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Ministers oppose PM's Commonwealth summit trip

Union ministers V Narayanasamy and Jayanthi Natarajan have joined the chorus against PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka for a Commonwealth summit in view of alleged atrocities against ethnic Tamils.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2013 01:54 IST
HT Correspondents

Union ministers V Narayanasamy and Jayanthi Natarajan on Monday joined the chorus against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka for a Commonwealth summit in view of alleged atrocities against ethnic Tamils.

If the PM attends the November 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), he risks rubbing his ministers and leaders from Tamil Nadu the wrong way.

His visit may also alienate potential allies, which the Congress may need before or after the Lok Sabha polls due in 2014, from the state.

Alleged abuse suffered by ethnic Tamils in the island nation is a hugely emotive issue throughout Tamil Nadu.

“I have conveyed my opinion to the Prime Minister that he should not visit Sri Lanka,” Narayanasamy, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, said.

Narayanasamy represents Puducherry, which has a substantial Tamil population, in the Lok Sabha.

Environment minister Natarajan said in Chennai she would write to the PM and urge him not to attend the summit.

Read More: Cabinet divided on PM’s CHOGM visit

“With the atrocities against Tamils in Sri Lanka and the sentiments of people in Tamil Nadu, I hope the Prime Minister will take a good decision.”

However, another Congress leader from Tamil Nadu, S Natchiappan, the minister of state for commerce, struck a different note.

“He (PM) should travel to Jaffna and other Tamil-dominated areas before reaching Colombo. Perhaps this is the demand of the elected government in the Northern region of the island nation,” said Natchiappan.

The external affairs ministry, meanwhile, is rooting for the PM to visit Colombo while BJP’s Subramanian Swamy has asked Singh to make an immediate decision regarding the trip. In a statement, Swamy said the PM should announce a decision while considering India’s national interest.

The ministry is keen for the PM to make the trip.

Read More: Swamy seeks immediate decision by PM

There is a fear that Rajapaksa government will take away police and land powers from the provincial councils, which would hit bilateral ties and affect the Tamil dominated northern province.

Defence minister AK Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram and shipping minister GK Vasan have opposed top foreign policy advisors who want the PM to attend the biennial meeting in Colombo.

Read More: UPA govt in dilemma over CHOGM in Sri Lanka

They argue that the PM should respect the sentiments of many Indian Tamils who believe that Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government crushed the LTTE-led Tamil movement by large-scale human rights violation.

The Tamil Nadu assembly has already passed a unanimous resolution opposing the PM’s participation in the summit.

While Chidambaram and Vasan’s reservations are understandable, as both are MPs from Tamil Nadu, Antony’s opposition gives their view more weight.

The defence minister wants the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to consider the sentiments of 90 million Tamils worldwide.

But a section in the government has argued that the PM should make use of the opportunity and visit the Tamil-dominated areas.

Read More: India should stay away from Colombo CHOGM, says Jaya

The issue of human rights violations in Sri Lanka has seen Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper boycott the summit. Incidentally, for the first time in 40 years, Queen Elizabeth II too will not be present at the meet.