After months of doubts and disputes, India reportedly intervened on behalf of Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting in London on April 26 to pave the way for the summit to be held in Colombo.
According to independent analysts, this came after secret talks were held between the Rajapaksa regime and India to restore ties.
Several issues – including the stranglehold that China was getting on Sri Lanka - had contributed to a virtual breakdown in Indo-Lanka ties.
Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma is reported to have played a key role in ensuring that the summit is held in Sri Lanka. He succeded in doing this despite strong opposition from Canada and other countries while the Commonwealth Association of Judges and Lawyers also wanted the venue changed.
Last Saturday Britain’s Prime Minister David Camaron announced he would attend the Colombo summit though government officials said he intended to set off a robust discussion on human rights, accountability, political reconciliation and judicial issues in Sri Lanka. The Manchester–based Guardian newspaper reported on Friday the British Premier’s decision might be connected to a multi-billion rupee trade deal for the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines to buy air bus planes with Rolls Royce engines. Yesterday, it was announced that Queen Elizabeth would not attend the summit, and would be represented by Prince Charles.
Whatever the geo-political strategies or Rolls Royce diplomacy of India, Britain and other countries, the Rajapaksa regime may run into major problems with some of its UPFA allies over the price it had to pay for the Commonwealth summit to be held here.
For instance, the controversial elections to the Northern Provincial Council are likely to be held on September 7 with the Tamil National Alliance expected to win if the polls are not rigged. Minister Wimal Weerawansa, leader of the National Freedom Front said at a May Day rally he would resign from the Cabinet if the NPC elections were held. He said he had information that under pressure from India the NPC would get police and land powers. Mr. Weerawansa said he believed that the Tamil eelam which the LTTE could not achieve through terrorism was now being given through elections, and he would sacrifice his portfolio to prevent such a calamity.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya, another powerful ally of the Rajapaksa regime, is also opposing the NPC elections and is likely to whip up feelings among the Sinhala people about the possibility of Tamil eelam being achieved through political means.
If the NFF and the JHU launch a full-scale campaign, we may see demonstrations not only against the NPC elections, but also against the Commonwealth summit being held here at a high political price. That will be bitter irony indeed, with parties that fought for the summit to be held here, now protesting against it.
Sources close to President Rajapaksa say he has successfully handled similar issues and crises such as the impeachment of Chief Justice 43 Shirani Bandaranayake. They say he is confident he could handle this internal crisis also. But independent analysts say that amid the shockwaves of the proposed hikes in electricity rates, the soaring cost of living, rampant corruption and abuse of public funds, popular support for the regime may be now reaching a breaking point.
In 1976 the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike presided over the Colombo summit of more than 75 non-aligned nations and became chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement. One year later she was thrown out at the general elections and did not have enough seats to even become the Leader of the Opposition, while the new Premier J.R. Jayewardene became chairperson of NAM. The possibility of history repeating itself is looming large across the Palk Straits and the Commonwealth.