July 20, 2014

BJP’s Acquiescence to Israeli Attacks on Gaza Not Acceptable

AS we go to press, parliamentary proceedings in the Rajya Sabha were disrupted for the day over the issue of a short duration discussion on the Israeli armed attacks on the Palestinian Gaza strip. The revised list of business for the Rajya Sabha for July 16, 2014 was circulated in a printed form, as is the practice, before the proceedings for the day began. This listed a short duration discussion on this issue soon after the question hour that ends at 12 noon. The circulation of this printed list of business can never take place without the prior consent of the government through the minister for parliamentary affairs. However, at the appointed time, the government through the minister for external affairs and other senior ministers sought the postponement of this discussion and, instead, insisted on proceeding with the discussion on the railway budget. This is unprecedented. Once the list of business is circulated, it becomes the property of the house and no one can change its order, including the government. The obduracy of this BJP-led NDA government in seeking to violate this established practice and procedure was naturally vehemently opposed by the entire opposition. It is clear that the BJP government has changed its mind after the revised list of business was circulated. In this connection, the minister for parliamentary affairs, according to media reports, ruled out any resolution to condemn Israeli raids in the Gaza strip saying, “domestic politics should not affect our foreign policy”. He said the matter is “highly sensitive” concerning foreign policy and “any move by the government should not have any implications”. This led to a uproar with members of parliament referring this and questioning what `implications’ was the minister talking about. Arguments were also advanced by the BJP that since India has `good relations’ with both Palestine and Israel, the parliament should not discuss this issue. This is a completely untenable logic. India officially has good relations with Sri Lanka, but this has not prevented the parliament from periodically discussing the issue of the plight of the Indian fishermen in the waters separating India and Sri Lanka. India has diplomatic relations with Bangladesh, but this has not prevented the BJP or the prime minister from repeatedly referring to the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. India has diplomatic relations with Pakistan and engages in various official negotiations on various issues periodically, but repeatedly that country is discussed in connection with threats to our security and cross-border terrorism. This was particularly so after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Further, the statement of the parliamentary affairs minister concerning domestic politics is again untenable as foreign policy of any country is normally seen as the extension of its domestic concerns. Hence, it was correctly seen by a vast majority of Rajya Sabha members that the BJP was seeking to favour Israeli aggression against the Palestinians given its close affinity to the aggressive policies pursued by Israel against the Palestinians. This runs contrary to the time tested and traditional approach that India, as a country, irrespective of the party leading the government, has always maintained. India’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause, in fact, goes back to the days of our freedom struggle, even before we became an independent nation. Mahatma Gandhi had once said that if the French can have France and the English can have England, then the Palestinians should have Palestine. For nearly seven decades now, the Palestinians are continuously being denied their right to their homeland and, therefore, suffer as the worst victims of inhuman repression and oppression. The present government, however, seems to depart from this traditional understanding. Its prevarication was seen in a statement of the official spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs on July 10 that said, “India is deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly, heavy air strikes in Gaza resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property. At the same time, India is alarmed at the cross border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel.” The statement further said, “We call upon both sides to resume direct talks at the earliest, in adherence to the obligations assumed by them under the peace process, for a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian issue”. The BJP government could have reiterated the same on the floor of the house. The opposition parties, particularly the Left, would have voiced their condemnation of this barbarous military intervention in the Gaza strip by Israel. But the BJP government appears to pursue that India must play the role of a neutral observer, with its statement equating the aggressor and the victim thus displaying its eagerness to please a key US ally in the Middle East. This is also a reflection of the political affinity of the BJP with the aggressive methods employed by Israel. The crux of the Palestinian issue has always remained the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands. The current continuing bombardment of Gaza is the latest in the 66 year history of violence against the Palestinian people. Nearly half a century has passed since the six-day war of June 1967, in which Israel seized control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria’s Golan Heights and other territories. According to the Gaza based health ministry, the current ongoing Israeli aggression has killed at least 196 Palestinians and injured 1,489 others and destroyed more than 250 houses in the Palestinian Gaza strip. There are reports that a ground invasion is imminent, with the Israeli PM Netanyahu arrogantly declaring that Israel would not heed to any international 'pressure'. As we go to press, air strikes continue as the Palestinians have rejected a pro-Israeli Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire on the grounds that they were never consulted in the formulation of this Egyptian proposal and only learnt of it from media reports. The Egyptian proposal is widely seen in the Arab world as one that endorses illegal Israeli occupation. Far from raising India’s voice in international fora in solidarity with the Palestinian right to their homeland, this BJP government appears bending over backwards in seeking to please Israel and its patron, US imperialism. This is not only a betrayal of India’s traditional support to and solidarity with the Palestinian cause but is an outright reversal of our established foreign policy orientation. Such acquiescing to Israeli violation of international law and a series of UN Security Council Resolutions and thereby its appeasement of US imperialism is neither in the interests of the Indian people nor in the interests of furthering India’s role as an independent country upholding the rights of an oppressed nation and people. Such acquiescence to US imperialism is simply not acceptable. The Indian parliament must exercise its sovereign authority to express this opinion firmly on behalf of the Indian people to the world. (July 16, 2014)