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How TN resolution exposed Congress, DMK stand on CHOGM

The Congress’s decision not to send Prime minister Manmohan Singh to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo was certainly made with the 2014 parliamentary elections in mind, but Tuesday's resolution by the Tamil Nadu state assembly has negated any possible gains for the party.

The state Congress unit was exposed further in the process when it refused to support the resolution, which called for a complete boycott of the summit. To avoid collateral damage, its ally DMK not only supported the resolution but also slammed the Congress. Party president Karunanidhi reportedly said that the DMK didn’t really enjoy the prospect of its alliance with the Congress.

Anti-Sri Lanka protests in Tamil Nadu earlier this year: Reuters

Anti-Sri Lanka protests in Tamil Nadu earlier this year: Reuters

The Congress’ half-hearted attempt to appease its state leaders, the DMK and voters appears to have failed too soon. The resolution, read out by chief minister J Jayalalithaa, said that Manmohan Singh’s non-participation in the Colombo meet was routine because the PM hadn't attended five of the last ten CHOGMs. The decision, therefore, neither gave any consolation to the Tamils nor respected their sentiments, she said.

The chief minister also recalled the house’s last resolution on the same issue on 24 October in which it demanded not only a complete boycott of CHOGM, but also the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth.

With the passage of the resolution, the party in a quandary is not the Congress, but the DMK. It may well disown the Congress and even suggest that the party has become a burden, but at the time of elections, it has no other option but to align with it.

Even before the special session of the assembly was convened to discuss the issue, it was clear that whichever way the DMK-Congress duo swung, it was going to be a no-gainer for both.

If Congress hadn’t supported the resolution, it would have nullified all that the party high command had done to appease its ally and voters in Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, if both had gone with the resolution, it could have been construed as a show of disapproval of what Manmohan Singh had done.

Unable to contradict itself, the Congress abstained; and left with no other choice, the DMK supported.

The problem with Manmohan Singh’s decision to not participate in CHOGM is that it came in too late in the day. That too after years of indifference to the demands of Tamil Nadu. After refusing to take a tough stand against Sri Lanka on crucial occasions, particularly in 2009 at the height of the war and at UNHRC, Delhi decided to give in to the demands of Tamil Nadu only for electoral reasons. But, even this decision was not accompanied by the minimum political speak that could have made it look genuine.

In short, the PM abstained without a message to Colombo.

If the Congress had really wanted to get the desired political mileage, it should have stated that the decision was to respect the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu. It then could have employed its second line heroes or proxies to say that it was in protest against the Sri Lankan government’s war and human rights record. It also could have scaled down its participation.

Instead, most of the messages from Delhi appeared to have been aimed at assuaging and reassuring Colombo. The image it sought to communicate was that of helplessness over domestic compulsions rather than genuine concern over Sri Lanka’s war crime and human rights record.

The DMK must be racking its brains on how to get out of the cesspool that it’s in. It doesn’t have any other formidable ally and its only chance to fight a good election is with the Congress and the DMDK, who together have close to 20 percent vote-share. The DMDK is closer to the Congress than the DMK and is unlikely to join the front without the Congress. Unfortunately, the Congress high command doesn’t understand the compunctions of its state unit.

If it had, it should have calibrated its Sri Lanka policy with Tamil Nadu in mind. Congress high command should realise that those who said that domestic politics should not guide foreign policy are bad advisers.

Updated Date: Nov 13, 2013 14:13 PM

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