Cannot attend CHOGM, Manmohan to tell Rajapaksa

ManmohanExpressing his regret, PM Manmohan is expected to write a letter to Rajapaksa stating that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will represent him. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will write to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a day or two expressing regret for not being able to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), sources have told The Sunday Express. The letter is expected to say that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will represent him.

As reported in The Indian Express on Saturday, the PM has been under pressure within the Congress and from Tamil parties not to attend because of Sri Lanka's alleged violation of human rights of Tamils there. The Congress core group headed by Sonia Gandhi vetoed the visit on Friday.

Rajapaksa's invitation had been handed over to the PM personally by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris on August 19. South Block was on Saturday drafting the PM's letter, which would need to be carefully worded, with the PM expected to examine it after returning from Chhattisgarh. Khurshid, set to represent Delhi, was going to Colombo in any case for the CHOGM foreign ministers meeting on November 14. He was leading the Ministry of External Affairs' efforts to ensure the PM's visit. The MEA on Saturday, however, chose to steer clear of the controversy, saying no decision has been taken.

At a media briefing to announce the upcoming Asia Europe meeting of foreign ministers, MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the government was yet to communicate to Sri Lanka who will lead the Indian delegation at CHOGM.

Asked about the possibility of Vice President Ansarirepresenting India - a decision not to send him was taken early this week, as reported in The Indian Express - the MEA spokesperson said that in the last 20 years India has been represented by Prime Minister in only five of 10 CHOGM summits, by cabinet ministers four times, and by the vice president once. Manmohan Singh had gone as a finance minister in 1993, in place of PM P V Narasimha Rao.

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