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India’s balancing act in Colombo

Sambanthan sidestepped a question on the absence of the Indian PM at the summit.

Written by Y P Rajesh | Colombo |
November 15, 2013 2:35:55 am

India was in damage-control mode on the eve of the Commonwealth summit on Thursday,stressing that its commitment to the relationship with Sri Lanka was strong as ever,and at the same time reassuring its ethnic Tamil population that New Delhi would do its best to ensure for them a life of dignity and respect.

The manoeuvres were necessitated by the decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to not attend the 23rd Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) — the first being hosted by an Asian member in 24 years — following pressure from Tamil Nadu politicians.

India could take some consolation from public comments made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa that,despite Singh’s absence,he was “satisfied” with India’s participation.

Rajapaksa said it was not unusual for prime ministers to not attend the summit,and stressed that India had not boycotted the event. However,he also said that Singh’s letter to him on Sunday informing him about his inability to attend,had not touched upon the Tamil issue. “The foreign minister of India is here and I am satisfied,” Rajapaksa said.

Sources said the Indian delegation also lost no time in reaching out to leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA),which won power in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province in September,with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh meeting its top leaders.

Sujatha Singh heard out TNA leader R Sambanthan and two TNA MPs as they described the condition of Sri Lankan Tamils since the end of the civil war in 2009,and the role India could play to improve it.

“In the past few years,India has been very active with regard to ensuring that the Tamil people in the country live with dignity and in fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of the people of the north and eastern provinces where the Tamil people are in a majority,” Sambanthan said.

“Much needs to be done in achieving it. We are extremely unhappy about the ground situation,particularly with regard to land powers and the oppressive presence of the armed forces,” he said.

Sujatha Singh,he said,assured them that India would stand by the Tamils of Sri Lanka,and do its best to take all steps necessary for them to live a life of respect and dignity. The foreign secretary also invited Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran to visit India,he said.

Sambanthan sidestepped a question on the absence of the Indian PM at the summit. He said people who had opposed his participation had many reasons,and that it was up to Manmohan Singh to decide on coming to Colombo.

Although the summit itself is not scheduled to take up any thorny issues,Sri Lanka is expected to come under pressure to do more for its Tamil population from members such as Britain. The summit will also have to settle on the venue for CHOGM 2015. Mauritius,which was scheduled to host the summit has cited its principled decision to not attend the Colombo summit and said that as a result,it has not been able to invite other members to the 2015 summit as is the usual practice. (With PTI inputs)

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