To go- or- not- to-go dilemma of the Prime Minister seems to be of his own making. Having got a former Indian Foreign Service officer, with a controversial record in office, appointed as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the minimum he should have ensured is to save the PM embarrassment by “not’’ scheduling the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. Such tunnel vision can only be expected from a man who has had a poor record in service, though he always managed to get plum postings. Even the current post-retirement sinecure was pushed his way by Sonia Gandhi, though the Prime Minister had promised the job to the then recently retired Foreign Secretary Shaym Saran. Saran, a cerebral and multi-faceted man if ever there was one in the IFS, was later fobbed off with lesser assignments. Enough about Sharma’s failure to anticipate the domestic trouble the PM would face should he schedule the CHOGM summit in Sri Lanka. But the PM would set a wrong precedent by making the conduct of foreign policy hostage to regional, nay, electoral considerations. The competitive Tamil chauvnisim in Tamil Nadu should not be allowed to derail the pursuit of friendly and cooperative relations with our southern neighbour. Instead of helping the cause of the Tamils in the North and Eastern provinces, the PM’s absence from the summit would only harden attitude of the Sinhala majority and further goad President Mahinda Rajapaksa to harden his stance against this country in general and against Sri Lankan Tamils in particular. It is notable that thanks to strenuous diplomatic efforts elections to provincial councils in Tamil-majority districts were held recently. Indeed, the newly-elected Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council, C. V Wigneswaran, has invited Singh to stop over in Jaffna on his way back from Colombo en route to New Delhi. The Sri Lankans did not have any objection to the PM’s stop-over in Jaffna either. In fact, the PM‘s presence in Jaffna, even if all too brief, would bolster the morale of the Sri Lankan Tamils and help them get over the traumas of a brutal war which ended in the complete annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. During the 25-year civil war unspeakable atrocities were committed on both sides.
Admittedly, India’s approach to the ethnic strife in the island nation was not always aboveboard, especially during the regimes of Indira Gandhi and her son, Rajiv Gandhi. But all this is in the past. Neither Rajapakasa nor Singh ought to be held prisoner to the past of their respective countries. Besides, India has reason to draw a salutary lesson from its see-sawing relations with its western neighbour. If we insist on carrying on the jaw-jaw with Islamabad despite all that it does to trouble this country — and what does it “not’’ do to destabilise this country? — there can hardly be any ground for snubbing Sri Lanka, especially when the CHOGM summit is billed to be that tiny nation’s coming-out moment after the traumatic civil war. There is another argument against skipping the summit. In the normal course, if the PM had decided to give a CHOGM summit a miss it would not have mattered. After all, he had done so in the past. But having invested his presence or lack of it in Colombo this week’s inaugural session with undue significance, his decision not to go would alienate India from the majority of people in Sri Lanka. Is it what we want? Aggravating the ethnic schism in the Emerald Island of Asia in neither in the interest of Indian or Sri Lankan Tamils; nor is it in the interest of the governments in New Delhi and Colombo. Meanwhile, the reported advice of the Congress’s core group to the PM to drop the CHOGM visit, we hope, is pure grandstanding, meant to keep the party’s future allies in Tamil Nadu in good humor. If the PM still goes ahead and attends the summit, under the circumstances, he could also claim some marks for having developed a spine. At the time of writing, we are not sure which way the wimpish PM will turn. We hope he can still summon the courage to do the right thing by the Tamils of India and Sri Lanka by marking himself present at the time of the summit opening later this week.