Playing to the gallery on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue has been the mainstay of politicians in Tamil Nadu. They have often been more loyal than the king in their defence of Tamils across the Palk Straits usually with an eye to political gains. But when the BJP, the government-in-waiting, starts to express reservations about the prime minister attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo slated for later this month, we must ask why foreign policy is treated as a political football, something to score brownie points with. Foreign policy, and in this case concerning a close neighbour, affects all of India, not one particular region.
The Sri Lankan Tamils, oddly enough, are not seeking the help of our worthies. Rather CV Wigneswaran, the Tamil chief minister of the Northern Province in Sri Lanka, has asked Manmohan Singh to come for the CHOGM and raise the issue of the Tamils with the Mahinda Rajapakse government. It is also significant that neither the BJP nor the Tamil MPs and ministers who are up in arms now, showed any great concern when the Sri Lankan Tamils were being ruthlessly attacked by the army in the final assault. The government cannot allow regional and ethnic identities and perceived grievances to affect its foreign policy. Otherwise, it will find that it may have to take a stand on various issues involving the Indian disapora in far flung places like Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago.
India has been uncomfortable with the growing influence of the Chinese in Sri Lanka. Yet, it is being pushed by a minority to take a stand which is bound to offend Colombo. There is no reason for India not to engage with the democratically-elected government in Colombo if it is to have any leverage in the Tamil issue. It is true that the Sri Lankan Tamils have legitimate grievances and a political solution to their problems has not been arrived at. But no one in India should presume to speak on their behalf. They have leaders who are pragmatic and see value in working with the Rajapakse government.
It is true that many countries have denounced the violation of human rights in Sri Lanka and India has made its position clear on this. But for Mr Singh to stay away from the CHOGM will serve no purpose at all. The forum will discuss a number of international issues and it is important that India's voice be heard. The government in New Delhi cannot be seen to cave in to the demands of a few Tamil leaders and the misguided politics of the BJP. The central government has to take the final call on certain issues of national importance and attending the CHOGM certainly is one of them.