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Cabinet divided on PM’s CHOGM visit

Three senior Union cabinet ministers, two of them from Tamil Nadu, have advised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against visiting Colombo to attend Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) from November 15-17, signaling the government was divided over the issue.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2013 00:20 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
CHOGM,Lankan Tamils,P Chidambaram

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decides on whether he should attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next week, resistance of three of his senior colleagues in the cabinet may play on his mind.

Defence minister AK Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram and shipping minister GK Vasan oppose top foreign policy advisors who want Singh to attend the crucial biennial meeting in Colombo. 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 largescale human rights violation.

The Tamil Nadu assembly has already passed a unanimous resolution opposing the PM’s participation in the November 15-17 summit.

While Chidambaram and Vasan’s reservations are understandable as both are MPs from TN, Antony’s opposition gives their view more weight. The defence minister wants the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to consider the sentiments of nine crore Tamils worldwide. These politicians argue that the PM’s visit will annoy Congress’ chief ally in the state, DMK, a party that aggressively pushes ‘the Tamil cause’.

“The argument that Sri Lanka will drift towards China or the US if the PM does not attend CHOGM is facile. India will continue to be the closest neighbour of Sri Lanka and Colombo will continue to play the China or US card against us,” said a CCS minister.

But national security advisor Shivshankar Menon and the ministry of external affairs reject this argument. They say Rajapaksa lived up to his promise to India of holding elections in the Northern Province and even sent to the parliamentary select committee the proposed dilution of the 13th amendment, which allows a degree of autonomy to the Tamil minority.

The PM’s foreign policy advisors, including intelligence agencies, say he should forcefully raise the Tamil minority issue at the summit, inaugurate a railway line and a rehabilitation housing scheme in the north and even address the Tamil people in Jaffna in the presence of Northern Province chief minister CV Vigneswaran.

“We need to engage Sri Lanka and not let it drift into the hands of India’s adversaries. By not going to CHOGM, India will not only lose an opportunity to address the Tamil issue but also give Rajapaksa a reason to court China,” said a foreign policy advisor.

3 Union cabinet ministers advise PM to skip Commonwealth heads’ meet in Colombo

Warn him Congress’ ability to strike alliances with Tamil parties at stake

P Chidambaram says a final decision yet to be taken, after meeting with DMK chief M Karunanidhi

On October 24, Tamil Nadu assembly passes resolution asking India to boycott the meet; 11 major parties support it

First Published: Nov 02, 2013 14:42 IST