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Mahinda for Indian as C'wealth chief

The SL president says an Indian as secretary general would give the S Asian region the clout it badly needs, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Apr 06, 2007 13:40 IST

Following Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's suggestion that the next Commonwealth Secretary General be an Indian, there is speculation as to why he mooted the idea and who he might have had in mind while doing so.

According to a top official, who did not want to be indentified, Rajapaksa told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in New Delhi earlier in the week, that having an Indian as secretary general would give the South Asian region the clout that it badly needed.

"India is the most powerful, the largest and the most populous country in the region," the official said in explanation.

The current Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon, is to retire in April 2008.

Asked if Rajapaksa mentioned any particular Indian in this context, the official said: "No names were mentioned. The President left it to India to come up with a name. All that he said was that Sri Lanka would back an Indian candidate."

But political circles in Colombo believe that the president may have had Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer in mind. Aiyer is popular in the Sri Lankan Establishment.

Need for India

Political circles say that Rajapaksa's proposal is part of his subtle campaign to woo India in the context of the growing hostility of the West (barring the US), the United Nations and West-based human rights organisations to his government.

The Sri Lankan Establishment and the political class, are of the view that India is the only country outside Sri Lanka which has a vested interest in containing the LTTE and preventing the emergence of an independent "Tamil Eelam" in the North and East of the island.

Sources say that Rajapaksa wants New Delhi on board also to contain Tamil Nadu, where the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamil cause are gaining ground, especially after the killing of Tamil Nadu fishermen allegedly by the Sri Lankan navy.

Rajapaksa is aware that two Tamil Nadu parties, sympathetic to the LTTE or the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, are part of the Manmohan Singh government, and that these could exert pressure to go against Colombo.

Therefore, it would be in Sri Lanka's interest to have India on board in every way, even if it meant making some sacrifices.

Aiyer popular

Enquires in the Sri Lankan Establishment reveal that among the Indians it considers fit for the post is the Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer.

Sources close to the president say that being a grass-roots level politician, Rajapaksa is an ardent admirer of the Indian Panchayati Raj system, of which Aiyer has been a passionate and tireless advocate.

When the process of constitution making was resumed after he came to power in December 2005, Rajapaksa invited Aiyer to talk about Panchayati Raj to the high level committees he had set up for the purpose.

Significantly, Aiyer is also a Tamil and a ruling party MP from "troublesome" Tamil Nadu.

The fact that he has a Cambridge degree and has had a stint in the foreign service, is also a consideration. "He is a high profile and sophisticated person," a top official said.

First Published: Apr 06, 2007 10:28 IST