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Game of Thrones: Commonwealth Summit Highlights Wider Asian Struggle


A major meeting of the Commonwealth of Nations—mostly former British colonies—will take place later this month in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, but one important member state won’t be represented: India. The decision by New Delhi on wether or not Manmohan Singh should attend has exposed internal divisions within India and highlighted a wider regional struggle for influence.

To wit: the Congress government in New Delhi met for a crucial discussion on Friday, and key advisors to the Prime Minister made it clear they did not think he should attend the meeting. Why? Because “the Sri Lankan government [is] not honouring commitments to address the political demands of Tamils in the northern part of the island nation.” Even though Sri Lanka is a serious foreign policy issue for India, some domestic interest groups are opposed to Prime Minister Singh visiting. Those supporting a boycott of the meeting are most concentrated in Tamil Nadu, on the southeastern edge of India, home to millions of Indian Tamils. Indian Tamils are close cousins of Sri Lankan Tamils, the ethnic group that was routed in Sri Lanka’s civil war, and they remain second-class citizens in the aftermath of that brutal conflict.

New Delhi’s relationship with Sri Lanka has always been complicated, but has become even more so lately. The brutal end of the Sri Lankan civil war and the ongoing plight of Sri Lankan Tamils has cast a chill over the relationship between New Delhi and Colombo. China sensed an opportunity, boosting economic and military support of the Sri Lankan government as its relations with India deteriorated. New Delhi wants to resist the growth of Chinese influence on its southern doorstep, but powerful interest groups argue that Sri Lanka should be ostracized and criticized rather than supported by an Indian Prime Minister’s visit. Those groups look likely to triumph this time over New Delhi’s international security priorities.

This isn’t the last time regional and ethnic concerns will make life difficult for New Delhi’s international agenda. Other Indian regions—West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, the northeastern states—have issues and relationships with foreign countries that conflict with New Delhi’s. Power is fragmented within India, and state governments wield great influence in surprising ways.

[Manmohan Singh photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Andrew Allison

    I’m surprised, and disappointed that VM would include Sri Lanka in the game of thrones meme. The Tamil influence on Indian policy is hardly strategic outside the sub-continent.

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