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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 33

Iraq Crisis and Gujral Government

Saturday 2 August 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


[(The following is the last article written by N.C. to appear in Mainstream and it was published just three months before his death. We are reproducing it here in view of its relevance in the present situation.)]

Outgoing Prime Minister Inder Gujral can hardly take the credit for his quietude over the American response to the Iraq crisis.

The crisis in Iraq this time has not been of the horrendous type witnessed seven years ago. President Bush was very thorough in having the last fling of the Cold War trying to take revenge on President Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He not only led the blitzkrieg war but also got his contemporaries in Europe and the Middle East to rally round the American flag so much so that after the war even Japan paid for the cost of the American adventure over Iraq.

The scenario has now completely changed. Instead of the last fling of the Cold War which President Bush enjoyed, President Clinton has had to undertake sabre-rattling in a hostile terrain. For one thing, he was taken aback by the resentment of Saudi Arabia over any action against an Arab state. Secondly, he had to do without the help of the Germans and the Japanese this time. Thirdly, the situation was not congenial at home because the President himself was directly involved in personal affairs. Fourthly, the American people have been awakened to the ghastly nature of the Gulf war unleashed seven years ago. The exposure of the effects of American bombing on the children of Iraq by the former Attorney-General of the US Administration, Ramsey Clark, despite the feverish attempts by the US media moghuls to prevent such an exposure, shook the American conscience. Fifthly, the provocation of the United Nations, mainly inspired by the Americans, helped the Iraqis to enlist the support of the humanitarian elements within the European Community.

Lastly, what Kofi Annan has done as the UN Secretary-General has come as a surprise to President Clinton. Incidentally, Clinton had rejected the choice of Boutros Boutros-Ghali for the post on the plea that Boutros-Ghali would not be ‘impartial’, and had instead chosen Kofi Annan for the job. However, when on his return after his trip to Iraq Kofi Annan persuaded the UN Security Council to approve the agreement he had hammered out with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, President Clinton was in for a rude shock.

All this contributed towards the discredit of President Clinton’s Iraq policy as compared to that of President Bush.

In this context it may be worth reminding ourselves that eight years ago I.K.Gujral as the External Affairs Minister in the V.P. Singh Government was attacked in this country for having kissed Saddam Hussein on both the cheeks while on a visit to Iraq. He had at that time organised the biggest airlift of Indians working in the Gulf for which his critics did not pay him kudos. Ultimately, however, Gujral’s Iraq policy has come to be vindicated.

It must be said to the credit of Prime Minister Gujral that he has lent no support to the Americans in any of their adventurous moves in Iraq. He was one of the few world statesmen who warned against President Clinton’s war-at-any-cost line.

Nevertheless, one cannot but help noticing that Gujral did not strive to rally the vast mass of non-aligned opinion in the interest of peace and against the American provocation of war-like gestures at one of the non-aligned countries. When Iraq was anxious to extend the hand of peace, to which Kofi Annan responded positively, there was nobody to rally the entire world opinion against the American warmongers’ allout efforts to subvert the Iraq-Annan record.

It is true that Prime Minister Gujral was then preoccupied with elections in India. One, however, must realise the tremendous responsibility he had to carry on his shoulders as a leading figure of the non-aligned world by dint of being the head of the Government of India. Did he discharge that responsibility with distinction and as best as he should have? Gujral never tires of declaring his allegiance to Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideas, especially to the principles underlying Nehru’s foreign policy course. Could he not have pondered over the steps Nehru would have taken in a similar situation? Nehru’s approach to the Suez crisis could be cited as a pointer in this regard.

In a television and radio address in Washington on December 18, 1956 Nehru had observed:

Recently, we have witnessed two tragedies which have powerfully affected men and women all over the world. These are the tragedies in Egypt and Hungary. Our deeply felt sympathies must go out to those who have suffered or are suffering… But even these tragedies have one hopeful aspect; for they have demonstrated that the most powerful countries cannot revert to old colonial methods, or impose their domination over weak countries. World opinion has shown that it can organise itself to resist such outrages. Perhaps, as an outcome of these tragedies, freedom will be enlarged and will have a more assured basis.

Thereafter, he had lucidly spelt out the Indian policy without equivocation.

The preservation of peace forms the central aim of India’s policy. It is in the pursuit of this policy that we have chosen the path of non-alignment in any military or like pact or alliance. Non-alignment does not mean passivity of mind or action, lack of faith or conviction. It does not mean submission to what we consider evil. It is a positive and dynamic approach to such problems that confront us. We believe that each country has not only the right to freedom, but also to decide its own policy and way of life. Only thus can true freedom flourish and people grow according to their own genius. We believe, therefore, in non-aggression and non-interference by one country in the affairs of another and the growth of tolerance between them and the capacity for peaceful coexistence.

It is no use justifying the Gujral Government’s inactivity on the plea that the world has changed substantially since Nehru’s time. No doubt the bipolar global structure has been pulled down with the demise of the Cold War following the collapse of the statist socialist states in Europe alongside the dismantling of the Soviet Union. But the developing countries’ urge for charting out an independent path of advance, free of the superpowers’ tentacles (one of the basic tenets of non-alignment), remains as valid today as before, that is, as it was when the non-aligned movement was established in the days of Nehru. If at all, realisation of that urge has assumed greater urgency now that the sole surviving superpower’s inclination for global domination and imposition of unipolar hegemony, in the absence of a countervailing force, has enhanced manifold. Herein lies the abiding relevance of the NAM and the need to mobilise the non-aligned states for peace and progress in the interest of the developing world.

Such passivity, as displayed by the Gujral dispensation in the wake of the Iraq crisis, has no place in the current world scenario particularly in the face of the heightening challenges in the international sphere.

The new Government of India must bear all this in mind if it really has the interests of the nation and its people at heart, and is genuinely pledged to preserve and protect the dignity and self-respect of this country and the developing states the self-proclaimed global super cop is out to smother under any specious pretext.

(Mainstream, March 28, 1998)

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