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Statement in House

New Delhi, March 11: Under fire from the Opposition over the “middle path” it has taken on the Iraq crisis, the Centre today reluctantly agreed to subject its handling of the issue to a scrutiny by Parliament.

Hounded by the clamour for a discussion on Iraq, the government decided to meet the Opposition half way by offering a prime ministerial statement.

With the Opposition raising the issue for the second day in the Lok Sabha, Union minister Sushma Swaraj said the Prime Minister would make a statement at a time convenient to him. Indications are the statement will be made tomorrow.

The issue came up before zero hour on an adjournment notice by CPI member Prabodh Panda, which the Speaker disallowed. Panda said India’s position vis-à-vis Iraq must be discussed in the House.

because the government was making contradictory statements.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee said he was not satisfied with the meeting Vajpayee convened yesterday to discuss the issue. “We wanted at that meeting that the country’s views should be expressed through a resolution in this House. This was supported by a majority of the members attending the meeting. But the government was not in favour of such a course,” he said, demanding a discussion.

The Congress appeared more cautious. Deputy leader Shivraj Patil avoided endorsing the Left demand. “The Prime Minister should come before the House and apprise us of the government stand. We are not asking for a discussion. We want a statement,” he said.

The decision to make a statement --- which does not allow any discussion --- got the support of former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar. He advised members not to seek a discussion on Iraq as it could show up a political divide.

It would also be unwise to restrict the government’s freedom to deal with an unpredictable situation through a parliamentary resolution, he added. If the members wished, they could carry out a signature campaign to convey their views.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said India should clearly oppose any military action against Iraq without UN mandate.

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