressure of the Tamil diaspora and the regional parties of Tamil Nadu. A multilateral CHOGM is not the occasion for grandstanding. Neither is it the appropriate forum to raise new issues centred on the internal governance of Sri Lanka. These must await a more relevant occasion, if indeed they have to be pressed. India would have been happy to attend a CHOGM at, say, Islamabad, in spite of the deterioration of bilateral relations with Pakistan. Why should it be different for Sri Lanka?
For a small country that has only just come out of an extremely damaging civil war, the CHOGM is an opportunity to showcase the return to normalcy. For Sri Lanka, India is the big neighbour and Sri Lankans, cutting across the ethnic divide, look to India as a benign presence in the region. Manmohan Singh may not be the flavour of the season within India but he represents India internationally and is the symbol of India. His ungrudging presence will be a major signal to Sri Lanka that New Delhi values its deep ties with the island.
Boycotting the meet would be churlish. Such a short-sighted move will not weaken Rajapaksa politically. Instead, it will be regarded as an affront whose impact will be felt long after Manmohan Singh retires to a Lutyens’ bungalow to pen his memoirs. And, as for the cabinet ministers from Tamil Nadu who are urging New Delhi to be reckless, their unsafe Lok Sabha seats will not be made safe by an impulsive boycott.
For long, Manmohan Singh has been berated for yielding to the line of least resistance. Although rather late in the day and bereft of any wider electoral significance, he can afford to take a stand and do the right thing by travelling to Colombo, the writer said.
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