Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will telephonically speak to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday as a follow-up to his letter expressing his inability to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo from November 15.
The conversation will help to keep the Prime Minister’s channels of communication open with Colombo after the brief letter, sent on Sunday, in which he told Mr. Rajapaksa that he would not be able to attend CHOGM for “various reasons,” without detailing them.
“The letter was delivered by the High Commission of India in Colombo. The Prime Minister informs that he is unable to attend personally. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will represent him at the meeting. [The] Diplomatic process completed,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
The immediate after-effect of the Prime Minister opting out of CHOGM would be on ensuring humane treatment to Indian fishermen whenever they were arrested or chased by Sri Lankan security forces for crossing the international maritime boundary line, said a senior MEA official. Diplomatic efforts this year led to the release of 300 Indian fishermen from Sri Lankan custody, while 60 others still remain imprisoned.
“Tamil Nadu has been calling for the release of fishermen. Now we won’t get a sympathetic ear. Our leverage in several other areas will also go down and take a lot of time and effort to repair,” said the official.
“Never has a Prime Minister not participated in an international summit meeting, not because of any action by the host country against India but on account of sentiments against it in a particular region of India. This is truly and unfortunately unique and its probable adverse impact on India’s overall interests will be far-reaching,” said commentator and former diplomat Vivek Katju.
Out of 11 CHOGM sessions in the past 20 years, this would be the sixth in which India is unrepresented by the Prime Minister. And since 1993, it will be the third CHOGM, after Auckland in 1995 (Pranab Mukherjee) and Coolum in 2002 (Jaswant Singh), where the External Affairs Minister led the Indian delegation.
However, Mr. Khurshid, who will now head the Indian delegation, did not visualise any adverse fallout from the Prime Minister’s decision, as it was a matter of one international meeting.
Union Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy said Dr. Singh’s decision “will go well with the people of Tamil Nadu.”