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Shekhar Iyer, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, October 14, 2013
The pressure from major political parties in Tamil Nadu is likely to cast a shadow on the decision to be taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on participating in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next month. Not just chief minister Jayalalithaa or DMK chief M Karunanidhi, even local Congress leaders - including some Union ministers from Tamil Nadu - have urged the PM to exercise his options carefully lest India’s participation snowballs into a major political row in the state ahead of the 2014 polls.

With the Congress keen on cobbling a winning alliance, the issue of attacks on Indian fishermen and resettlement of Sri Lankan Tamils are seen as “sensitive” subjects that can be played up by rivals to corner the UPA government, according to local party leaders.

Union ministers GK Vasan and V Narayanasamy, are known have to appealed to the PM to avoid participating in the CHOGM from November 15 to 17.

They do not think that the successful completion of provincial elections in the north, which saw the victory of the Tamil National Alliance, has softened the stand of the TN parties. Therefore, they do not want the UPA government to annoy any of its potential allies.

Last week, when external affairs minister Salman Khurshid visited Colombo, he refrained from giving any commitment on the question of the PM’s participation.  Khurshid, however, said he would attend the CHOGM Foreign Ministers’ meet, held ahead of the summit.

The preparations for CHOGM, which is a matter of prestige for Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse, has seen active campaign by bodies, including the Amnesty International calling for not holding the summit until an investigation is carried out into alleged human rights abuses in the 2009 civil war.

Even as Britain is facing pressure to lead a boycott, and with Canada indicating that it will not attend unless specific criteria are met, India’s Sri Lanka experts have warned that New Delhi would have to weigh pros and cons of the PM’s non-participation.

The dangers of pushing Sri Lanka into a corner, especially in a situation where China is establishing a big presence in the island, cannot be ignored.