Partying Lanka sighs for missing Manmohan Singh at CHOGM

CHOGMAustralian Prime Minister Tony Abbott talks to Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Britain's Prince Charles shakes hand with Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah before a group photo call at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting, in Colombo. (AP Photo)

Hoardings across Colombo scream 'CHOGM 2013, Makes Us Feel Proud As A Nation'. In interviews, government ministers and top officials say hosting the Commonwealth summit "signals Lanka arrives on world stage". A banner headline in the state-controlled Daily News quotes a combative President Mahinda Rajapaksa as saying he has "nothing to hide; I have questions for British PM also".

Locals witnessing the song-and-dance medley at the inauguration are pleased by the spectacle on a global stage. It may all be a put-on but Sri Lanka, it seems, is having a grand public relations party.

But with one huge regret: its biggest and closest neighbour is not really there at the gala event, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh skipping it under pressure from politicians in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi scaling down its representation to a bare minimum.

Below the surface, it is rankling the Sri Lankans, far more than the boycott by the prime ministers of Canada and Mauritius or the tough words from the British PM on Colombo's human rights record.

"The Commonwealth does not belong to any club. The summit has come back to an Asian member after 24 years and it is something all of us have to be proud of, just like we were when India hosted the Commonwealth Games," Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, Rajapaksa's former spokesman and now the envoy in Sydney, told The Indian Express. "We are showcasing our country and whatever be the criticism, we are strong. Sri Lankans are a very resilient people. We have survived suicide bombers so we will bounce back."

Although government officials, politicians and analysts say they know the compulsions behind Singh's decision to give CHOGM 2013 a miss, some are dismayed how India can allow one of its states to dictate national policy.

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