There have been few occasions in the past when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been almost unanimously condemned by the English media for a misdeed, as at his decision not to attend the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conveyed in Sri Lanka.
Deccan Herald ( November 11) called it “a serious diplomatic error” and “against national interest and the best principles of foreign policy practiced by governments in the past.” The paper said that it will have “a very negative impact on India’s relations with Lanka”. “India” said the paper, “will now have less leverage with a Sri Lankan Government” and “an estrangement with India will push it closer to China. This is not in the strategic interests of India”. Added the paper: “It is very wrong to allow the country’s foreign policy to be held hostage to the narrow political and electoral considerations of regional parties. A weak Government is setting a bad precedent for the future and no one gains from it too.”
The New Indian Express (November 11) felt that the step that Dr Singh had taken “proves that he is susceptible to regional and partisan pulls on foreign policy.” Dr Singh’s “procrastination on the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka is quite droll” said the paper, adding: “After attending the last four CHOGMs, skipping the last one during his tenure, only proves that the Prime Minister is no longer the sole arbiter on India’s foreign policy” and ‘it is time he restablished his grip’.
The Express also made the point that while it is “undisputable that the Rajapaksha government has failed to deliver on its promise to devolve powers promised under the 13th amendment”, Delhi surely would have been justified in taking “a tough stand” but not by skipping a CHOGM meeting.
The Times of India ( November 11,) said by not attending the CHOGM summit, the PM would be creating a significant amount of ill will in Colombo” and “in strategic terms New Delhi’s subservience to such sentiment could drive the Sri Lankan government – yet considered an ally – into the arms of China.” Considering that the PM could have also visited the Tamil-dominated Jaffna to which he had been invited, the paper said that “this would have addressed Tamil concerns and yet kept the relationship with Colombo on an even keel.”
The Hindustan Times (November 11) pointedly noted that “the Sri Lankan Tamils, oddly enough, are not seeking the help of our worthies.” “The government” it said, “cannot allow regional and ethnic identities and perceived grievances to affect its foreign policy.” It added: “For Mr Singh to stay away from the CHOGM will serve no purpose at all.”
The Hindu (November 11) is from Chennai and can speak authoritatively on Tamil Nadu, but even this paper was strongly critical of Dr Singh pointing out that the Congress “has allowed itself to be blackmailed by its present and potential allies in the State” the paper said that “India must now deal with the consequences of its decision to stay away, both on the Tamil question and on its own larger interests.” In Sri Lanka, the paper said, “it will affect the task of reconciliation considerably.”
Among columnists, Harsh V. Pant has been the most hard-hitting. Writing in The New Indian Express (November 11) Pant said that Dr Singh’s step “will have long-term consequences for Indian foreign policy which politicians in their attempt at political tokenism are failing to comprehened.” India, said Pant “has not only marginalised itself…. But has also made sure one of its most important neighbours will move further into the arms of China.”
He further made the point that Colombo matters because Indian ocean matters and here China is fast catching up. Pant emphasised that India’s decision “will not only make it even more marginal in Sri Lanka with some grave long term damage to its vital interests, but will also raise doubts about India’s ability to lead South Asia.”