Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to keep away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo this week is a serious diplomatic error.
After much dithering the government has decided that external affairs minister Salman Khurshid will lead the Indian delegation for the meet. This is against national interest and the best principles of foreign policy practised by governments in the past. The UPA government has been known as decision-shy or prone to wrong decisions during much of its recent tenure. The decision on the CHOGM summit shows this tellingly, and it will have a very negative impact on India’s relations with Lanka. The government has, as in the case of a number of other issues relating to economic, political or public policies, shown itself as lacking in authority, unsure of itself and vulnerable even to empty pressure.
The Tamil Nadu government, the state assembly and all political parties had demanded a complete boycott of the Commonwealth meet by India. Union ministers from the state also demanded that the Prime Minister stay away from the meet. It was inappropriate that they made the demand in public. If they felt strongly about the matter they could have written to the Prime Minister about it. Ironically, all the show of concern over the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka is sham. The postures are only meant for the elections. But they will not help too. Boycott or no boycott, the Congress cannot win a seat in Tamil Nadu without help. The DMK also will find the going tough however much it pleads the Sri Lankan Tamil cause.
That cause has in fact been badly served by the government’s decision. Continued full engagement with the Sri Lankan government would have given India the leverage to persuade Colombo to protect and promote the interests of Tamils. There is much more to be done through devolution of powers to the Tamil-dominated areas. India will now have less of such leverage with a Sri Lankan government unhappy with its decision. An estrangement with India will push it closer to China which is trying to increase its presence and influence in the island. This is not in the strategic interests of India. It is very wrong to allow the country’s foreign policy to be held hostage to the narrow political and electoral considerations of regional parties. A weak government is setting a bad precedent for future, and no one gains from it too.