The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Speaker turns to dictionary as MPs bicker

New Delhi, April 7: Polemics, politics and semantics today derailed a bid by Lok Sabha members to pass a unanimous resolution condemning America’s assault on Iraq.

Speaker Manohar Joshi had called a meeting of floor leaders of all parties, but it failed to come up with a unanimous resolution, ending in much the same way as the two all-party meetings the Prime Minister convened last month.

Though both the BJP and the Congress were willing to name the US, an improvement from their earlier positions, they were not ready to use the word “condemn”.

While the two parties preferred words like “concern” and “deplore”, the CPM, the CPI, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and other smaller parties insisted on “condemning” the military action. The Speaker has called another meeting tomorrow.

Sources said the BJP made an attempt to adopt a resolution in Hindi condemning the attack. The Hindi equivalent of condemn is “ninda”.

The move — aimed at pleasing the party’s domestic constituency and which would have at the same time escaped America’s wrath — was rejected by some Opposition leaders, including former ally Ram Vilas Paswan. “Can George Bush read Hindi'” he asked. “What sense does it make'”

At one point, the Speaker and the leaders, grappling with the draft resolution, asked for the Concise Oxford Dictionary to find out the exact meaning of “deplore, condemn and denounce”. An aide in the Speaker’s office was seen rushing in with the dictionary thrice during the one-and-a-half-hour meeting.

The Congress, while opposed to the word “condemn”, was sharp in its criticism of the US. Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and the CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee ticked off the government, saying that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had always opposed imperialist forces.

This prompted foreign minister Yashwant Sinha to say that Parliament never passed a resolution when the erstwhile Soviet Union invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

Das Munshi and Chatterjee snapped back, saying circumstances then and the “situation” in Iraq was different.

“Can you cite a single Parliament resolution anywhere in the world condemning the attack'” retorted BJP leader V.K. Malhotra. “None,” emphasised Sinha.

Some of the Centre’s allies, which had earlier demanded a strong stand, softened a bit to help the government. Telugu Desam Party leader K. Yerran Naidu said there was no need for a resolution condemning the war. “We can condemn while speaking on the issue in the House. No need to condemn in the resolution if it does not suit the government,” he said.

Earlier in the day, his party colleague Umareddy Venkateswarlu had said in the Lok Sabha that the war should be condemned immediately. “The government should have done it itself,” he said.

As there is still no unity among Opposition parties on the Iraq issue, Chatterjee has tomorrow convened a meeting of all Opposition leaders in his chamber before the second meeting called by the Speaker begins.

Non-Congress Opposition leaders had met Sonia Gandhi earlier in the day to persuade her party to support their demand for a stronger resolution. But the Congress did not oblige.

The Iraq crisis crippled Parliament today. Both Houses were adjourned.

In the Lok Sabha, as soon as the House assembled after the recess, the Opposition members asked the Speaker about their adjournment notices on the issue. Some had given notices for the suspension of question hour to discuss the issue and wanted the Prime Minister to make the government stand clear.

With no immediate solution in sight, sources said one strategy could be that the external affairs minister make a suo motu statement followed by a discussion.

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