The indication that the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is more likely to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo comes as a relief to Sri Lanka, which is busy putting in the last minute touches to its roads and buildings in preparation for the high-level meeting to be held from 15-17 November. It will be the first such high-level meeting since the Non Aligned Summit of 1976.
The indication of the Indian Prime Minister’s participation comes despite the heavy pressure brought on the Central Government by Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, is against India’s participation at the CHOGM in Colombo as a protest against Sri Lanka’s many alleged human rights violations against its own people, and the snail’s pace at which the rehabilitation of the North and its efforts at reconciliation following the end of the war more than four years ago, are taking place. These bickerings come at a time when Sri Lanka is leaning heavily on Beijing for funds, and Islamabad for military equipment, and also moral support from the two countries, ostensibly in a tit-for-tat move to spite India.
Of course India does have a grievance in that Sri Lanka, instigated by the hard line constituent parties of the government, has, in the run up to the Northern Provincial Council election and thereafter, seriously considered diluting the powers of Provincial Councils. These powers were devolved on them through the Indo-Lanka Accord-backed 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which also specified the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The North and East were subsequently de-merged through a Court order.
However that may be, India’s strong ties with Sri Lanka going beyond 2,500 years, and the country maintaining a strong influence in the region, are good enough reasons for that country to attend the important Commonwealth Meeting in Colombo, especially because Sri Lanka will be the chair for the next two years.
Canada has decided to boycott the Commonwealth Summit over allegations of human rights violations and war crimes. Reportedly, it is also considering withdrawing its funding to the Commonwealth. In fact its Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, had many months ago openly stated that he would not be attending the meeting in Colombo, and elected to send a low-level delegation instead. Britain has also decided to withdraw funding, but amidst heavy opposition in the country, Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be attending the summit, and will have a tough message for the Sri Lankan Government on the need to make concrete progress in matters such as human rights, reconciliation and political settlement. According to British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, Prime Minister, David Cameron, will also be visiting the North to obtain a first-hand knowledge of what is going on there.
Though the Indian Premier’s attendance is not still confirmed, the new Chief Minister of the North, C.V. Wigneswaran, has sent a letter inviting him to visit the North, which has been misconstrued by some as an invitation to him to attend the CHOGM. However, the Northern Chief Minister’s invitation would be enough excuse to attend the CHOGM in Colombo and preserve India’s stature as South Asia’s most powerful nation.
India must assert its position in the region. It should not lose its clout and let its position be usurped by other countries, especially China and Pakistan, on which the Sri Lankan Government leans heavily at the moment. Therefore India’s decision regarding the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo must be influenced by this reality and not by parochial interests of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, since this involves foreign policy.
India’s Central Government must remain steadfast in making its own decision in this matter and not lose its position as South Asia’s most powerful nation if there is to be peace in the region.