Brushing aside the demand of political parties in Tamil Nadu for a total boycott, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Colombo on Wednesday to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week saying India remains committed to the welfare of the ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka and that "we have to remain engaged" in "enlightened national interest".
Khurshid accompanied by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and other officials in a special Indian Air Force aircraft was given a warm welcome on his arrival.
Khurshid said though he was in Colombo essentially for attending a multilateral conference and not a bilateral engagement, he would have the opportunity on the sidelines of the summit to convey India's views and concerns to the Sri Lankan government on issues like devolution of more powers to Tamils and attacks on Indian fishermen in the seas off Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was planning to attend the three-day summit beginning on Friday, was last week forced to call off the plans in the wake of competitive politics in Tamil Nadu and fear of isolation of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu ahead of next year's elections.
Against the backdrop of the unanimous resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly on Thursday, the second in recent times demanding total boycott of CHOGM by India, Khurshid said he was "perplexed" by the demand.
"We are doing a lot for Tamils of northern areas in Sri Lanka. We are involved in a big project of building 15,000 houses (in the war-ravaged areas), laying roads and erecting infrastructure. Nobody is saying you should not be doing this," Khurshid said.
"If we are not here, how can we be doing these things. Therefore, I am perplexed by the people who say we should not go to Sri Lanka. I find this logic somewhat...My job is to look into and represent in India's enlightened national interest," he told reporters accompanying him on board the special aircraft that took him on a five-day visit to Sri Lanka.
Khurshid was replying to questions on the Tamil Nadu assembly resolutions and the demand of political parties in the state demanding no one from India should attend the CHOGM summit in view of the "gross human rights" violations on civilians during the last phase of the war on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and in the light of Sri Lankan government's refusal to devolve powers to the provincial council in Tamil-dominated Jaffna.
The external affairs minister will be attending the pre-summit meeting of the CHOGM foreign ministers on Wednesday and Thursday and represent the country at the summit beginning on Friday.
Asked as to how he would answer critics at home about his presence, Khurshid said he dealt with foreign policy and he does not deal with the politics of it. He said even on Wednesday politicians, whom he did not identify, from Tamil Nadu pleaded with him to take up with the Sri Lankan government the issue of release of fishermen from the state arrested by the Sri Lankan navy and the issue of attacks on them.
"How do I tell Sri Lanka (these things) if I can't go here," he said adding that putting conditions like India must not do anything with Sri Lanka would make things untenable.
To another question, he said the worst has to be put behind and at this moment we have to start afresh. Khurshid said India has invested a lot in the welfare of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka and an elected government has been put in place in northern areas successfully and it was India's duty to make it successful politically and economically. "We remain committed to doing this," he said adding it was also India's duty to ensure devolution of more powers under the constitutional mandate and the Indo-Sri Lanka accord to Tamil areas.
"How will we do all this if we will not be there," Khurshid asked.
Asked about the inability of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a visit to Sri Lanka, especially to honour the invitation of the newly-elected Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council, C S Wigneswaran, he wondered how would Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa feel if a similar invitation by her is spurned.
The minister said bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries was good with investments being made mutually in both the countries.
Asked about fears in India over growing Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, Khurshid said he was not concerned about Sri Lanka's dealings with other countries. "They have a right to deal with other countries. Why should we be worried about it. I think we must have the confidence in our dealings with Sri Lanka and it is for us to remain engaged with them," he said.
Image: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrives at Bandarnaike International Airport, Colombo on Wednesday