BETWEEN September 1915 and April 1916, thousands of Indian soldiers had died in the then Mesopotamia fighting Britain’s war against Turkey. They were among the 90,000 Indian troops killed during the First World War in whose memory stands the colossal and colonial India Gate at the heart of New Delhi. The British cemeteries of the British Indian Army victims of World War I along the banks of the Tigris in Iraq are however seen by the Iraqis as nothing better than unwanted memories of foreign occupation. Last month, American soldiers reportedly restored one such cemetery at Al Kut, a town between Basra and Baghdad in eastern Iraq. It was soon desecrated again by Iraqis angry over the unfurling of the British flag over it.
The US wants the Indian Army to relive the experience of the British Indian Army in Iraq. Yes, if Indian troops are sent to Iraq they will be joining their predecessors who fought Britain’s wars against Germany, Japan and their allies during the two World Wars. Indian troops in occupied Iraq will be a fundamentally different proposition from the 37 UN missions in which Indian forces have participated over the last fifty-odd years of Indian independence since 1947.
The very expression ‘stabilisation force’ is different from the standard terminology of peacekeeping missions or reconstruction efforts. Indian troops are supposed to assist the Anglo-American forces in combating Iraqi instability. Right now American troops in occupied Iraq are engaged in major military assaults, after Operation Peninsula Strike they have now launched a new operation codenamed Desert Scorpion. While hundreds of Iraqis have been killed since Bush declared on May 1 that major combat was over in Iraq, the Americans are also losing at least one soldier every day. Indian troops are being asked to walk straight into this morass. No amount of UN ‘cover’ or autonomy of the Indian forces will alter the fundamental character of the role of the Indian troops in occupied Iraq.
The NDA government says there is no American pressure on India on sending troops to Iraq. Call it American persuasion or Indian passion, the fact is this one single question dominated all of Advani’s recent meetings with US leaders. Advani himself has distinguished his second visit from the first on the basis that the former was seen to be rather Pakistan-centric. Bush has already sent a Pentagon team to India to clarify Indian doubts while Vajpayee has launched a campaign to manufacture a ‘national consensus’ with his meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
Following the Vajpayee-Sonia meeting, Yashwant Sinha has said that the final decision would be taken in the best national interest. Who and what will define this best interest of the nation? The comprador greed for a share in Iraqi spoils or the Indian ruling elite’s delusion of grandeur which believes that the service and sacrifice rendered by the Indian troops in Iraq would cement New Delhi’s strategic ties with Washington and give India an entry into the big league of global players? The democratic and progressive Indian opinion rejects this basis with the contempt it deserves. The principles of democracy and anti-imperialism which can unite the needs and aspirations of the Indian people with those of the Iraqi people as well as the freedom- and justice-loving people of the whole world can be the only acceptable basis for determining India’s best interests.
We have been told that no decision on sending troops would be taken till there is a national consensus. But on the question of Iraq, there already exists a national consensus expressed in the form of the parliamentary resolution of April 7 which categorically condemned the illegal and unjust war imposed by the Anglo-American alliance and called for an early withdrawal of all foreign troops from the soil of Iraq. How can the Government of India now take a step in violation of this resolution, a step that will legitimise American occupation and add more foreign troops?
By entertaining the idea of sending Indian troops to Iraq, the BJP and the Congress have already violated and challenged the existing national consensus. Well, there can always be a US-inspired BJP-Congress deal on the subject, but there can never be a national consensus. Let the real nation stand up and defeat the ruling classes’ attempts to manufacture and market a fraudulent national consensus.
No Indian troops to Iraq! No US bases in India!