Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is unlikely to visit Colombo to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that begins on the 15th of this month under severe pressure from its allies in Tamil Nadu. This is a clear indication of how enfeebled and unimaginative that the UPA government has become over the years. Dr. Singh is said to be keen to make the Colombo trip but the Congress leadership has spoiled his Colombo party. For the Congress, increasingly insecure about its fortunes in 2014 and the potential rise of Narendra Modi, doing nothing seems to be the grand strategy. The fear that it might end up with no credible Tamil allies in the run up to the 2014 stand-off seems to have forced the UPA government to sacrifice its foreign policy interests at the alter of domestic political calculations, most of which is imaginary. The argument against the PM going to the CHOGM meeting is that it will send a signal that New Delhi is absolving the Rajapakshe government of any wrongdoing against the Tamil population during its successful but ruthless campaign against the LTTE. Let's face it, this move has absolutely nothing to do with New Delhi's conviction in any moral logic, that because Colombo has blood on its hands, India will not engage it.
Like it or not, India is a major power in the region given its physical size, economy, population etc. and yet its behavior is akin to that of a diffident new comer on the international scene unwilling to take a stand on crucial issues, almost always. By deciding to skip the CHOGM meet in Colombo, India is conveying to its neighours that here is a state that will never take any hard decisions even for itself, even when its key long-term interests are at stake, let alone for others. Remember, much of what you are is constructed by the perceptions of onlookers. By that logic, India will continue to be a diffident state in the eyes of its neighburs.
Is it in line with the courage and conviction that New Delhi showed to vote against Colombo in the UNHCR (by voting vote in favour of a US-sponsored resolution at the UNHRC condemning Sri Lanka for its human rights violations against Tamils during the last phase of Sri Lanka's civil war), it has now decided to further pressurize Colombo by skipping the CHOGM meet? I don't think so. Had courage and conviction been the motivation, New Delhi should have actually grabbed the opportunity to engage Colombo and the PM should even have visited Jaffna to see for himself the progress of reconstruction there. His Jaffna trip could have saved him the imagined loss of political capital at home which he would have lost by going to Colombo, a state that is scared to make up its mind.
This is not just bad diplomacy, this is bad strategy too. If New Delhi is concerned about the increasing foreign influence in Sri Lanka, by Pakistan and China, it should have increased its interaction with Colombo. That's strategy 101. But then strategic thinking does not come naturally to New Delhi. While it is true that during the Eelam war, India tried to match the covert assistance given to Sri Lanka by China and Pakistan, it has been unable and unwilling to prevail over Colombo to pressurize it to take care of its Tamil minority now that the LTTE has been summarily defeated. Moreover, the strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian ocean and India's interests in it should have been seen as yet another reason for New Delhi to increase its engagements with Colombo.
New Delhi, for a long time, kept complaining to the Americans that they were not consulting it on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. New Delhi argued that besides being a close neighbor, it also has strategic and security interests in Afghanistan and therefore had a right to take part in the reconstruction process there. In Sri Lanka, where the international community expects India to play a role, it shies away from doing anything. How then can anyone take the Indian complaints about not being consulted on Afghanistan seriously?
'Refusing to talk' as a foreign policy strategy!
What do you do when you have a difference of opinion with someone? Avoid him/her or engage him/her? Refusing to engage is the convenient way out and we see a lot of people doing precisely that. But experience tells us that differences have to be negotiated and problems have to be solved through continuous engagement – that's diplomacy 101. Not engaging someone you disagree with might, sometimes, work in personal relationships, not in statecraft. In fact, refusal to engage goes against the best practices of international diplomacy.
Put it differently, what does New Delhi gain, other than some imagined coalition benefits in 2014, by not sending its Prime Minister to Sri Lanka. Nothing, neither strategically nor diplomatically.
This is not the first time India has used the strategy of silence when it has/had differences with other countries. Relations with Pakistan is a well known example. Not only that New Delhi did not 'talk' to Pakistan for two years after the 26/11 attacks but often reminds Islamabad that it will stop talking again if Islamabad does not mend its ways! Now that is some smart diplomacy!