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A GRAVE AND COSTLY FLAW

Saddam Hussein’s execution hangs like a shroud over the new year. Two days before Bakri Id, the Americans probably thought it would be a nice gift to the Shias of Iraq. By allowing some relatives of the Dujail massacre victims to attend the hanging — who taunted him right till the bitter end — they believed there was nothing more powerful for television stations worldwide than to broadcast the cry of revenge mingling with the sighs of the dying.

Once again, the Americans are right; only, their understanding of the consequences is totally flawed. The impact of Saddam Hussein’s death will unleash seismic changes, possibly exacerbating the Shia-Sunni divide the Americans helped bring about with the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

For the first time, too, the partition of Iraq — a totally secular nation under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — looms much closer as a possibility. After strengthening the Shias of Iraq, and thereby, ironically, invigorating Iran’s power in the Muslim world, the division of Iraq at the hands of the George W. Bush administration will be yet another factor in the annihilation of the old Middle East.

Imagine the scenario: Shia and Sunni communities, variously empowered, across the Gulf and the Middle East, fighting with each other. Here, primal feuds and identity politics have been exaggerated to the point of senseless violence. In the growing chaos, terrorism will find such fertile ground to breed.

So where does that leave countries like India' The governing intelligentsia’s self-image of India as a liberal nation harvesting the progressive nature of its scriptures in the making of a modern nation, has taken a beating with the almost apologetic nature of its reaction to the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

India said it was “disappointed” at the hanging, in sharp contrast to the Russian accusation of America “murdering” Saddam Hussein. One New Delhi newspaper on New Year’s day asked us not to waste time shedding tears for the old dictator, but look beyond at the possibility of conflating policy on the Gulf-Middle East with its new friends, the United States of America and Britain.

In a nutshell, that is the real tragedy of India. By forging a new and very warm friendship with the most powerful country in the world, the US, some people feel that New Delhi must now be gratitude-bound to meekly follow in the direction of the slave trade.

Clearly, that is not the Indian way. On the other hand, a basic Indian tenet that people of all religions instinctively follow is that, however strongly you may have opposed the man in life, the time of his death is a sacred one. The Americans violated this tenet by allowing victims of the Dujail massacre to jeer and taunt Saddam Hussein at the time of his death. For a country that declared it was bringing democracy to the Middle East — ostensibly the reason behind its invading Iraq — the Saddam hanging was only a latter-day version of the brutal, market-place beheadings of the Middle Ages. By hanging Saddam Hussein, the US, the world’s oldest democracy, has shown that it cannot tolerate dissent.

Sure, Saddam Hussein had committed the gravest of crimes, by ordering his army to fire upon his own people. But by holding a kangaroo court that ordered him to hang till he was dead, by killing him at a time when the Haj, the faithful Muslim’s journey to Mecca, had just started, by hanging him on the eve of Bakri Id, people the world over feel that a grave injustice has been committed.

India’s extremely reticent reaction to the hanging betrays a nervousness about upsetting America. At a time when the Bush administration has gone out of its way to accord India a special position in the world’s nuclear architecture, the Indian foreign office thought it would seem ungrateful if it said much more.

The point is, New Delhi’s newfound realpolitik happens not to be in step with the general Indian feeling. The truth is that most Indians believe it is right for India to move on and create new friendships with the rich, famous and powerful, and who better than America to fit this bill'

On the other hand, most Indians also feel that the invasion of Iraq was completely wrong. That was the reason the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, did not send Indian troops to Iraq, turning down an American request to do so. It was a decision the rest of India felt truly vindicated about.

It is this middle path that has always been the Indian way. New Delhi must know that by criticizing the Bush administration’s tragic-sinister actions in Iraq, it is strengthening those factions within Washington which feel that what has happened is not only morally wrong but also not in the American national interest.

Certainly, more and more Americans believe that Bush’s only motive in Iraq has been pure revenge. If India’s political establishment makes common cause with this, it will not be doing justice to its own people.

But if the new India — a progressive, liberal nation which stands astride the old and new worlds, pushing an outwardly-looking 9 per cent growth rate — helps its friend, America, to cut its losses, save face and get out of Iraq, if India intervenes in the creation of a truly democratic, post-US Iraq, then the people of India will be proud of its leadership. The blueprint that is 2007 awaits a new beginning.

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