Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s decision to skip the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held from Friday to Sunday in Sri Lanka - if made as a result of Tamil Nadu pressure - is a clear manifestation of the fact that politicians are nothing but politicians, irrespective of the country they hail from. In spite of the insistence of the officials of his own office (PMO) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) that the national interest is far more important than the ruling party’s electoral interests, Dr, Singh, the veteran economist finally chose the latter.
For the past few weeks he had been trapped between the long-term national interest of India and the short-term political interests of the Congress Party with respect to the biennial meeting of the leaders of Britain and its former colonies. It was not the Commonwealth leaders’ forum, but its venue this time that mattered most to the leaders of not only India but also the other two biggest countries – Britain and Canada.
In fact the Commonwealth is not a vibrant or dynamic entity like other world organisations for its leaders’ forum to matter so much, which was why Gambia withdrew from the organisation nearly a month ago, calling it a ‘colonial institution’. This year’s forum mattered differently to the leaders of these three countries and they were in a quandary as to whether they should attend this year’s summit in Sri Lanka, purely due to the pressure exerted by the pro-LTTE Tamil groups living in those countries.
Interestingly, the LTTE is an outfit designated as an international organisation in all these three countries, but these pro-LTTE groups make up a considerable vote bank in these countries, forcing their leaders, sometimes, to succumb to their pressure to go against the wishes of the Sri Lankan government in the name of Sri Lankan Tamils.
In respect of the current CHOGM in Sri Lanka the three countries adopted three different courses of action, with Canada opting to boycott it and India downgrading its delegation. In fact Britain cannot resort to such action since the event is theirs and it chose to pacify the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora in that country by announcing that Prime Minister David Cameron was attending the summit with a strong message to the Sri Lankan government.
India has been a clever player of the Tamil card and the Tamil Nadu card in its relationship with Sri Lanka, using them against its southern neighbour at one time and ignoring the sentiments of Tamils and Tamil Nadu at another. It almost invaded Sri Lanka in the late 1980s using the issue of the Tamil refugee influx from northern Sri Lanka across the Palk Strait into Tamil Nadu, but stood firm with the Sri Lankan government during the last leg of the latter’s war against the LTTE, while the whole world was concerned about the nearly 300,000 Tamils entrapped along with the LTTE leaders in the littoral regions of Mullaitivu, and ignoring the fermentation in its southern-most State, Tamil Nadu, with 11 people self-immolating there.
This time too India ignored outright a demand by the Tamil Nadu leaders to boycott the CHOGM, and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid announced his participation at the Commonwealth summit in Colombo around a fortnight ago. And the official of the PMO and the MEA argued that a boycott or a downgrading of the delegation to Colombo had the potential to sag India’s ability to influence Sri Lanka’s decision-making process on both the Sri Lankan Tamil issue and the matters strategically important to India in the Indian Ocean region, in the face of China’s increasing involvement in Sri Lanka.
But the politician in Singh seems to have undermined the statesman in him as the LokSabha elections are fast approaching and even the Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu have got cold feet over the 40 LokSabha seats in the State.
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