The Left as a catalyst

Published : Mar 14, 2003 00:00 IST



Interview with Prakash Karat.

Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist,) is critical of India's ambiguous stand on the Iraq crisis. The Indian government's reactions, he said, were tempered by increasing pressure to be in the good books of the United States in order to achieve the ultimate goal of winning support in the fight against Pakistan. He is happy about the fact that resistance against a war is not confined to the United Nations, diplomatic circles and governments and that there is a worldwide popular anti-war movement. "This is a most spectacular movement. It is a disconnect between the people and the governments." Excerpts from an interview he gave Naunidhi Kaur:

India's Ambassador to the United Nations spoke at the special open session of the Security Council. Our Prime Minister has been making periodic statements opposed to war. Do you think a debate in Parliament followed by a resolution would have been more effective in conveying sentiments in this country?

The stand of the Indian government is very unsatisfactory. The government has failed to spell out its policy. Initially, sporadic statements were made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha. They said India is opposed to the war.

However, the subsequent statement made by Finance Minister Jaswant Singh in Parliament was a dilution of the government's earlier stand of opposition to war. Jaswant Singh was acting in the absence of Yashwant Sinha in the Lok Sabha. In his speech, Jaswant Singh said that war has to be the last option, which means that it is an option. Secondly, he said that further action can be taken only when decisions are taken by the Security Council. This means there is scope for further action against Iraq. Third, no reference was made to the U.S. by Jaswant Singh. I think this is because the BJP-led NDA government is finding itself under pressure from the Americans.

The NDA government has taken the position that we don't want any war and that we want the war to be the last option. There is no categorical statement of the kind that there should be no war under any circumstances. The thinking in the government circles is that we should not rub America too much on the wrong side. This is abandonment of India's independent foreign policy position.

On the question of a resolution in Parliament, the government's stand was equally ambiguous. On the first day, the government said it is amiable to a resolution. On the second day it changed its mind. The justification given is spurious. They said they will decide the matter in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Kuala Lumpur. They should have passed a resolution in Parliament against the war and then gone to the Summit with a firm stand armed with that resolution. They have again backed out.

What implications would this have for the country's standing in NAM? Or for that matter in the West?

The government has failed to take the lead in NAM. India should have played a leading role in a situation like this. This is the first time in modern times that a country is going to war against another country with the only reason given, of removing a government and its leader. In such a situation, India, as a follower of a non-aligned foreign policy, should have been alarmed by such a development. Here is a superpower which has threatened to invade and occupy another country and is making plans of setting up a puppet government to manage Iraq. So here is a case of gross violation of national sovereignty, contravention of all international laws. India was one of the founders of NAM, in which Iraq and all other similar countries are positioned; all of them will be subject to attack. There is no defence of national sovereignty if you allow such an attack to take place.

Given that perspective, the Indian government's thinking is that it is better to be on the side of America. The BJP government from its political angle keeps to its line that we are with the U.S. and we are also fighting terrorism. All these other real issues are being brushed aside, which I think will be harmful to the country.

How far have our growing defence ties with Israel led to influence this situation?

There is a definite triangle here. One side is the U.S., which is encouraging the Indian government to enter into defence ties with Israel. Close ties have been established, with both Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh visiting Israel. Second, the ideological position in the BJP is such that Israel is seen as a model to emulate. Israel has been the cat's paw of America in the West Asia region. I don't think Israel can sustain its aggressive behaviour without the U.S. backing it. What the BJP admires in Israel is that they are teaching the Arabs the Muslims a lesson. And this is what they want to emulate. This is convenient to the U.S. and it suits its strategy.

On the broader question of developments in the United Nations, do you see the resistance to war, that is, by France, Russia, China and Germany, holding out in the Security Council?

France, Russia and China have been consistent in their stand right from the middle of last year. The Bush administration had made up its mind to teach Iraq a lesson even if September 11 had not taken place. All the diplomatic moves have seen three members of the Security Council France, Russia and China trying to halt U.S. plans. There is greater resistance from the major governments which are representated in the Security Council, especially the permanent members. The opposition got strengthened with the President of the Security Council, Germany, joining in.

The interpretation of Resolution 1441 is a case to cite. While the U.S. and the U.K. see it as a means towards waging war against Iraq, others see it as a means of resolving the problem peacefully. Things have not really gone the way scripted by the U.S. So now serious effort is being made to intimidate and pressure the Security Council members. It has not succeeded so far. Throughout the world, public opinion has strengthened that there is no need for the war as the U.S. claims. The Security Council is important as it is standing behind such an opinion. The problem is that Bush has made it clear that we can't wait anymore, either you fall in line or we go ahead. We are ready for war. The real danger is of bypassing the U.N. or the U.N. being coerced into legitimising an action which the U.S. takes.

If the U.S. pushes for a second resolution and it is vetoed, then the U.S. would go to war nevertheless. The U.S. is doing everything. It is even bribing countries like Turkey to allow the stationing of troops on its territory.

In such a situation, what do you make of the anti-war movement? What are its defining features?

I would like to start with Britain where Prime Minister Tony Blair is derisively known as the loyal poodle Blair. Eighty per cent of the British people and even more are saying that even with a U.N. resolution we cannot go to war. The governments which are supporting the U.S. in Europe whether it is Italy, Spain or Britain are fighting the development of an anti-war movement of historic proportions. This movement is much bigger than the anti-Vietnam war movement. In the Vietnam war, the mobilisation came in the last phase but the present anti-war movement started even before the war has started. The present movement will have an impact on the governments. Their survival will be made difficult.

There are two aspects to the people in Europe coming forward. First is the more obvious reason that people realise that the troops would comprise men from among them. So there is this feeling that our boys will be involved and will be putting their lives at risk. The second, before the anti-war movement, the anti-globalisation movement developed. The anti-globalisation network has switched to the anti-war movement. This has given a definite impetus to the anti-war movement. This does not mean that there will not be a war as President Bush has made up his mind.

What is the relation between the worldwide anti-war movement and anti-U.S. feeling? Is the Iraq crisis a symptom or a cause of growing anti-U.S. feeling?

I would emphasise here that people who have joined the anti-war movement are not all anti-U.S. Most are against the Bush administration. The anti-war movement is not an anti-U.S. movement. At the same time, there is a much deeper phenomenon working in the anti-war movement, which goes beyond the opposition to Iraq. For quite some time now, there has been anxiety about the unilateralist, aggressive posture taken by the U.S. (which was) apparent in the Kyoto Protocol; the issue of the U.S. dealing with the U.N.; anti-racism conference in Geneva. The U.S. was isolated several times in these events. As a result, anti-U.S. feelings have grown. According to me, in future there will be a major division of the world on one hand there will be the U.S. and, on the other, the rest of the world. Here, by world I do not mean governments but people. There is a clear polarisation between people and the U.S.

Considering these changes, what will be the role and position of the Left in the anti-imperialist struggle?

The Left has always been anti-imperialist. The anti-war movement has proved to be a wide-scale movement with the people from the Church, women's groups, trade unions, environmental groups, cutting across ideologies and sections, joining in. The change is a good change. The Left was feeling isolated after the events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The right-wing had launched an offensive all over the world. Change has come in the sense that new sections have joined in. The Left's position has become a broadbased position and several groups have joined in. This is different from more people joining in. It is more of a broadbasing of a movement. The Left has played the role of an initiator and a catalyst. Now the Left has to play a crucial role in coalition building.

Are you satisfied with the anti-war movement in India?

In India the anti-war movement has not taken off in terms of scale and intensity. We started anti-war activities quite late, from October-November 2002. This is because in India the BJP has taken the Hindutva forces forward. They say the U.S. is fighting our battle, which is a battle against Islam. Unfortunately, the government sees everything in terms of Pakistan. However, public opinion is now building up.

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