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The empty gesture

British diplomats joke that the inelegant acronym, CHOGM, stands for “Chaps on Holiday on Government Money”. Some also say that wealth is the only thing which is not common in the Commonwealth. In fact, after the days of colonialism and apartheid, the Commonwealth has been an organisation in search of an agenda. It duplicates the work of the United Nations in various ways, but since it has no unifying thread other than memories, the Commonwealth does not even endeavour to take a position of its own in the UN. It tried to identify certain issues in which the Commonwealth had a special talent, such as problems of small and island states. But these have not particularly benefited from the Commonwealth.

India, therefore, had nothing to lose from the prime minister skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet, and it was not for the first time that an Indian prime minister missed such an event. Charan Singh did not find it worthwhile to attend the Lusaka CHOGM either. Nobody, except the Indian delegation, shed tears for the absence of the Indian prime minister. Even the minister of external affairs could have spent his time more productively in neighbouring Maldives.

On the bilateral front, it is not even certain that President Rajapaksa has time for the prime minister of the biggest democracy in the world. Intoxicated by liberation from the threat of Prabhakaran and his LTTE, the president talks of one Sinhala nation with no minorities. In his vision of Sri Lanka, neither the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene agreement nor the 13th Amendment has any place. To him, India is only a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. In his eyes, India’s only role in Sri Lanka was to moderate the belligerence of the LTTE. With the LTTE gone, India has no teeth and Rajapaksa would rather deal directly with the Tamils than with their patrons in India.

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