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Gaza protest unites rivals

New Delhi, July 15: The Gaza cry has done for the Congress what the Trai wails didn’t.

The party today saw the rest of the Opposition echo its concerns over Israeli air strikes on Gaza and walk out of the Lok Sabha after the government refused to pass a resolution condemning the attacks.

The unified protests came a day after several Opposition parties, including Trinamul, backed the government’s bill to legitimise the appointment of former Trai chief Nripendra Mishra as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the split in the ranks leaving the Congress virtually isolated.

Today, Trinamul, AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, Left and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) walked out with the Congress, as did its ally NCP. The turn of events offered the Congress hope it could become a pivot of an Opposition coalition, something the ruling BJP is seen trying to thwart.

The trigger was a statement by Venkaiah Naidu on the Gaza attacks. “The House is aware that it is a highly sensitive matter and also concerns foreign policy. We have a stated policy with regard to our approach towards Palestine and towards Israel…As far as the government is concerned, we do not propose to bring any resolution,” the parliamentary affairs minister said.

Naidu’s statement led to angry protests. The Opposition, particularly the Congress, viewed his stance as a departure from what the party claimed was India’s stated “pro-Palestine policy”.

The issue was first raised by the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti. The Congress, Trinamul, Left, the Samajwadi and other parties joined her, condemning Israel and demanding the resolution in a din that led to two adjournments. “I want the NDA government to use its offices and convey the concern of this House to Israel so that they stop the attacks,” Mehbooba said.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor picked up the theme. “We have witnessed in the last few days tremendous humanitarian tragedy, 192 people have been killed, including 37 children. Indians and the Congress party have consistently stood for peace and justice in the area of Palestine,” Tharoor, a former junior foreign minister, said.

But Naidu stood his ground, telling reporters later that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj would make a statement and clarify that the government could not have a resolution over a conflict between two countries. “We are pro-Israel. We are pro-Palestine. Sensitive matters like this should not be coloured by political considerations,” Naidu said.

India, among the first few nations to recognise the Palestinian claim to a separate state, continues to support Palestine in UN bodies. But since the early 1990s, when the Narasimha Rao government began diplomatic relations with Israel, New Delhi has nuanced its position on the conflict, criticising violence but attempting to appear neutral.