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Old friend cast in invader’s role, silence is golden in India

New Delhi, March 3: When old friends are accused of doing what only old foes can do, comrades and countries are torn between Vladimir and volubility.

The CPM has chosen silence over Russia’s armed foray into Ukraine-held territory. So has New Delhi.

The CPM has not been as friendly to Russia or the Soviet Union as New Delhi has been. But whenever the Great Russian Bear is pitted against the “imperialist” American Eagle, the Left has found it difficult to articulate its otherwise fluent thoughts on international affairs.

Senior CPM leaders turned incommunicado today when reporters tried to ascertain the party’s position on Ukraine. Those who responded said they were preoccupied with the preparations for the general election — an uncommon instance of Marxists putting a national matter before a delectable international issue.

The Indian government is also being forced to fall back on stoic silence — a strategy it has increasingly abandoned in recent years.

Senior government officials have said India has communicated to Russia that it is uncomfortable with any escalation of military tensions in Ukraine or its neighbouring nations.

But the Indian government will question Moscow publicly on President Vladimir Putin’s decision to push Russian troops into the Crimean peninsula only if the territorial integrity of Ukraine is at stake, the officials said.

Most major nations, including China and South Africa, have issued public statements criticising the violence in Ukraine that has now led to what Britain is calling Europe’s biggest crisis in the 21st century.

But India has not made a single official statement on either the protests that have raged across Kiev since December, or on the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s military intervention into territory globally recognised as belonging to Ukraine.

Instead, India is carefully calibrating its position on a dispute that has triggered concerns over Russia’s military intervention on the one hand, and a West-supported overthrow of an allegedly corrupt but democratically elected government on the other.

“Military intervention of any kind is clearly not something we are comfortable with, but unlike the West, we aren’t convinced that this kind of an overthrow of a democratically elected government, however unpopular, strengthens democracy,” a senior Indian official said. “We don’t want to be pulled in prematurely into what could potentially become a flashpoint for a larger geostrategic battle.”

The unilateral invasion of the traditionally pro-Russian Crimea violates the UN charter that New Delhi holds sacrosanct for military interventions — a contravention that India normally promptly criticises.

As the US was preparing for a limited military strike against Syria last September, India publicly opposed the move in a series of statements that placed it on the same side of that debate as the country now at the centre of the storm — Russia.

Russia remains one of India’s most reliable allies — a country New Delhi depends on heavily not just for defence and technology imports, but also for crucial support at most multilateral platforms.

“For Indian diplomacy, it is a lot easier to criticise the US — even though they are our biggest trading partners today — than it is to criticise Russia,” an official said. “That has to do with the fact that the relationship with Russia has been steady for a longer period, but also has to do with the perception that the US can handle criticism better.”

New Delhi also harbours concerns over the spate of supposedly popular “revolutions” and attempted coups in West Asia, Thailand and now in Ukraine.

For the CPM, “invasions” by countries from the communist family have always been tricky affairs. In fact, the fault line on “internationalism” pertaining to Soviet Russia and China has been one of the key reasons that led to the split of the communists and the birth of the CPM in 1964.

When China attacked India in 1962, a comment attributed to communist veteran E.M.S. Namboodiripad had caused considerable outrage and saddled the Marxists with a millstone that is cited even today to question their nationalist credentials.

Mohit Sen, the communist ideologue, writes in his book A Traveller and the Road The Journey of an Indian Communist: “EMS was asked (in a press conference) whether he thought the Chinese committed aggression. He (EMS) said that the Chinese had entered territory that they thought was theirs and hence there was no question of aggression. At the same time, the Indians were defending territory that they considered theirs and so they were not committing aggression either.

“Just then, (S.A.) Dange (the chairman of the united Communist Party) walked in and sarcastically asked (EMS) ‘and what is your opinion about the territory in question?’ Even as EMS fumbled for a reply, Dange stated that the Chinese had attacked India, occupied Indian territory and the communists supported Nehru’s call to the nation to defend itself and repel the Chinese forces”.

When rivals later brought up the issue to needle the CPM, the party held up EMS’s comments as an example against jingoism. “He was a true internationalist in the true sense of the term. During the India-China war in 1962, braving the chauvinist onslaught, EMS campaigned throughout the country advocating a peaceful settlement of the border dispute…. As a true communist, he always thought the Indian communist movement to be part and parcel of the world revolutionary process,” the then CPM general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, wrote in a 1998 article paying tribute to EMS.

Ironically, the same Dange backed the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, known as Prague Spring.

Those days, the communists used to devote more time to pulsating international affairs. By 1968, the Communist Party had split and the national council of Dange’s CPI debated for three days and adopted the resolution supporting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by a majority of just one vote.

The CPM was once viewed as more friendly towards China and the CPI towards the Soviet Union. The CPM has not desisted from criticising Putin’s party, the United Russia. The political resolution adopted at the CPM party Congress in April 2012 attacked the United Russia party for using “unfair” and “undemocratic” means in the elections.

With China embracing the market, the CPM has lost its international bulwark. Cuba and Venezuela do not have the punching power of a Soviet Union or China. Asked which world power the CPM is more aligned to now, a sympathiser responded with a question: “North Korea, perhaps?”

Late this evening, a CPM leader drew attention to an article in the latest edition of the party mouthpiece People’s Democracy. “See the article in PD. It clears our position,” he said, perhaps delighted — and relived — that the party has lived up to its international past.

The article, titled Ukraine and Imperialist Designs, starts with the sentence: “Ukraine today is the laboratory for imperialist designs.”

The article acknowledges that both the European Union and Russia are driven by similar instincts of “economic” and “military” interests and were engaged in luring Ukraine to their side.

Over to you, Vladimir.

THE WORDS FROM A TROUBLED PAST

The Ukraine stand-off has given a fresh lease of life to a glossary of vocabulary that retreats during peacetime

Phoney War

The inactivity in the initial months of the Second World War when Britain and France declared war on Germany but major military operations had not yet commenced. The coinage “Phoney War” is attributed to US Senator William Borah. Winston Churchill called it the Twilight War, the Germans der Sitzkrieg (the sitting war, a play on blitzkrieg) and others referred to it as the Bore War (punning on the Boer War)

 

A masked man blocks Ukraine’s naval base in Crimea. (AFP)

Phantom War

The events now swirling in Crimea have produced a strange phantom war in which heavily armed men come and go, mostly in masks and in uniforms shorn of all markings, to confront an enemy nobody has actually seen. A few vehicles had the black plates used by Russian forces based in Crimea. A group of journalists tried to approach Crimea’s parliament building, seized overnight by masked gunmen. The journalists received a blunt reply when they inquired about the intruders’ identities: the loud bang of a percussion grenade tossed in their direction. “They were less than communicative,” said Dalton Bennett, a video journalist

Balaclava

The Crimean city from where many journalists are despatching reports now. The tight-knitted garment — an improvised version of which evolved as the monkey cap and tormented children and comforted parents in inclement weather— takes its name from the city where the 1850s’ Crimean War was fought and soldiers used the mask as protection.
Hijackers have made it a must-have accessory in modern times.

The Battle of Balaclava in 1854 was immortalised in verse by Tennyson in The Charge of the Light Brigade. A tribute to the unquestioning soldier, the poem has the lines: “Theirs not to make reply/ Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die.”

Khrushchev

The current crisis traces some of its more modern roots to the Soviet leader who was locked in the Cuban missile stand-off with John F. Kennedy and gave the world the first
taste of eyeball-to- eyeball confrontation in the nuclear age. Russia had conquered Crimea in the late 18th century. But in 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, himself partly of Ukrainian origin, gave it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a gift. Now Putin is trying for a thorough purge of Ukrainian authority from a region that Russia considers its own.

 

 

BASED ON NYTNS REPORTS

NEVER SEEN BEFORE AND THE OSCAR GOES TO... A SELFIE

12 Years a Slave won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, the first time Hollywood conferred its top honour on the work of a black director. Reuters picture on left shows 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen posing with the best picture Oscar although the best director Oscar

went to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, which won seven awards. The best actress Oscar went to Cate Blanchett and the best actor to Matthew McConaughey.

An unexpected new Oscars entry into the record books came from Ellen DeGeneres, the host whose star-studded selfie photo became the most popular tweet in history. The mega-selfie, featuring celebrities including Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, picked up more than 2 millions retweets — and was so popular that it caused the site to crash for some users. “We got an email from Twitter and we crashed and broke Twitter. We
have made history,” DeGeneres said.

The selfie burst through the record set by a picture from Barack Obama’s official Twitter account, which got 780,000 retweets with a picture marking his re-election in 2012. DeGeneres, 56, who had posted a series of selfie snaps backstage at the awards, corralled a crowd of stars into the photo. “You get in here, too, Julia. Lean in,” she said to Julia Roberts. “Channing (Tatum), if you can get in also. Bradley (Cooper), come in,” the host quipped to loud laughter. Eventually, the group grew so big that Cooper knelt in front of DeGeneres and snapped the picture with her smartphone.


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