11 August, 2020

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Sri Lanka: India’s CHOGM Dilemma

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s is facing a Shakespearean dilemma on attending the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) to be held in Colombo in November 2013. This is not surprising as there are strong political and strategic reasons, both for and against, attending the Colombo summit.

He is facing strong internal and external pressures that cloud objective decision making on the issue. Added to this is the erosion of the PM’s leadership image in recent times. It has taken a severe beating recently after huge scams linked to his office started surfacing one after the other. As a result, each and every decision of the PM is being questioned and the same fate probably awaits his decision on CHOGM as well.

He has to do some delicate tightrope walking to meld long term national interest with short term political priorities. The task is made more difficult because it can affect not only the poll prospects of the Congress party in the 2014-parliamentary election but even the longevity of his coalition before the election.

Political leaders of almost all hues including the Congress party in Tamil Nadu have called for a boycott of the CHOGM. This is not surprising as they got on the Eelam bandwagon ever since Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa effectively used the Sri Lanka Tamil issue to sweep  the state elections. She has continued her strident stance as many Tamils consider the Centre’s response to Sri Lanka’s war crimes and human rights aberrations as inadequate and ineffective; this has put both the Congress and the DMK on the defensive. Smelling blood, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister turned even more hawkish, calling for slapping a trade embargo on Sri Lanka and international action against President Rajapaksa. The developments in Tamil Nadu seem to have  influenced India’s vote against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR last year.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister had been emphatic in calling for an Indian boycott of the CHOGM. All parties in the state were quick to follow suit. None of them, barring some notable exceptions, have critically debated the pros and cons of boycotting the CHOGM on the country’s Sri Lanka policy or on Sri Lanka Tamils.

During the last three years, Ms Jayalalithaa has strengthened her support base with a slew of populist measures like the running subsidized food outlets that benefit the poor. Many analysts feel this would help her capture most of the 40 parliamentary seats in Tamil Nadu in the 2014 elections. Ever since the NaMo’s electoral bandwagon started gathering massive public support, the Congress Party is in jitters about its poll prospects in 2014. So the Party simply cannot afford to ignore Ms Jayalalithaa and Tamil Nadu. Already a section of Congress leaders is said to favour forming an electoral alliance with the AIDMK, ditching the DMK, their long standing partner.

But neither Dr Manmohan Singh nor the Congress party figure in the mercurial chief minister’s favoured list. Only consolation is that she is playing her coalition cards close to her chest so far, despite her better equation with Narendra Modi. Probably this has given Congress a glimmer of hope of reworking its relations with her. If the PM attends the CHOGM, such hopes are sure to be dashed.

Even without the Tamil Nadu factor, the PM’s decision had been made more difficult by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s studied indifference to India’s repeated plea to keep up his promises on devolution and implementation of the 13th Amendment. Even the latest effort by Indian Minister of External Affairs (MEA) Salman Khurshid during his visit Colombo failed to evoke any worthwhile response on substantive issues. The only achievement of the visit was signing of he agreement for the much delayed Indian-aided Sampur power plant. (It had been criticized on environmental count, although not a word has been spoken about the Chinese built Norocholai power plant which continues to limp.)  With the opposition readying to flay the PM for “yet another foreign policy failure” he may well decide to skip the CHOGM as a politically safe option.

If Dr Manmohan Singh does not attend the CHOGM, he would not be alone.  Canada has already announced it would boycott the Commonwealth meet. From the beginning Canada was against Sri Lanka hosting it in Colombo as it would legitimise the Sri Lankan President’s continued indifference to international concerns on his government’s dismal human rights record.  Some see the Canadian Prime Minister’s boycott decision as a political move to woo  voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin in the country. In most of the countries, foreign policy decisions are invariably influenced by popular perceptions and Canada cannot be faulted on this count. Even President Rajapaksa’s decision to host the CHOGM (like many other decisions) is part of his political stratagem to boost his image.

On the other hand, British Prime Minister David Cameron facing similar pressures appears to have decided to attend CHOGM. British government has reiterated the need to engage Sri Lanka on human rights issues by attending the Commonwealth summit. It proposes to come with “a clear message that Sri Lanka needs to make concrete progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement.”

Indian interests in Sri Lanka are much larger than either Canada or Britain. Two inter-related aspects guide India’s relationship with its island neighbor – geo-strategy, and Tamil minority question.  Geo-strategically, India wields a huge influence over the sub-continent particularly on smaller countries like Sri Lanka. With China whittling away India’s strategic sphere of influence in the South Asian neighbourhood, India has to consider not only its national interest but also the regional interest while taking decisions that affect its neighbours.  And in Sri Lanka, China is emerging as a direct challenge to Indian presence. In fact, it effectively used the aftermath of the Eelam War to emerge as one of the two big investors and aid givers  in Sri Lanka, the other being India.

So India will have to reckon with the emerging strategic dynamics in its relationship building with Sri Lanka. As the head of state of the country hosting the CHOGM, President Rajapaksa would be its head for the next two years. So Sri Lanka reckons the successful conduct of the CHOGM would boost its international image which had been tarnished in the murky aftermath of the Eelam War.

More than that, it would be a balm to the bruised ego of President Rajapaksa who has been hurt by the continued international focus on war crimes allegations rather than his remarkable success against the LTTE. India’s vote for the U.S. resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHCR has already created bitterness against India in Sri Lanka.

If Indian PM boycotts the CHOGM, it is likely to add to Sri Lanka’s bitterness. This would not help India’s desire to add more depth and content to its relations with Sri Lanka but its ability to influence Sri Lanka’s decision making process on the both strategic issues and on Tamil minority issues.

But the moot question is, beyond its symbolic solidarity with Tamils who had suffered, how would the CHOGM boycott help Sri Lanka Tamils? The much delayed Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election was held thanks to Indian sustained engagement with Sri Lanka. Subsequently in the NPC poll, people gave a massive mandate to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) hoping the Alliance would help them improve the quality of life and ensure Colombo attends to their concerns with greater sensitivity. CV Wigneswaran, the NPC prime minister, has given clear indications that he would pursue the stated objectives of TNA vigorously. This process would require India’s sustained engagement and persuasive influence with Colombo.

Although CHOGM provides the PM an opportunity to meet other heads of state on the sidelines of the summit, it does not matter whether the PM attends it or not. In fact, CHOGM is not a vibrant and cohesive entity like ASEAN but a highly over rated old boys club of former British colonies and the Brits surviving more on empire nostalgia than on collective international influence. But the PM’s decision on CHOGM has to be part of India’s overall game plan because of its impact on India’s long term interests in sustaining a win-win relationship with Sri Lanka. So it has to be more than a reaction to local political compulsions

Contentious issues relating to Sri Lanka Tamils and Sri Lanka’s human rights are not going to disappear as not even President Rajapaksa seems to be in a hurry to bring them to a closure. A decision on CHOGM would set a precedent when India-Sri Lanka relationship is tested again when the UNHCR  takes up Sri Lanka’s accountability issue at its next meeting. So Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister has to take a deliberate and informed decision on attending the CHOGM. One can only hope he do so.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: colhari@yahoo.com   Blog: www.colhariharan.org – This article includes Col Hariharan’s recent comments on the subject in various TV news channels, and web and print media.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Col R Hariharan,

    Do you say,

    “.Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa effectively used the Sri Lanka Tamil issue to sweep the state elections..”

    OMG, What a lie ???

    Jayalalitha swept to power in 2011 April TN elections due to massive 2G Scam scandal running over dozens of billions of US$, the biggest scandal in history of India, involving M. K. Kanimozhi – Daughter of then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi & DMK’s A Raja then Union Telecom Minister, both spent time in jail & now on bail.

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      Kanimohzi, the most virulently racist politician in TN has gone to ground after the alleged involvement in the 2G scam (with another Tamil politician in the Central government).

      In Sri Lanka we have Tamil Sri Lankans and a minority of Sri Lankan Tamils ie those who can’t make up their minds as to where their loyalties lie.

      The difference is made clear here :
      http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=90794

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        What percentage of the majority vote? Go ask them first where their loyalties are Quackaloo.

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        ram

        “In Sri Lanka we have Tamil Sri Lankans and a minority of Sri Lankan Tamils ie those who can’t make up their minds as to where their loyalties lie.”

        Their loyalty may lie with Tamils of Tamilnadu, so should be yours as you share the same stupid gene as your Tamilnadu brethren.

    • 0
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      Wrong, post poll analysis clearly expressed that Srilankan Tamil issue was one of the five main issues which put down DMK. The other four being,power cuts, inflation,DMK real estate rowdyism and 2G scam

  • 0
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    The Indian PM according to very reliable sources is not coming to attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

    • 0
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      The fellow takes so long to make the decision to go or stay put. Imagine India is faced with an invasion by China! It will be a cake walk for the Chinese. Who cares if the fellow comes or not. CHOGM will go ahead regardless.

      • 0
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        You don’t worry about Chinese invasion. We know what to do.

        • 0
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          I like that and would like to add “we have always known what to do regarding our neighbors on either side.” We did not seek SL’s advice or blessings in the human operation for the creation of Bangladesh in 8 days.

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          manisekaran

          “You don’t worry about Chinese invasion. We know what to do.”

          Lose another quarter of India?

          Or you can barter Bihar/Kashmir for Tibet.

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            One thing is certain. There is not going to be another major war between India and China. If at all there will be one or two border skirmishes. China is not so foolish to go to war with India for the sake of Sri Lanka!

            Sengodan. M

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              Sengodan. M

              “China is not so foolish to go to war with India for the sake of Sri Lanka!”

              No one in their right mind would be tempted to go to war for the sake of stupid Sri Lanka.

              However not only China but Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Sri Lanka……..too would be tempted to bully India, as long as Indians remain stupid and owned by criminals and run by heartless bureaucrats who never own up their mistakes.

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          1962 result doesn’t inspire much confidence!!!!

  • 0
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    Politicians lie for reasons.. there is no doubt about it..

    but..Man…this is a lie Factory…there is nothing else in his vocabulary….no one believes him any more in this Country though he thinks otherwise..It is like the naked king…..watch his interview in Al Jazeera..this Country knows that he lied to the fery end to the World even on Crimes the citizens have ample evidence about…besides the Presidential elections in 2010… the 18th Ammendment ….and the ousting of CJ 43 ..appointment of the most corrupted Man as CJ 44….are noteworthy actions..to undesrtand the true nature of him and his love for the people of this Country..

    Any belief that he could be turned to be better is an illusion…the Silence we now experience is until the CHOGM …the real works only will begins in 2014…the launching pad is being set.

    Undoubtedly..it was and is …India’ s stance …that brought about a change not only to Tamils of this Country but to the entire Sri Lanka..Indian PM attendance will not change these crooks but ONLY water down all what INDIA has done at the UNHRC more than what the CHOGM has done…The Sri Lankan Politicians want INDIA’ s presence more than any other Country is for that reason…to shorten their march towards “Dictatorship… ”

    As this article says the CHOGM in Sri Lanka is an Image ..Ego booster…of Person..NOT CENTERED AROUND THE COUNTRY …the media campaign on the CHOGM is aimed at that…the Slogan .” lovama ekathu karana rata..” ( the Country that unites the World… ) see the deception…to whom is this… ? the vernacular media will brag the President Bags INDIA.

    UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES THE ABSENCE OF INDIA AT THIS CARNIVAL IS NOTHING BUT A SINCERE GUESTURE OF A TRUE FRIEND…AND PROVE THEIR CONCERN OF THE PEOPLE ….OF SRI LANKA.

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      contd….
      just look at the hurried face lift carried out in Colombo…paving..painting …parks… renovations….oh my God..
      Don’t the CHOGM know that we were fighting a bloody War for 30 years….and that we have an unstable economy heavily depended on borrowings… that we do not have OIL..would they have refused to hold the CHOGM in this war battered country…? . then for whom is this show off…? This is the Ego…the man does not want to show the ture nature of the Country..

      This is the question that the CHOGM should ask themselves…

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    Donald,

    Don’t be too excited about Singh not attending CHOGAM. He is doing a balancing act and behind the scenes he will explain apologetically to MR.
    Hope MR and the SL government understands Singhs situation.

    The investment you made with Rajive’s killing will be very hard to overcome. So don’t be too excited

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      I can assure you Manmohan is not Dr Foxy to act in a backroom situation.

    • 0
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      As Hariharan points out Indian PM is constrained by local votes and political alliances. Tamil views take a simplistic view of India’s machinations. That’s how India took them for a ride in 1987 and Rajiv Gandhi paid for it.

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    I’ve recently heard that the Sri Lankan High Commissioner lied through his teeth at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London addressing Pre-CHOGM Forum on 21.10.2013. When he stops lying, he’ll have the fate of the other envoy.

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    Well,

    Yet again we see a bunch of Tamils running plliar to post trying to disrupt Sri Lanka progress.

    It sour grapes isn’t it really? The loss of LTTE must be harder to bear than we first thought. I suspect the caravan will forge ahead running over little yapping dogs and bitches never the less.

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      Vibhushana

      “Yet again we see a bunch of Tamils running plliar to post trying to disrupt Sri Lanka progress”

      Well how does bunch of Tamils running pillar to post disrupt Sri Lankan progress?

  • 0
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    Hariharan is the man responsible for the death of innocent men,women, children and doctors in Jaffna Hospital. Mercilessly GUN downed by the so called Indian Peace Keeping Force INNOCENT PEOPLE KILLING FORCE!!!!) 26 years ago in the hospital. The man is a murderer.

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      .
      Really? Was Hariharan there during Diwali Day massacre at Jaffna Hospital?

      :-)

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    In the event of the Indian PM not making it to the SL/CHOGM the Rajapakses, predictably, may opt for an ill-considered anti-Tamil anti-Indian stance in respect of a Conference that has little political influence in the world stage – except a link with the collapsed British Empire. An Old Boys Club at best. For the Rajapakses a moral booster in its sagging global image. The regime may even try to punish the fledgling NPC in different ways – at some future risk to its own survival. The Rajapakses should be wisely conscious Indians carry enough punch in the global diplomatic community to tighten the screws of a potential ICC inquiry for War and HR Crimes against them. UN action for offending political leaders apply even after they are out of power is something that should be remembered. That, in the background of what happened to Charles Taylor and the danger to Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, should be cause for worry to the Rajapakse Brothers. Besides, the UN is also out to prove to the world that the new and insufficiently tested R2P mechanism needs a few more prominent HR/War Crime heads to be marketed as a lethal instrument in the coming years.

    Pandaranayagam

  • 0
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    An excellent article.Realistic and down to earth.CT should encourage such articles other than the Srilanka bashing articles!

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    I believe India and South Africa will attend CHOGM in Colombo.

    Why – because both India where Gandhi was born, and South Africa who used CHOGM to end apartheid, shamelessly stood up very strongly at the last CHOGM in Perth, and demanded that the next CHOGM should be held in Colombo. They have a wicked face.

    Both India and South Africa strongly objected the recommendations and conditions set by the Eminent Persons Group, including the appointment of a Human Rights Commissioner for Sri Lanka.

    If Indian PM attends or not, it will be good both ways for the Tamils.
    Good because it will be the end of Congress and there will be a new strong India and Tamil Nadu after the 2014 general elections, as a big brother, listen to me or a knock on the head attitude.

    It will also be good having a despot Mahinda as the Chair for two years to run loose, it will help internal questions within for funding and why and for what CHOGM is for, may also accelerate a people’s spring or a coup from within or from outside calling for change.
    Give him a chance, give him a rope and advice him not to hang himself, maybe it’s CHOGM’s motto.

    This will justify membership of Tamil Eelam.

    Sri Lanka’s China card, LTTE bogey and the stupidity and weakness of India will all soon dry up.

    Manicka Vasagar

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    India is a weak democracy. Regional interests dominate India’s foreign policy.

    Crimes, modern slavery, lack of human hygiene.. are only a very few but major, major problems of India. Even the Prime ,office is noticed well for corruption.

    Indian Supreme Leader is an Italian woman. Hindus in Hindusthan are for wealth and nothing else.

    But, India can bully Sri Lanka because it is only 20 million and three millions from that is Indian migrants.

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    India is a country where Mahathma who fought against oppression in South Africa and the British to gain independence was born. The present Indian government went against humanity and and ethics to support Sri Lankan president Rajapakse in his elimination of LTTE and killing of nearly 146,000 Tamils after starving them for months. Not stopping at that believed and trusted his promise of implementation of 13th Plus and congratulated by voting in favour of a resolution at UN HRC in May 2009 congratulating the violater of international law and human rights.

    India gave away Katchitivu and agreed to accept 1,000,000 Sri Lankan born people of Indian origin. India must stand firm in favour of fairness to the Tamil speaking minorities who are persecuated and now haunted for what they speak or what their faiths are. It does not matter what India does to please Sri Lanka the latter will use everything possible to support and favour China, so, standing firm on principle and boycotting CHOGM will hail it at least as a defender of humanity and justice. Indian PM also stayed away from the last CHOGM held in Perth, Australia.

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    Saro,

    It was the investment your VP made with the killing of Rajiv Gandhi that gave Sri Lanka an advantage. If not for Tamil Nadu factor we do not have to go behind China. India knows deep inside that if they can back us 100% we will not go to any one other than India.It is the Tamil Nadu factor (The only state in India that does not accept Hindi)that is preventing India from backing us unconditionally.

    If India did not accept the many Indian Tamils brought over to work in the plantations by British, the hill country too would be in the eelam border. Also remember the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership joined the Sinhalese leadership at that point of time to disenfranchise the Indian Tamils.
    Katchchativu, well Sri Lankan government should hand this back to India.
    Pls don’t use the word “Tamil speaking” to acquire the Muslims unilaterally. They have a separate leadership.

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      What does Ravi Perera mean or have in mind when he notes “the only state in India that does not accept Hindi” He refers to Tamilnadu.
      Does he think there was a Referendum in India where States were asked to vote if they accept or not Hindi? Is he aware many Tamilnadu parents encourage their children to learn Hindi today and that millions of Tamils from TN are working, studying and staying in Hindi-speaking States of North India – voluntarily and happily. The DK-DMK centric Tamilnadu (Madras State) he has in mind receded into history in the late 1960s. I have often visited and lived in Tamilnadu for decades. My children and grand-children are very fluent in Hindi in as much they speak Sinhala as well. Hindi is the 2nd most popular language spoken in all States after English – wisely seen and called the Link language.

      Senguttuvan

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        Senguttuvan

        These Sinhala/Buddhists now believe that the entire universe should be forced to learn and work in Sinhala language since they won the war against LTTE.

        The way things are the Sinhala/Buddhists will have no qualm learning Hindi as their mother tongue.

        If anything Sri Lankans should be encouraged to learn Veddah language if these people are to remain in my homeland.

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    Manicka Vasagar

    Smarting from defeat aren’t you.
    Good luck for Eelam membership.

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    Vedda,

    Your homeland is Tamil Nadu. You are a Tamil not a Vedda.
    Sinhalese people do tend look up to Hindi in general

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      Ravi Perera

      “Your homeland is Tamil Nadu. You are a Tamil not a Vedda.”

      This is the final insult one could heap on me.

      I forgive you this time.

      Never ever try this to insult me again, you stupid Kallathoni descendant and land grabbing hora.

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