PM likely to skip CHOGM, Khurshid to lead team
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next week.
India will not boycott the summit, but may lower the level of its participation in the conclave. With the Congress reluctant to give its nod to the prime minister’s visit to Sri Lanka and Vice-President M Hamid Ansari unlikely to lead the Indian delegation, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid may represent New Delhi in the meet.
The Centre, however, did not make a formal announcement to this effect on Saturday. The Ministry of External Affairs, however, appeared to be preparing ground for such an announcement, pointing out that prime ministers did not represent India in five of the 10 summits of the Commonwealth of Nations, held over the past 20 years.
The Congress top brass and senior Union ministers had argued that the clamour in Tamil Nadu against his participation in the conclave should not be ignored, particularly when the next Lok Sabha election was just six months away.
Defence Minister A K Antony and Finance Minister P Chidambaram are understood to have cited India’s disappointing experience in recent engagements with Pakistan to dissuade the prime minister from going to Sri Lanka.
During a meeting of senior Congress leaders on Friday, Antony and Chidambaram are understood to have argued that though India succeeded in prodding Sri Lanka to hold election in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration in Colombo continued to be non-committal on devolving powers to the newly-elected provincial government, particularly the ones for policing and controlling land ownership.
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “We have not yet communicated to the host the outcome of our internal decision-making process and it is normal in diplomatic practice to make this public once we communicated.”
Prime Ministers represented India in five of the 10 CHOGMs since 1993. External Affairs ministers or other Union ministers did so on four occasions. An Indian delegation was led by a vice-president only once, in 2011, when Ansari represented India at the CHOGM in Australia.