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PM to skip CHOGM, Khurshid set to lead delegation

PM to skip CHOGM, Khurshid set to lead delegation

New Delhi/Chennai: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to travel to Colombo next week to attend the Commonwealth summit, bowing to political pressure, especially from the Tamil parties. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is set to lead the Indian delegation, said sources Saturday.

In Chennai, DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi was quick to welcome the "decision" of the prime minister not to attend, saying it was "somewhat comforting that at least Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has listened to our voice and decided not to participate in CHOGM". He said Khurshid's decision to participate in the summit was a "debatable" one.

Though there was no official word, the Congress Core Committee in its Friday meeting had decided against the prime minister attending the Nov 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The prime minister, who was campaigning in Chhattisgarh Saturday, is to formally convey his decision to Sri Lanka, the sources added.

This is not the first time that the summit has been represented by an external affairs minister. In the 1995 Auckland summit, it was Pranab Mukherjee as external affairs minister who represented India, while in 2002 in Coolum, Queensland, it was Jaswant Singh who in the same capacity headed the delegation.

There were indications in the morning of the prime minister skipping the meet when the external affairs ministry said that India had not yet conveyed its decision to Sri Lanka on who would lead the delegation. Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin also said that of the last 10 Commonwealth summits, only five were attended by the prime minister of that time.

Tamil Nadu political parties - the DMK and AIADMK - and some union ministers like P. Chidambaram, Jayanthi Natarajan and G.K. Vasan from that state have been urging the prime minister not to attend the summit in view of alleged human rights violations by Sri Lanka and alleged war crimes committed by its army during the end days of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka has been keen on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attending the summit and had sent Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris to Delhi in August to personally hand over the invite from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The prime minister, a strong votary of good relations with neighbours, had been keen to attend, and the external affairs ministry had also been in favour of it saying it was necessary in keeping with the country's strategic and security interests.

Khurshid has also been in favour of Manmohan Singh's presence in CHOGM.

Navtej Sarna, additional secretary in the external affairs ministry, and Pavan Kapoor, joint secretary, UN political division of the ministry would be in Colombo to attend the official-level meetings ahead of the summit. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh would also be there.

Manmohan Singh had been invited by the new chief minister of Tamil-dominated Northern Province C.V. Wigneswaran to visit the capital Jaffna. There had been talks earlier that the prime minister could visit Jaffna too, in a sign of support.

The external affairs ministry spokesperson said that in the last 10 CHOGM summits since 1993, five were attended by the prime minister of that time. In the remaining five summits, four were attended by a minister and one by the vice president. Manmohan Singh has attended the summit thrice so far -- in 1993 in Cyprus as finance minister, in 2007 in Kampala and in 2009 in Port of Spain as the prime minister.

"What we have followed in terms of CHOGM (over the years), we have focused on what is required in terms of our national interest, foreign policy priorities and international obligations," said Akbaruddin.

Kapoor, who also addressed the briefing, said, "We have followed what suits our national interest." The summit in Colombo is the first in Asia in the past two decades.

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