It certainly wouldn’t have been in keeping with the prevailing global mood of excitement to show any sympathy for the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But there were many in India who felt disturbed by the latest turn of events in Libya, and the midwifing of democracy by the Western world in the oil rich nation.
The Indian government was muted in its response to the brutal killing of the Libyan leader, who had been a steadfast friend of New Delhi and a companion in the Non-Aligned Movement.Indeed, following the news of the Colonel’s death, the External Affairs Ministry ran only a short statement on its website that read:
‘We have seen reports that Col. Gaddafi has been killed in Sirte, Libya. The strife in Libya and the suffering of its people has been a matter of concern to us. We hope that peace and stability would soon return to Libya.
‘India’s relations with the people of Libya are deep and long standing. At this juncture, India reiterates its readiness to extend all possible assistance to the people of Libya in their political transition and rebuilding of the country’
The tone of this message, though, fails to capture the alarm many in India felt over the way Gaddafi’s death was celebrated around the world, a point made by leading English daily The Hindu, which wrote:
‘It is disappointing that India, which opposed external intervention in Libya, has expressed no concern at Gaddafi's violent end…the violent death of Col. Muammar Gaddafi is the worst possible beginning for a new Libya.’
Questioning the role of the Western powers, the editorial argued that ‘the role of Western powers, especially the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, through this sorry saga of violent regime change reiterates the question that has been asked ever since NATO began bombing Libya, ostensibly as a “humanitarian intervention” authorised by the United Nations Security Council: does the West want democracy in Libya or just any friendly regime that will give it access to the country's oil?’
Another English daily, India Today, chimed in that ‘the idea that a group of countries can midwife democracy anywhere is troublesome.’ It added that both NATO and the United States likely have an agenda that’s being mixed up with the Arab Spring idea. ‘It would seem that geopolitics focused on oil and the support of Israel continue to be the dominant engine of western policy in the region.’
The fact is that the largest democracy in the world is far from jubilant over the idea of the emergence of democracy in Libya. After all, Indians were sceptical about the intervention in Iraq, a situation that deteriorated after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But New Delhi remained silent when the West decided to intervene in Iraq, despite overwhelming opposition from the Indian people to such adventurism.
And people are now questioning the silence of the Indian government after the brutal intervention and killing of the Libyan ruler. Most people here are convinced that had NATO and Western forces not supported the National Transitional Coalition, Gaddafi wouldn’t have met his end in this way. It’s not that Indians have any sympathy for Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule. It’s more that they admired, in a sense, the fact that he resisted Western hegemony and refused to fully conform despite international pressure.
It’s undoubtedly in New Delhi’s interests to have close economic and political ties with the Western world. But that doesn’t mean we should forfeit our right to oppose an unjustified intervention in an independent country undertaken in the name of democracy.
The problem now is that India’s relative silence on the Libyan intervention only emboldens those forces that hurt the image democracy of democracy despite acting in its name. India will soon likely have to take a stand on Iran – or will it just sit on the fence?
New Delhi supports interventions if there is international ‘due process.’ But as the Hindustan Times argues, India will have to decide ‘whether such intervention would help improve regional stability, would seek to measure popular support for such action and would consider the admixture of interests of nearby countries.’
The people of India want their government to speak their language, express their feelings and demonstrate the kind of national character that reflects the mood of a truly democratic India.