Minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj displayed a cool attitude as the discussion on the Israeli attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip, scheduled to be of half-an-hour stretched to over two-and-half-hours, from noon till a little over three in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. Then she replied to the discussion saying that it would have been better if the opposition had demanded a ceasefire and an end to the killings instead of demanding a resolution condemning Israel. She said that she would go with the Leftist poet Sahir Ludhianvi's poem against war, quoted by Nationalist Congress Party's Majid Memon, and she quoted another quatrain from the poet, condemning war and violence.
She also defended party colleagues Amit Dalve and Tarun Vijaya who tried to circumvent the debate on Palestine by indulging in generalisations, and said that the NDA government was not dealing with foreign policy issues from a communal angle. She reminded the opposition that she got out 40 Indians who were in a Saudi prison, and they were all Muslims, on an urgent basis, as she did in the case of Indian nurses stranded in Iraq, many of whom were Christians from Kerala. She said that when an Indian was abroad in trouble, it was the Indian citizen and not his or her religion that mattered. She was countering the innuendo that the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would display majoritarian bias.
That was the rhetorical part and it would have seemed that the Modi government was using every ruse to avoid condemning Israel. She went over the facts of the case, and she defended the government's engagement with the issue as could be seen in the BRICS declaration which squarely condemned Israeli aggression, and she cited a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs which was critical of Israel's disproportionate use of violence against civilians in Gaza.
Then she recapitulated the situation on ground in Gaza. She said, and without comment, that Israel-Palestine Authority under Mahmoud Abbas broke down after Hamas and Palestine Authority came together in the wake of Saudi Arabia's mediation and what came to be known as unity talks. After hostilities broke out, Egypt had convened a meeting with the two wings of Palestine and Israel, and urged a ceasefire.
Israel accepted it but Hamas did not. She said that all the Arab governments were for a permanent ceasefire.
She told the House that India contributes $20 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority and $1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which works exclusively for Palestinian refugees.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, opening the debate, said that if the House had discussed the issue last week then it would have been the case that India was the first to react. Congress' deputy leader Anand Sharma made much of whether the issue of Palestine came up during the bilaterals with China and Russia on the sidelines of the BRICS summit. CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury wanted that India temporarily suspend its defense purchases from Israel. All of the Opposition parties insisted that there be a resolution condemning Israeli aggression.
Swaraj said that the rule under which the discussion took place did not allow for a resolution. Deputy chairman PJ Kurien said that the rule did not allow for a resolution but if there is a consensus in the House, then a resolution could be moved and adopted. The government refused, and the opposition staged a walk out.