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LETTER FROM UK: How Low Has 'Great' Britain Fallen

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By Shastri Ramachandaran*

 If ever evidence was needed to show the West’s contempt for freedoms – except when it serves to advance its political, military and economic interests – it is overwhelmingly there in the hounding of Julian Assange.

It is indeed ironic that the 41-year-old founder of WikiLeaks should be persecuted unrelentingly by the very same western world which less than two years ago had mounted a campaign against China for worldwide freedom of the Internet. Never before has the Washington-led “free” world, now with the UK and Sweden in the forefront, sublimated all its power and authority to so terrorise an individual.

This is no different from the time when the West, after the demise of colonialism and faced with challenges to imperialism, propped up apartheid in South Africa as long as benefits outweighed costs.

Yet neither apartheid nor the imperial global order, which sustained it, could prevail against the rising tide of resistance mounted by the poorer, developing countries of the world.

Therein lies the lesson that for all its military superiority, when challenged on values of freedom, equality and democracy, the West can be forced to bow to the rest of the world.

Why then, one might ask, is an emerging global power such as India – which uncompromisingly supported struggles against colonialism, imperialism and apartheid — silent when Assange is being so ruthlessly terrorised by the West? In the past when India stood up to the West, it was a much poorer country, not wanted at the high tables nor wooed by the hegemons of the day.

Yet regardless of the political colour of the party in office – Congress, Janata, National Front-Left Front – and the ideological orientation of leaders, be it Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh or George Fernandes, India unfailingly stood up to support the oppressed and persecuted in other countries.

It is India’s history of standing up for peace, freedom and democracy that inspired Rajiv Gandhi to launch the AFRICA (Action for Resisting Invasion, Colonialism and Apartheid) Fund. He might have been politically naïve, but he was idealistic and his heart was in the right place on issues such as apartheid, disarmament and peace.

In choosing to be on the right side of history, India not only supported peoples’ struggles elsewhere but was also hospitable to those who took refuge here and resisted tyrannies in their home countries. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetans, of course, are the first who come to mind when we talk of people driven from their land and embraced by India.

India has also been home to refugees as well as valiant fighters for freedom from Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma and several African countries, including South Africa. The nation took pride in the fact that, while most western countries had come to terms with the Shah’s regime in Iran, in India, the Iranians were free to carry on their protests. Liberation movements, such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), had missions in Delhi supported by the state as well as bodies founded for solidarity.

India should offer Assange asylum

Traditionally, Europe was home to people fighting for freedom or fleeing persecution. Although Britain had colonies and supported apartheid regimes, people’s movements against these also operated out of London. It was only in the time of Thatcher and after, that Her Majesty’s Government started packing off human rights activists to suffer the tyranny of their oppressors at home.

At a time when London and Paris, for example, were favoured by most political exiles, a young BP Koirala chose Calcutta. Nepal’s struggle for democracy was waged from Indian soil by Koirala and others who would have been no less welcome in London or other western capitals.

This very Britain – home of the Magna Carta, fount of parliamentary democracy, crucible of multiculturalism, island of the free and fearless where colonial subjects launched freedom struggles against the Crown from its own soil, and much else – has now regressed to actively suppressing freedom of expression. It is home to codified discrimination and in the news for rolling back democratic freedoms and persecuting people for exercising their lawful rights.

Britain has turned diplomacy into an instrument of war by threatening to attack Ecuador’s embassy to capture Assange. How low has “Great” Britain fallen. At a less profound level, India has long back established its supremacy in the three things that Britain claimed as its own – the English language, the Westminster model and cricket.

In the emerging global order, where the contest for the top spot is perceived to be between the US, China and India, New Delhi should distinguish itself from authoritarian China and Anglo-American assaults on freedom.

As the home of the only true “Englishmen” and the best of “English values”, India should have been the refuge of choice for Julian Assange. If it is surprising that Assange did not ask New Delhi for asylum, it is even more surprising that India’s robust civil society and vibrant political classes did not make any overture to him with the promise of protection.

It is still not late for India and Indians to rally to the cause Assange represents. He deserves as much as, at least, Taslima Nasreen (a Bangladeshi author and former physician who has been living in exile since 1994). As a political trophy, he would be worth a lot more than the combined Olympic medal hauls of the UK, the US and, China.

* Shastri Ramachandaran is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator. This article first appeared in Daily News & Analysis and is being published by arrangement with the writer. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IDN editorial board.

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