India`s CHOGM quandary continues

A decision on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would attend the November 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo is still pending.

By Deepak Nagpal | Updated: Nov 09, 2013, 16:31 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: A decision on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would attend the November 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo is still pending.

Meanwhile, the External Affairs Ministry on Saturday said that India has not yet communicated to Sri Lanka on who is to attend the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo, appearing to be preparing the ground for the PM not to attend the 53-nation summit.

At a briefing here, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said: "We have not yet communicated the outcome of our internal process (of decision making) and will make it known once it is communicated (to Colombo)."

The CHOGM is a summit of countries that were formerly part of the British Empire.

At home, there is strong sentiment against the PM’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka – a country accused of committing war crimes against Tamils during the final stages of the war against LTTE in May 2009.

Sources said the Congress Core Committee, headed by party president Sonia Gandhi, had at a meeting yesterday red-flagged the PM’s visit.

Doing some very adept tight rope walking, the External Affairs Ministry left the field wide open on whether the Prime Minister would attend.

To a question on whether the Prime Minister would go to Jaffna, on the invite of the new Northern Province Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran, the spokesperson said that "Once we confirm to the Sri Lankan government who will lead our delegation, the answer to that question will be known. You have to bear with us."

Asked by when the Indian government would convey to Sri Lanka on who is to attend the summit, Akbaruddin said "there are no timelines" in communicating such diplomatic messages. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister GL Peiris had come to New Delhi in August to personally hand over the invite from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the summit.

Prior to the Commonwealth summit, there are official-level and ministerial-level engagements in Colombo for which India has conveyed who is to participate. For the official level talks, it would be Navtej Sarna, additional secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, and Pawan Kapoor, joint secretary, UN political division of the ministry. For the ministerial level engagement that begins on November 14, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid would attend and he would be assisted by Sarna, Kapoor and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson also informed that in the last 10 CHOGM summits since 1993, there were only five instances when the prime minister attended the summit. In the remaining five summits, four were attended by a minister, including once by Manmohan Singh, when he was finance minister in 1993 and once by the vice president of India.

"What we have followed in terms of CHOGM, the decision (on who is to attend) focuses is on what is required in terms of national interests, foreign policy considerations," he said.

Pawan Kapoor, who also addressed the briefing, said of the 10 summits, five were attended at the level of head of government, four at level of minister and one at level of the vice president.

"We have followed what suits our national interest," he added. The forthcoming summit in Colombo is the first in Asia in the past two decades.

On the issue of fishermen, regarding which Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa sent a sharply-worded letter to the Prime Minister on Friday seeking his personal intervention in securing the release of 86 fishermen and 42 fishing boats from Sri Lanka, the spokesperson said: "We see it as a humanitarian concern, to be addressed in a humanitarian way and we will pursue the matter in every way."

The ministry also provided a list on those who attended the last 10 CHOGM summits.

In 1993 in Cyprus it was Manmohan Singh as finance minister, in 1995 Auckland, it was Pranab Mukherjee as external affairs minister, in 1997 Edinburgh it was IK Gujral as prime minister attended., in 1999 Durban, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister who attended; in 2002 in Coolum it was Jaswant Singh as external affairs minister, in 2003 Abuja it was Vajpayee again who attended; in 2005 in Malta, it was Kamal Nath as minister of communications; in 2007 in Kampala, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and he also attended the next session in 2009 in Port of Spain. The last summit in 2011 in Perth was attended by Vice President Hamid Ansari.

(With Agency inputs)