Mr. Sanjaya Baru in his article in The Hindu (editorial page, “Decoding Manmohan Singh’s red lines,” January 23, 2013) has sought to embellish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s record in foreign policy and his supposed firmness in pursuing his direction in foreign policy free from various pressures. In order to do so, Mr. Baru has cited certain episodes, some of which are half-truths and some which are mythical.
He refers to a “dramatic event” involving the Left Front government of West Bengal which is entirely misleading. According to him, when the Left Front informed the Centre that it was unable to ensure law and order at the Kalaikunda air base where “a group of CPI(M) protesters had planned to gather to disrupt the joint exercises” with the U.S. Air Force, the Prime Minister had threatened to impose President’s rule in West Bengal. He further states that “Not only did Mr. Bhattacharya fall in line, the CPI(M) General Secretary, Prakash Karat called on Dr. Singh and gave his personal assurance that there would be no disruption of the exercise.”
What had actually happened? The Left parties gave a call for massive protests to be organised around the Kalaikunda airbase against the first joint aerial exercises between the Indian and U.S. Air Forces in November 2005. The Left parties had strongly opposed the military collaboration agreement with the U.S. signed in June 2005 as it had far-reaching consequences. That is why, when the joint air exercises were announced, the Left Front in West Bengal gave a call for State-wide protests including at the Kalaikunda airbase.
The Prime Minister had called the West Bengal Chief Minister up asking him to call off the protest at the airbase citing defence and national security considerations. The Chief Minister flatly refused and told him that the protest will be held. After this, the Prime Minister requested an urgent meeting with me. At the meeting, the Prime Minister expressed alarm at the prospect of a disruption of the exercise involving the U.S. Air Force and was concerned as to how it would adversely impact relations with that country. I informed him that the CPI(M) and the Left Front had decided to hold these protests as we are against the military collaboration with the U.S. I told him that I would find out exactly what was the nature of the protests. I also told him I did not expect the protest would mean entering a defence installation like the Indian Air Force base. After confirming the nature of the protest action in West Bengal, the next day I telephoned the Prime Minister and informed him accordingly. Mr. Baru displays political naiveté in stating that the Prime Minister had threatened to impose President’s rule in West Bengal. The Prime Minister did not issue any such threat. Nor would the CPI(M) have countenanced any such move.
On the day of the air force exercise, 1.5 lakh people gathered near the Kalaikunda air base to protest against the joint exercise. There was a protest outside Kolkata airport when the U.S. Air Force team landed and all over the State demonstrations were held on the day of the exercise.
Mr. Baru believes that the Left Front was “ejected” from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Anyone with a modicum of political knowledge knows that the Left parties were not part of the UPA or the government. They were supporting the UPA government from the outside. After the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was formalised, the Left parties decided to withdraw support to the government, a denouement which began with the Manmohan Singh government’s strategic dalliance with the U.S. Unlike what Mr. Baru believes, the only “red lines” drawn by the Prime Minister, were the ones to protect the pro-U.S. tilt in foreign policy.
(Prakash Karat is CPI (M) general secretary.)