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PM unlikely to go to Sri Lanka for Commonwealth meet: sources

singhNew Delhi:  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to visit Colobo for the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting next week, bowing to pressure from Tamil Nadu politicians – including his own ministers – to boycott the event over Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes against Lankan Tamils.

Sources said a government representative may go to Sri Lanka for the November 15 meet instead of the PM, a proposal that had been backed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is a Congress MP from Tamil Nadu.

This morning, the Congress core group – which includes the PM, Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers – met to discuss whether Dr Singh should proceed with the visit.

Party leaders remained tight-lipped about any decision in that meeting, indicating a persisting dilemma for the government.

Besides Mr Chidambaram, two other union ministers from Tamil Nadu – Jayanthi Natarajan and GK Vasan – had opposed the Prime Minister’s visit to the island nation.

At a press conference this evening, the Congress was noncommittal. “National interest is above every other interest and the Prime Minister will take an appropriate decision,” said party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala.

Sources say the government had explored the option of including Tamil-dominated Jaffna in the PM’s itinerary as a way of placating Tamils.

Sources say the option had been proposed by the foreign ministry, which felt India should continue engaging with Sri Lanka to push the Tamil cause.

Earlier today, DMK Chief Karunanidhi had said, “The PM has a conscience. It is enough if he acts according to his conscience.” He had earlier warned of “consequences” for the PM’s Congress party in Tamil Nadu, if he went to Lanka.

The DMK quit Dr Singh’s coalition in March, accusing it of failing to take a strong stand on Sri Lanka.

Last month, the Tamil Nadu assembly unanimously adopted a resolution that said India must boycott the session to register its protest against the Sri Lankan government’s failure to investigate and punish those who allegedly persecuted the island’s ethnic Tamils in the final phase of the civil war that ended in 2009.