A NUMBER of political parties and other democratic organisations reacted to the blitz and ballyhoo that surrounded the visit of President Bill Clinton in the language of protest. Going beyond the realm of rhetoric, they questioned the United States' fore ign policy, pegging their dissent on the U.S. role in a unipolar world.
At various forums, leaders of Left parties pointed out instances of military intervention by Washington (in Korea in the 1950s and in Vietnam in the 1960s and the 1970s), its moves to destabilise governments that refused to follow its dictates, and its s upport to coups in Guatemala and Chile. The more recent cases of military aggression they cited included the Gulf war in 1991 and the subsequent military and economic bombardment of Iraq, the economic blockade against Cuba, and the U.S.-led North Atlanti c Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombings in Yugoslavia.
The organisations demanded that the U.S. withdraw all sanctions against India, stop pressuring India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and lift the restrictions on the legitimate flow of Indian professionals and other personnel to the U.S.
In a unique show of solidarity, all the Left parties staged demonstrations and organised public meetings and conventions to protest against what they called the blatantly imperialist, interventionist, hegemonic and expansionist agenda of the U.S. The tem po of the protests was kept up all through the five-day visit. On March 19, the day Clinton arrived in New Delhi, there were loud expressions of protest not only in New Delhi and in other cities that he was scheduled to visit, but also in other parts of the country; in Kerala, the Left parties supported a strike called by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Flag; in Calcutta, the ruling Left Front and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) staged demonstrations, which were led in som e places by senior CPI(M) Ministers and other leaders; the CPI(M) held a Statewide protest in Tamil Nadu on March 21; and on March 23, victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy protested in Mumbai against U.S. multinationals. In Varanasi, Forward Bloc activists took out processions and burnt effigies of Clinton. The Left parties staged such demonstrations in Thane. In Jaipur and Agra, cities which Clinton visited, the Left parties and the National Alliance of People's Movements staged protests.
In New Delhi, the Left parties and their mass organisations, under the banner of the Committee Against U.S. Imperialism, staged a demonstration in front of the American Centre, defying a ban on demonstrations. People assembled in their hundreds and shout ed slogans such as "Clinton, go back", and denounced the U.S. as being "an implacable enemy of all national liberation struggles and freedom-loving nations and movements for radical social transformation throughout the 20th century." The demonstrators in cluded Left parliamentarians, and they were arrested after water cannons failed to disperse them.
What was notable was that other progressive organisations joined the Left parties in raising issues such as those relating to unfair trade agreements under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the gross misuse of the United Nations Security Council mec hanism to organise military aggression. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government also came under fire for disregarding the principle of non-alignment while agreeing to join a U.S. ideological enterprise called the Community of Democracies. In a strongly worded statement, the CPI(M) said that this was the first time that the Indian government had become part of a U.S. political enterprise intended to project the latter's version of democracy and free market.
The very first major round of protest against Clinton's visit was held under the aegis of the All India Anti-Imperialist Forum, a group formed in 1995. On March 10, the forum organised an all-India Citizens' Convention Against Imperialism in New Delhi.hi . Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, president of the forum, said that the U.S. President was being a surrogate for American corporate power. Expressing resentment at the red carpet welcome extended to Clinton, the Convention held that the so-called champion of peace, upholder of democracy and votary of human rights was the perpetrator of the worst form of criminal activities in the international political arena. It accused Clinton of having "launched murderous missile attacks on sovereign countries such as Afg hanistan and Sudan on the plea of fighting terrorism, while the U.S. administration itself had been aiding and abetting terrorist groups."
The reticence shown by the BJP and its allies and also the Congress(I) was but inevitable given their capitulation on economic policy issues. What was even more striking was the deafening silence of the right-wing 'swadeshi' groups.
A senior Congress(I) leader, however, showed less restraint. Jitendra Prasada described the decision by five Left parties - the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India, the CPI(M-L), the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party - to boycott Clinto n's address to Parliament as an "irresponsible" act. Groups such as the Azaadi Bachao Andolan, the Bandhua Mukti Morcha and the Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, in solidarity with the Left parties, held a mock parliament criticising U.S. policy.
PROTESTS were witnessed also in Pakistan and Bangladesh, two other countries Clinton visited. The Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP) held a demonstration on March 22 outside the U.S. Consulate in Lahore despite a ban announced by the Gen. Pervez Musharraf go vernment on political rallies and strikes. Members of the LPP carried placards which read "Clinton go back", "Killer Clinton", and "Killer of Iraqi children" and raised slogans against U.S. imperialism. They pointed out that the visit was a conspiracy ag ainst the working class. They appealed to the trade unions and the working class in the subcontinent to protest against Clinton's visit as it was aimed at pushing the imperialist economic agenda in order to exploit the region.
Although the scale of the protests in India was restricted owing to the Central Government's determination to exaggerate the importance of the visit, one thing emerged loud and clear: that the new world order under the leadership of the U.S. was not acce ptable to the Left and democratic forces.