Local vs National: The Lanka Test for the BJP

Nov 02 2013, 00:26 IST
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SummaryWringing hands and avoiding difficult decisions has come naturally to the UPA government.

Wringing hands and avoiding difficult decisions has come naturally to the UPA government.

In the face of a manufactured political crisis in Tamil Nadu over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Summit later this month, Delhi has reacted in a predictable manner.

Wringing hands and avoiding difficult decisions has come naturally to the UPA government. But where do the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi stand on the question of the PM traveling to Lanka?

Whether it was in the negotiations on the nuclear issue with the United States or ratifying the agreements on water sharing and land boundary with Bangladesh, the Manmohan Singh government has opted for the path of least resistance.

The UPA government has preferred to appease opponents within the government and outside by yielding ground instead of standing firm and defending the national stakes involved in all these issues.

Is the BJP any different? The party has not distinguished over the last decade on the question of defending the nation’s foreign policy interests.

Political opportunism drove the BJP to oppose the historic civil nuclear initiative although it laid the foundations for such an agreement with the United States when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister.

In the case of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, the BJP has again been reluctant to support the government despite the strategic importance of resolving the post-Partition boundary issues with Dhaka. Its national leadership has bowed to the sentiments of its regional party units

rather than defend India’s collective interests.

On the PM’s visit to Colombo, it might make tactical sense for the BJP to keep quiet or fudge the issue. After all, the BJP will certainly need the support of some Tamil parties to form the next coalition government in Delhi.

Narendra Modi has often declared that he will put “India First” on all matters of policy. Is he willing to demonstrate that commitment on the Lanka question?

The Prime Minister’s absence at the Commonwealth Summit or sending some one else in his place, will undermine India’s position in Sri Lanka rather than improve its leverage on promoting Tamil minority rights there with Colombo.

The right thing for the PM is to travel to Colombo, engage the Sri Lankan Tamil leaders and publicly reaffirm India’s commitment to minority rights.

But can the BJP and Narendra Modi stand up for India’s interests? Or will they, like the Congress, privilege the

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