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PM won't visit Colombo, Khurshid to head delegation

Buckling under pressure from political parties in Tamil Nadu and dissent from senior leaders within Congress, PM has decided not to undertake the visit to Sri Lanka for the CHOGM summit starting November 15-17.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2013 13:48 IST
Jayanth Jacob

The government on Saturday decided Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, after succumbing to domestic political pressures besides realising a prime minister visit wouldn't bring it desired results on Tamil cause.

Though the decision on who will head the Indian delegation is yet to be formally conveyed to host Sri Lanka, it was learnt the process will be initiated once the PM returns from election campaign in Chhattisgarh on Saturday night.

That means external affairs minister Salman Khurshid will lead the Indian delegation. Last time a senior minister represented India at the biennial summit was in 2005, when then commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath led the Indian delegation.

The PM is expected to write to President Mahinda Rajapakse, expressing his regret.

As of now, the host country has been informed Khurshid and primary delegates- additional secretary Navtej Sarna and joint secretary Pavan Kapoor-will be attending the meet scheduled from November 15-17.

In the past 10 summits, from 1993 to 2011, a senior minister has led the Indian delegation four times, including twice by external affairs ministers of the day- Pranab Mukherjee in 1993 and Jaswant Singh in 2002.

But last time South Asia hosted a CHOGM summit was in 1983 by India, which makes the Prime Minister skipping it more symbolic.

The issue of who should lead Indian delegation has been a matter of intense debate, which had the cabinet divided, and Congress party finding it a politically unwise move to send the PM. The external affairs ministry was also of the opinion that PM should visit Sri Lanka.

Two senior ministers AK Antony and P Chidambaram are learnt to have expressed serious reservations on the PM's participation. All the political parties in Tamil Nadu have been opposed to the move and union ministers from the state came out in the open against the PM taking part at the event.

As a result of all these developments, the PM visit was seen as a move that would cost the party and government dear in terms of alliances in the state, especially when the meet was not going to yield anything substantial.

Any adverse decision by Sri Lanka government on devolution of powers to Tamil Lankans in next few months, which New Delhi expects can happen, would have adversely affected the party and the Prime Minister's image just at the time of general elections next year.

READ: Karuna welcomes PM's decision to skip CHOGM
READ: National interest demands this: PM must visit Colombo
READ: Britain will attend CHOGM to 'assess ground situation'

Why PM need not worry on CHOGM
PM can take heart in the fact that no Indian PM has attended CHOGM more than twice

Singh has already participated in 2007 (Kampala) and 2009 (Port of Spain) as PM and represented India in 1993 as FM

Singh's predecessor AB Vajpayee also attended the biennial summit twice-in Durban in 1999 and in Abuja in 2003

Between 1993 and 2011, an Indian PM has attended the meet only five times; a vice-president participated in one edition and ministers on other four occasions

Foreign ministry officials say CHOGM not exactly a heads of government/state show

On an average, only 30-32 heads of government and state present at CHOGM at one time

Summit rarely hosted in South Asia. In 1983, New Delhi was the host when it was last held in this part of the world

Video: India must boycott CHOGM: Lankan Tamil supporters