India and the Israeli Offensive Against Lebanon
By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)New Delhiâ€”
Caught in the crossfire for failing to condemn Israelâ€™s offensive against Lebanon strongly enough, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has taken steps to salvage the situation. The countryâ€™s Independence Day (August 15) was marked by an IL-76 cargo aircraft of the Indian Air Force carrying the first batch of relief supplies from India for war-affected Lebanon. The relief supplies included 50 tents, 5,000 blankets, and 6,000 bed sheets, pillows and covers. A day later, with 300 single-ply tents, 50 double-ply tents, 3,000 blankets and 3,000 bed sheets, the second IL-76 headed for the Lebanese capital. These are a part of the aid Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently announced in Parliament. India would contribute Rs 100 million (Rs 10 crore) worth of humanitarian and relief supplies to help rebuild the war-ravaged country, Singh said.
Yet, it cannot be ignored that India has faced criticism in several quarters for not having voiced a strong message against Israel for its Lebanon aggression. Many senior Congress leaders sent an internal note last week to party president Sonia Gandhi calling for a strong statement against Israel and its attack against Lebanon. In their opinion, a parliamentary resolution on this was needed. The resolution would contribute to dispel the impression that India was keeping quiet because of a pro-American shift in its foreign policy, according to senior Congress leaders.
India has been known as an important non-aligned country, never known to buckle under US pressure, therefore it is expected to raise a strong voice against Israel. During pre-independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (known as the â€˜Father of the Nationâ€™), Jawaharlal Nehru (first prime minister) and the Congress party opposed even the creation of Israel. India also voted against the admission of Israel into the United Nations in May 1949. Though India granted Israel formal recognition in 1950, it established full diplomatic relations with it only in 1992.
Against this background, India is expected to play a more significant role by strongly condemning Israelâ€™s Lebanon-strikes.
Left bloc leaders have repeatedly demanded that the government should strongly condemn Israeli action against Lebanon. Commenting on this, West Bengal Chief Minister Budhadeb Bhattacharjee (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said recently: â€œWe are criticizing the government for succumbing to the pressure from the US. We are saying India should follow an independent foreign policy and not be a junior partner to the US. But they (the center) are vacillating on several issues. â€¦ The criticism of Israel must be more direct.â€
Questioning the failure of the government to send a medical mission for war-ravaged Lebanese, Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) last week said: â€œWhy has the government not [sent a medical mission to Lebanon] already? Is it afraid of Israel from whom it is purchasing arms or of the US which is doing the back-seat driving in West Asia?â€ To express their solidarity with the people of Lebanon, a two-member left bloc delegation will be visiting Lebanon soon. The delegation includes Mohd. Salim (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and Aziz Pasha (CPI).
It would be erroneous to assume that India has kept absolutely quiet regarding Israelâ€™s offensive against Lebanon. Strongly condemning it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament last month (July 27): â€œWe are condemning in the strongest possible terms the disproportionate reaction by Israel.â€ While he condemned the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, Singh pointed out, but â€œthe virtual destruction of a country that has been painfully rebuilt after two decades of civil war can hardly be countenanced by any civilized state.â€
Besides, parliamentarians have expressed outrage against the killing of innocent women and children in Lebanon by Israeli air strikes. Strongly condemning Israeli aggression, several parliamentarians have called on the government to suspend purchases of weapons from Israel. Condemning the bombing of a building in Qana that led to the deaths of women, children and old people as â€œparticularly outrageous,â€ the external affairs ministry said (July 30): â€œIndia expresses its deep condolences to the government and people of Lebanon over this tragic incident.â€ The statement said: â€œIndia strongly condemns the continued irresponsible and indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon by the Israeli military, ignoring calls for restraint.â€
It may be noted, Israel is showing displeasure with Indiaâ€™s comments. Israel conveyed to New Delhi that it does not agree with Indiaâ€™s opinion that Tel Aviv has used â€œirresponsibleâ€ and â€œdisproportionateâ€ force in Lebanon. On this, an official of the Israeli Embassy said last week that Tel Avivâ€™s action was restrained and directed against Hezbollah. â€œWe have presented the full picture. We are trying our best to explain the situation. We have open channels with Indian government.â€
Undeniably, neither the Indian government nor the people here have remained mute spectators to Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The country has been witness to activists, including Muslim leaders and politicians from different parties protesting against Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Since the conflict began, protest demonstrations against Israeli action have been held in several cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Lucknow. Expressing their solidarity with people of Lebanon, describing Israeli attacks as â€œinhuman,â€ demonstrators have burnt Israeli and American flags. â€¢