India remains committed to the welfare of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils and would have to remain engaged with Sri Lanka in the "enlightened national interest", Khurshid told reporters accompanying him on a special IAF aircraft. Putting conditions like India must not have anything to do with Sri Lanka would make things untenable, he added. JPN/Agencies
Khurshid was given a warm welcome on flying into the Sri Lankan capital with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and other officials for a five-day visit. He said though he was in Colombo to attend a multilateral conference and not for a bilateral engagement, he would have the opportunity on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to convey India's views and concerns to the Sri Lankan government on issues like devolving more powers to Tamils and attacks on Indian fishermen in the seas off Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was planning to attend the three-day summit beginning on Friday, was last week forced to call off his plans because of competitive politics in Tamil Nadu and fear of isolation of the Congress party in the state ahead of next year's elections.
Against the backdrop of an unanimous resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly last night, the second in recent times, demanding a total boycott of CHOGM by India, Khurshid said he was "perplexed" by the demand. "We are doing a lot for Tamils of northern areas in Sri Lanka. We are involved in a big project of building 50,000 houses (in war-ravaged areas), laying roads and erecting infrastructure. Nobody is saying you should not be doing this," he said.
Five thousand of the houses in the northern areas have already been constructed. "If we are not here, how can we be doing these things. Therefore, I am perplexed by the people who say we should not go to Sri Lanka. I find this logic somewhat...My job is to look into and represent in India's enlightened national interest," he said.
Khurshid was replying to questions on the Tamil Nadu Assembly resolutions and the demand of political parties in the state that no one from India should attend the CHOGM in view of "gross human rights" violations against civilians during the last phase of the war on the LTTE and in light of the Sri Lankan government's refusal to devolve powers to the provincial council in Tamil-dominated Jaffna.
The External Affairs Minister will attend the pre-summit meeting of CHOGM foreign ministers on Wednesday and Thursday and represent India at the summit.
Asked how he would answer critics at home about his presence, Khurshid said he dealt with foreign policy and not deal the politics of it. He said even on Tuesday politicians from Tamil Nadu, whom he did not identify, pleaded with him to take up with the Sri Lankan government the release of fishermen from the state arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy and the issue of attacks on them. "How do I tell Sri Lanka (these things) if I can't go there," he said.
To another question, he said the worst has to be put behind and "at this moment we have to start afresh". Khurshid said India has invested a lot in the welfare of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils and an elected government has been successfully put in place in the northern areas. It was India's duty to make it successful politically and economically, he added.
"We remain committed to doing this," he said. It was also India's duty to ensure devolution of more powers to Tamil areas under the constitutional mandate and the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, he said "How will we do all this if we will not be there," Khurshid asked.
Asked about the inability of the Prime Minister to make a visit to Sri Lanka, especially to honour the invitation of the newly-elected Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council, C V Wigneswaran, he wondered how would Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and politicians of the state would have reacted if a similar invitation was given to them.
Khurshid said economic cooperation between the two countries was good, with investments being made mutually in both sides. Asked about fears in India over growing Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, he said he was not concerned about Sri Lanka's dealings with other countries.
"They have a right to deal with other countries. Why should we be worried about it. I think we must have the confidence in our dealings with Sri Lanka and it is for us to remain engaged with them," he said.
Manmohan Singh’s absence may harm India's ties with neighbours: China think tank
Indian Prime Minister's decision not to attend the CHOGM in Colombo may "harm" India's ties with its neighbours as the country sets a new direction to its foreign policy to promote democracy and human rights in the neighbourhood, according to a state-run Chinese think-tank.
Blaming the divisive domestic politics for Manmohan Singh to opt out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), an article in the state-run Global Times said that the "decision has also exposed a new direction of India's foreign policy; promoting values like democracy and human rights protection to its neighbouring countries in an open manner".
"In dealing with its relationship with Sri Lanka, it has adopted a new approach that may harm its relations with neighbours," the article written by Liu Zengyi, a scholar from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies said.
Though the article made no reference to China's concerns over such a policy, Beijing which drew closer to Sri Lanka in the recent years, backing Colombo in UN bodies besides providing financial aid worth several billion dollars itself is a one-party state often facing allegations of human rights violations in stamping out dissent.
The article, published on Tuesday, referred to the 2005 establishment of the global strategic partnership by Singh and former US president George W Bush, who also reached consensus on the US-India Global Democracy Initiative.
New Delhi, however, restrained in promoting democracy as an ideology in the past few years despite that initiative, it said. India also joined the UN Democracy Fund, turning itself into the second largest contributor after the US but did not prioritize it as its strategic and security interests when deciding whether to support democratic campaigns in other developing countries.
Singh's decision draws Lankan media attention
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision not to attend the CHOGM summit here is drawing a lot of media attention in Sri Lanka.
English language newspapers here also carried stories of 'boycott' of the summit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Chandra Ramgoolam citing "poor human rights record" of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G L Peiris himself has sought to downplay the decision of some heads of government to skip the event saying it was not likely to impact the success of the meet.
"Why are we obsessing with who is not coming to CHOGM in Sri Lanka. Why are we glossing over who is here participating with enthusiasm," he told a press conference here. Asked if the Indian Prime Minister had provided reasons for his decision to skip the summit, Peiris said it was not incumbent upon the governments to provide reasons for absence in multilateral events.
Government-owned 'Daily News' paper had an elaborate article on Singh skipping the summit titled "India needs to fight the enemy within". The full-page article says India at least had the honesty, unlike the "hypocritical" Harper, not to paint Singh's non-attendance in "some bogus" human rights concerns.
"India simply expected Sri Lanka to understand the unsophisticated nature of domestic politics there that necessitated the decision," the article said.
It later goes on to dwell on various topics and level unsubstantiated allegations against various Indian leaders. Interestingly, privately-owned "The Island" newspaper carries a front-page story, the lead item, that Harper's representative to the summit Deepak Obhrai, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, yesterday laid flowers at the Elephant Pass cemetery on his way back from Jaffna.
It quotes an unnamed senior government official alleging that the flowers had been for those who died fighting for the LTTE, a proscribed organisation in Canada.
The newspapers have also taken note of the Tamil Nadu Assembly's resolution demanding complete boycott of the summit by India.
India remains committed to the welfare of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils and would have to remain engaged with Sri Lanka in the "enlightened national interest", Khurshid told reporters accompanying him on a special IAF aircraft. Putting conditions like India must not have anything to do with Sri Lanka would make things untenable, he added.