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With Lanka not meeting even half-way, PM Commonwealth visit hangs in balance


Prominent Commonwealth countries pressured India Friday to ensure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participates in the CHOGM summit in Sri Lanka this month but Colombo's reluctance to address New Delhi's concerns about Tamils in that country may have constrained the UPA government.

Colombo's stance, it is learnt, was discussed at the Congress Core Group meeting Wednesday. The sticking points include key demands made by India, including implementation of the 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution for equal rights to Tamil citizens.

With the Tamil Nadu Assembly passing a resolution for boycotting the summit and even Congress MPs from the state urging the PM not to attend, the Congress leadership is in a dilemma as this could snowball into a major issue in Tamil Nadu with general elections round the corner.

While no decision on the PM's visit has been taken yet, sources said it would have made the job easier for the UPA government had Sri Lanka shown any inclination to meet India's demands even half-way.

On Friday, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid met ministers from Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa in Perth and they urged India to participate in the summit. Khurshid is in Perth for a meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which has some Commonwealth countries as members.

Sri Lanka's Northern Provincial Council's newly-elected chief minister C V Wigneswaran, it is learnt, is also attending the inauguration ceremony of the CHOGM summit. Wigneswaran has invited Manmohan Singh to visit Jaffna, even as Tamil parties have been opposing the PM's participation in the summit.

In Perth, foreign ministers stressed to Khurshid that India needs to "engage" and play an "active role" in Commonwealth countries. He was also told that the Commonwealth was restructured to accommodate India.

New Delhi is in a dilemma over Singh's participation in the summit in Colombo from November 15 to 17 as political parties in Tamil Nadu are strongly opposed to it. The parties allege that Sri Lanka has committed atrocities against ethnic Tamils.

After talks with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, Khurshid told a joint press conference that he will attend the CHOGM meeting. But he did not confirm Singh's participation.

Khurshid and Bishop announced their willingness to participate in the CHOGM meeting and said they will not follow Canada in boycotting it due to concerns over Sri Lanka's human rights record.

Khurshid said it was important the Commonwealth was strengthened. "People have very strong, deep-rooted views about what should be done," he said. "There are obviously very, very serious concerns that may have been felt in domestic terms by the Canadian government."

"But I think it is important for leaders to take some things in their stride and look at the larger picture and the commitment that we all have to the Commonwealth," Khurshid said.

In New Delhi, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that some union ministers are opposed to Singh visiting Sri Lanka for the summit but added that there was still time to take a decision. But Chidambaram did not identify the ministers. - With inputs from PTI, Melbourne

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