March 23, 2003, Chandigarh, India
Consensus eludes all-party meeting
New Delhi, March 22
While the Opposition insisted on using the word “condemn” for the military action against Iraq by the USA and its allies, the government was prepared to go to the extent of deploring it, leaders attending the meeting said.
The differences between the ruling combine and the Opposition came into the open during the meeting as the former adopted a cautious approach and the latter voicing serious concern over the Vajpayee government’s stand on the US attack on a long-standing friend of the country, a leader said.
The three-hour-long meeting ended without adopting a unanimous resolution or statement on the Iraq crisis, even as External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha claimed that there was “no difference of opinion”; instead the differences were confined to the “wording” of the statement, he added.
Mr Sinha admitted that the Opposition parties wanted “harsh language” to be used in condemning the Iraq invasion, while the government’s view was that the country’s stand be conveyed in a diplomatic way. “It is not necessary that harsh language should be used for expressing our sentiments.”
Mr Sinha however said the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Dr Manmohan Singh, was of the opinion that the parties had expressed themselves on the issue and should leave the rest to the government, and added that there was no question of India endorsing the action of the USA and its allies against Iraq.
Summing up the meeting, which was convened to inform the parties of the latest on Iraq, the Prime Minister said there was no justification behind the military action against Iraq saying he felt it was avoidable. “If UN weapons inspectors had been given more time, the objective of disarming Iraq would have been achieved.”
In his remark, the Prime Minister pleaded for taking the totality of the situation into consideration and then formulating an approach which was consistent with Indian principles and the country’s longer-term national interests. “Our words, actions and diplomatic efforts should be aimed at trying to achieve a pragmatic approach, rather than creating a rhetorical effect... Quiet diplomacy is far more effective than public posturing,’’ he said.
Mr Vajpayee also said the country should be careful that neither its internal debate nor its external actions deflect the Indian concerns, or that of the world, away from the real source of international terrorism in its neighbourhood.
The PM also expressed his anguish at the sufferings of the people of Iraq and said India would take all steps necessary for the safety of Indians in the region.
The Congress leaders said the war against Iraq violated all accepted canons of international law and needed to be condemned.
Party leader K. Natwar Singh said there were some differences over the wording of the proposed resolution but did not agree with some other opposition parties that the exercise was futile. “I do not want to pass any value judgement.”
The Congress said there should be immediate cessation of hostilities against Iraq and the whole matter should again be referred to the UN to find a peaceful and honourable solution acceptable to all concerned.
Several other parties aired similar views on the issue.
An unhappy Opposition accused the government of adopting a “soft approach” on the issue but the three-hour long meeting, attended by around 20 political parties, was unanimous in deploring the US aggression on Iraq.
“I am totally dissatisfied with the meeting. Just because the government wants to please the USA, we are unable to unite on a vital issue,” CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee told reporters.
He said the government did not agree to the word “condemn” in a joint resolution against the US aggression. It was however, not against the use of the word “deplore”.
Brushing aside the Opposition’s charge that the government had taken a soft stand, BJP spokesman V K Malhotra said they were insisting on using certain words in the resolution.
A meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is being held here this evening to discuss the evolving situation in Iraq in the wake of the US-led military action.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi had yesterday assailed the USA and its allies for making a “fateful choice of war” without UN sanction and expressed solidarity with the people of Iraq who will be the “worst sufferers of the catastrophe”.
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