Millennium Post

Can Singh do a balancing act?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a tough call ahead. Whether or not he decides to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 15-18 November, he will have to face questions from both sides of the fence. While it’s true that within India the opinion is split in the middle, with the Tamil section of the population mostly against the PM’s visit, including top leaders like J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi as well as ministers Like P Chidambaram, Jayanthi Natarajan among others, there are a number of public intellectuals and political commentators who consider that Singh must not miss out on an opportunity to talk about the issue. Historians and political observers alike have pressed on the fact that the PM must walk the tightrope and place India’s firm stance on the war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in its attempt to crush the decades-long LTTE uprising, particularly in the last three months of the face-off between the rebels and the Lankan armed forces. So, in spite of the fact that the current situation within the Indian political fraternity is that of absolute mayhem as far as the CHOGM in Colombo is concerned, we must not forget that ties with Sri Lanka are as important to our geostrategic interests as much as our relations with other countries in the South Asian and Asian neighbourhood. Naturally, what the PM must also address is the grievous wound in the collective psyche of the Tamil people, both in India and Sri Lanka, who have faced systematic persecution and cultural and religious discrimination by the Sinhalese majority in the island country. Clearly, the idea of the CHOGM is not to facilitate a global amnesia on the protracted human rights abuses practiced by the Lankan forces; rather it could be about healing the wounds and opening up of dialogues in the future.

Taking a cue from India’s stand at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) resolution over the Lankan war crimes, and in the wake of substantive proof of systematic wrongdoings, Singh is faced with an immense dilemma over his next step. It is true that the UNHRC vote has already isolated India from the immediate neighbourhood, with China and Pakistan voting against the US-driven resolution and for Sri Lanka. Hence, boycotting a meeting that can iron out the rough edges in the relations between the respective governments and also give Singh a chance to exhibit a gestural magnanimity, is certainly not a good idea, both in the short and the long run. Moreover, it is important to remember that while reconciling the Tamil people, both in India and Sri Lanka, with the past and addressing the persistent concerns of the ethnic community is crucial, it is equally significant to look to the future and come up with a solution that is amicable to all. Hence, what the Canadian head of government Stephen Harper can afford to do, Manmohan Singh cannot. Precisely because, even though Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, can lead an international inquiry into the state-sponsored genocide and other rampant abuses including rape and torture, letting go of CHOGM would be a diplomatic blunder which might have long-term consequences.
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