OUT OF COLOMBO

India Today - - SIGNATURE - MAN­MO­HAN’S AB­SENCE FROM COLOMBO SHOULD HAVE BEEN FOR A BET­TER REA­SON: CHOGM DOESN’T MAT­TER. IN­DIA, STILL RE­LUC­TANT TO DE­VI­ATE FROM NEHRU­VIAN THIRD WORLD­ISM, IS A PA­TRON SAINT OF SUCH AHIS­TOR­I­CAL ANOM­ALIES, SUCH WILDLIFE SANC­TU­AR­IES UN­TOUCHED BYTHE PRETENC

In the last cheer­less win­ter of Dr Man­mo­han Singh’s po­lit­i­cal life, free­dom is the state of be­ing air­borne. His ter­res­trial life is all about count­ing the days of re­dun­dancy in an In­dia of swelling re­sent­ment, and it is the lone­lier life of a good man who has con­sis­tently re­fused to defy the worst in­stincts of pol­i­tics. The record books re­quire some­thing, and his legacy builders have come out with this his­toric dis­tinc­tion: “The most trav­elled prime min­is­ter of In­dia.” And they may even take com­fort from the fact that home has al­ways been a mer­ci­less place for prophets and pioneers. They are un­likely to ad­mit that it is a cruel place for dys­func­tional pup­pets as well. To be fair, all the air miles were not badly spent by the fre­quent flyer. There was a time when the dis­tin­guished doc­tor was In­dia’s best­selling state­ment in world cap­i­tals. There he was, the wis­est old man from the East at the high­est ta­bles of global sum­mitry, a states­man of moder­a­tion from the land of ex­treme pas­sions, a much-needed mod­erniser in one of the world’s most mis­gov­erned democ­ra­cies. Man­mo­han played the part to per­fec­tion in re­as­sur­ing un­der­state­ment, and the nu­clear deal with the United States, a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee’s dar­ing re­pu­di­a­tion of anti-Amer­i­can­ism, was the mo­ment that brought out the best of him: Diplo­matic re­al­ism, long-term na­tional in­ter­est and po­lit­i­cal chutz­pah. Congress won a Gen­eral Elec­tion in his name. Congress is likely to lose one be­cause of him. For Man­mo­han Singh to­day, peace is else­where. Any­where ex­cept Colombo.

Man­mo­han is miss­ing the air miles—and the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing ( CHOGM)— for all the wrong rea­sons. He has sud­denly dis­cov­ered the high mo­ral­ity of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and hu­man rights—and the in­evitabil­ity of Tamil ghosts swarm­ing the Colombo ban­quet. His ex­cuse for skip­ping the sum­mit—which is essen­tially an archival exhi- bi­tion of im­pe­rial nos­tal­gia—is the bru­tal elim­i­na­tion of Tamil guer­ril­las from the is­land. The fact is some­thing else, and the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture to which Man­mo­han be­longs is un­likely to ac­knowl­edge that: Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa has brought to end one of the most san­guineous civil wars of our time. Our Prime Min­is­ter heads a gov­ern­ment that is unique among the na­tions chal­lenged by armed in­sur­gency: Stoic In­dia bleeds and dis­plays mind­bog­gling con­fu­sion in the face of threat from the so-called Maoists who do not ac­cept its very ex­is­tence. The Colombo can­cel­la­tion be­comes a bit of black hu­mour con­sid­er­ing that the mo­ral­ity les­son that de­nies Man­mo­han another states­man-hol­i­day comes from the Dra­vid­ian par­ties of Tamil Nadu.

Man­mo­han’s ab­sence from Colombo should have been for a bet­ter rea­son: CHOGM doesn’t mat­ter. Apol­o­gists for this ir­rel­e­vant group­ing— united by the loy­alty to the Queen of Eng­land— may tell you that, to­gether, th­ese fifty-three coun­tries have a pop­u­la­tion of two bil­lion. The size is enor­mous; in­flu­ence is nil. Any global al­liance is only as good as its com­mit­ment to shared in­ter­ests and CHOGM is more sym­bol­ism than sub­stance. In­dia, in spite of all the talk about the su­per­power-in-mak­ing, is, in its at­ti­tude and ideas, a “Third World”, which is in­creas­ingly a mind­set. In­dia is a nat­u­ral mem­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions which are out of date—and out of his­tory. CHOGM is one of them. Zim­babwe may not be there but CHOGM is still home to regimes that give a damn to hu­man rights. NAM is the other con­tam­i­nated junk in geopol­i­tics, and it is largely sus­tained by anti-colo­nial free­dom fight­ers-turned-geno­ci­dal gi­ants. In­dia, still re­luc­tant to de­vi­ate from Nehru­vian Third World­ism, is a pa­tron saint of such ahis­tor­i­cal anom­alies, such wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies un­touched by the pre­tence of hu­man rights. The mo­ral­ity that kept Man­mo­han Singh away from Colombo is as un­ten­able as the man him­self.

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