Wary of the likely fallout of the verdict sentencing former Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, to death for crimes against humanity, the government of India chose to react cautiously on Sunday, neither condemning nor condoning the verdict, but cautioning against what it termed victor's justice.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a brief, non-committal yet factual statement after deliberations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some senior officials earlier in the evening.
"We hope that this verdict will not add to the suffering of the people of Iraq," Mukherjee said in a statement issued late on Sunday by the Ministry of External Affairs. "Such life and death decisions require credible due process of law, which does not appear to be victor's justice and is acceptable to the people of Iraq as well as the international community," Mukherjee said.
The statement came shortly after the CPM politburo denounced the death sentence and demanded that the UPA government categorically condemn the “judicial travesty” and ``actively intervene'' to get the sentence “rescinded”. It also warned the US and UK governments that they would be responsible for all the consequences if the sentence — which it described as “judicial assassination” — was executed.
While the Left, with its anti-US stand, could be strident in its approach, the government sought to strike a fine middle ground while taking into account the country's geo-political reality so that it did not upset the Iraqi people, antoganise the shia community or disturb its relationship with the American administration, now delicately poised with the Indo-US nuclear deal waiting for the Senate's approval.
“There is a government in Iraq and we have to deal with it,'' said a former diplomat who keeps a close watch on the developments in the region. He added that though the occupation of Iraq was illegal, it had been legitimized with the UN Security Council's resolution.
The government is closely monitoring the aftermath of today's verdict, particularly the possibility of a fall out on the three million Indians in the Gulf region. While officials say they did not expect any adverse fallout, either on the Indians working there or on the muslim population within India, the Government will be under intense pressure.
But the Government's cautious approach may not satisfy the CPM and other Left parties that have demanded a strong reaction from the Centre. While the main Opposition party, the BJP, did not react to Sunday's developments, the Samajwadi Party is likely to make an issue of the death sentence and the manner in which the trial was conducted during the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh early next year.
The government appeared keen to not pass judgement on the internal judicial process of a sovereign state recognized by the United Nations. "We have seen reports that former President Saddam Hussain of Iraq has been sentenced to death by a Tribunal in Iraq. We understand that there is an automatic appeal procedure," Mukherjee said. His statement was echoed by AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi
India has welcomed the electoral process that brought the current administration in Baghdad to power, but, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the US decision to send troops to Iraq a "mistake," New Delhi has sought to stay away from any public debate on the internal strife within Iraq. "We have always stood for a peaceful resolution of the problems in Iraq," Mukherjee said.
That India has not withdrawn its advisory cautioning Indians to not travel to Iraq, despite the elections in early 2005, shows it remains seriously concerned about the law and order collapse in that country. The advisory was issued in 2004, after three Indian drivers were kidnapped and held hostage for weeks in Iraq before finally being released unharmed.