Article excerpt

New Delhi

The Indian public has long been suspicious of the US arguments for military action against Iraq and the legitimacy of any "regime change" executed by a superpower with imperial ambitions. Indians strongly opposed the 1991 Gulf war and supported the lifting of sanctions against Iraq well before they were relaxed in recent years. (India has since become Iraq's biggest source of food and medicine.)

Indians saw the Security Council debate as a (failed) charade to win a fig leaf of legitimacy for an unjust war. More than 85 percent of people polled opposed the war. They are particularly horrified and revolted by the "shock and awe" operation. There is a surge of sympathy here for ordinary Iraqis--Indians see them as Third World people much like themselves, with similar tastes in music and food, who share a history of fighting colonialism.

There is a growing rift between India's official policy and popular perceptions. The right-wing Hindu government has ducked a Parliament vote on Iraq--a near-unanimous opposition demand. It has wriggled between saying no war without Security Council authorization and (timidly) opposing "regime change." Occasionally, Prime Minister Vajpayee piously says there should be no war anywhere.

The real reason for India's pusillanimity is its courtship of America and the US offer of lucrative contracts in Iraq's postwar reconstruction. New Delhi calls the United States its "strategic partner" and woos it as an ally in its parochial rivalry with Pakistan, which acquired an especially nasty, dangerous edge after the 1998 nuclear tests. Indians are shocked and angered at their government's statements that place the blame for war not on the United States but on the Security Council, for not "harmonizing" its positions on Iraq! …