PMs decision not to go to Colombo is a cave-in to narrow considerations. There will be a price to pay.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs decision to skip the Commonwealth summit in Colombo is unfortunate but not surprising. It is another reminder of the fact that through the nearly decade-long rule of the UPA coalition,the Congress party has relentlessly undermined the Congress-led governments ability to conduct a foreign policy that pursues the nations self-evident collective interests. Whether it was the PMs effort to build a strategic partnership with the US or to seek peace with Pakistan,the Congress has kept pulling the rug from under the feet of its own government. It pointed to the compulsions of coalition building in refusing to stare down the West Bengal chief minister,Mamata Banerjee,who is opposing the historic boundary settlement with Bangladesh. The Congress leaderships tendency to place narrow domestic political considerations above the pursuit of national interest has now prevailed on the question of the PM attending the Commonwealth summit in Colombo.
These columns have pointed to the hypocrisy of those in Tamil Nadu who are now demanding a boycott of the Commonwealth summit but who kept silent when Colombo was decimating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the summer of 2009,right in the middle of the Indian general elections. India was providing all the support it could to Sri Lanka in defeating one of the worlds deadliest terrorist organisations,responsible for the killing of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress leadership has surrendered too readily to the competitive chauvinism in Chennai,while the government has refused to make the political argument for deeper engagement with Colombo to secure Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka. The opposition parties,including the BJP,have not done any better. They have been unwilling to remind the UPA government of its constitutional obligations on the foreign policy front.
The enormous costs to India of Delhis collective abdication will be evident sooner than later. As Delhi squanders its leverage in Colombo,the Tamil groups in Sri Lanka will be further weakened. Sri Lanka is also bound to pursue,with greater impunity,a stronger strategic partnership with China,whose profile in the island republic has been rising rapidly. Colombo will also be emboldened to play the Pakistan card against Delhi. There is talk of Sri Lanka buying arms from Pakistan. As Delhi bows to domestic electoral compulsions,its credibility with other neighbours in the subcontinent can only decline further. Even as India wantonly cedes ground to its adversaries in Sri Lanka,the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean,it diminishes itself in the Commonwealth. Instead of stepping up to take leadership at a time of British retrenchment,India is undermining itself in this important multilateral forum.