NATIONAL

Why the least line of resistance?

Whenever the ruling coalition at the Centre and the Opposition try to have a unanimous resolution, truth is the casualty. Both sides water down their stand to such an extent that nothing worthwhile emerges from the agreement. So is the case with the resolution that the two Houses of Parliament have adopted on the Iraq war. The text, originally in Hindi, is neither here nor there. Parliament has only gone over the exercise so as to guard itself against the criticism that it did not say anything on the hostilities.

I wonder whether the speeches were necessary when the Chair itself had moved the resolution in the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha. Members could not do anything except dotting the `i's and crossing the `t's. Some were even told that they should not speak against the resolution because their criticism could be construed as defiance of the Chair. Was the charade necessary? In the circumstances, it would have been better if the resolution had been accepted by a voice vote.

The reason why Parliament was expected to say something on the war was the general impression that India was not even willing to strike, much less wound. The resolution was a non-event. It failed in its purpose: to call a spade a spade. America was not even named although it was an aggressor.

I am greatly disappointed because we have betrayed Mahatma Gandhi who defeated a mighty empire by espousing the principle that the ends did not

justify the means. When I found the Vajpayee Government taking shelter behind the `national interest' for not speaking out, I knew that the sappers and miners were out to destroy whatever was left of India's moral stature. It was not the use of word `condemn' or `deplore' that mattered. Parliament unnecessarily wasted time on it. What was essential was our unequivocal stand: that the Indian nation, with its ethos of independence struggle, cannot brook the bondage of another nation and that colonialism is a relic of the past.

The problem with both the main parties, the BJP and the Congress, is that they are afraid to rub America on the wrong side. Avoiding such a situation is considered to be in the `national interest'. In other words, our national interest ebbs and flows in proportion to our fear of America. Surely, we could not be thinking of U.S. economic assistance because, as the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has put it, our foreign reserves have touched the highest mark since independence. Nor could we be worrying about the import of wheat under America's PL-480 — this was the case at one time — since our godowns are overflowing with foodgrains. Then what?

I think we believe that America can twist our arm on Kashmir. If it is so, how will our fear help us? Even if we were to be more obedient than the U.K., which blindly follows the U.S., the latter would do what it considered the best in its own interest. We have seen how its President, George Bush, pushed its agenda on Iraq unilaterally without bothering about traditional allies or the United Nations. The Vajpayee Government is too much lost in electoral politics. It does not realise how much it has impaired India's image by not taking the initiative on Iraq. While addressing the U.S. Congress, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, leading the Non-Aligned Movement, said that if an aggression took place anywhere, India would act and could not be neutral. Mr.Vajpayee should have learnt from the manner in which Nehru made the U.K. and France withdraw from the Suez in 1956. India stood for principles at that time. The world expected us to stand up and so we did. We were poorer and weaker then but we had guts. Unfortunately, we have chosen the least line of resistance now: we have preferred to stay quiet.