South Asia: Anti-Clinton protests suppressed

April 5, 2000


South Asia: Anti-Clinton protests suppressed

US President Bill Clinton's late March visit to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh was met with a barrage of protests from left and democratic forces resisting Washington's increased efforts to plunder the Indian subcontinent.

Clinton needed to befriend, and legitimise, the rulers of these countries, which include notorious anti-democratic regimes such as India's Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani General Pervaiz Musharraf's military dictatorship, which came to power through a coup in October.

Protests against this mutual back scratching were violently attacked by police; Clinton said not a word to defend the protesters' right of free speech.

Agitational campaigns had rolled across India before Clinton had even landed on March 19. His arrival was greeted by widespread effigy-burnings, organised mainly by student and youth organisations.

In Delhi, protesters managed to march along the capital's main streets despite a large police deployment. Clinton's effigy was burnt in front of the police headquarters, amidst militant chants of "Imperialist pirate, go back" and "Hobnobbing of BJP and Clinton is the instrument of national sell-out".


Clinton's 10-hour detour to Bangladesh the next day was greeted by a "black flag picket", organised by the Left Democratic Front, an alliance of left forces, which had already staged several demonstrations before Clinton's arrival. The March 20 protesters were baton-charged by police, resulting in many injuries.

The Bangladesh protests targeted Clinton's imperialist agenda in the country. A statement from the left Ganatantric Majdoor Party (Democratic Workers' Party) highlighted growing US interests in Bangladesh's rich gas and other natural resources and their lucrative exploration potential.

The statement also warned of the US threat to Bangladesh's ecology and environment. "In the name of high-breed seeds and the exporting of poisonous waste and fertilisers, [US multinational corporations] are devastating the agriculture of poor countries, including our own", the leaflet stated.

"Our seeds, fertilisers and agricultural inputs have come under increasing control of the American companies. The [non-government organisations] have joined hands with them, and Clinton is coming here to finalise this takeover", it continued.

Clinton's visit to Calcutta, West Bengal, on March 21 was met by large protests. According to a report of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML), the Left Front state government led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) let loose its police on the protesters, who savagely baton-charged them and fired tear-gas canisters at them. Many were injured and two dozen key activists were arrested and refused bail.


In Pakistan, Musharraf declared a blanket ban on all public protests shortly before Clinton's arrival. The Labour Party Pakistan was the only group which braved the ban on March 22, the day of Clinton's four-hour visit.

The offices of the LPP and homes of its leaders were raided shortly after the protest; most were able to narrowly escape arrest. Many democratic groups, trade unions and left organisations both within Pakistan and internationally have protested to Musharraf in the LPP's defence.

LPP general secretary Farooq Tariq told Green Left Weekly that the party had received 145 solidarity messages from around the world.

"It is pouring in every hour", Tariq said. "We would like to thank all the comrades who spread the news and wrote to the military general ... the LPP appeals to all our friends to keep the pressure up and demand [the] lifting [of] the ban on political activities."

Two days later, while its leaders in Lahore, in the north, were still in hiding, the LPP held a public meeting in Karachi, in the south, to oppose Clinton's visit.


On March 22, Clinton also went to Delhi to address the Indian parliament, but his speech was boycotted by the CPI-ML's only MP, Jayant Rongpi. Rongpi left parliament to help lead a highly militant protest nearby.

Blocked by 55,000 Indian police and more than 2000 US security and marine personnel, they were not allowed near the parliament building. The protest was able to break through the police barricades but many protesters were bashed, some sustaining serious injuries.

"The police tried to twist [CPI-ML general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya's] fingers while taking him [into] custody, when he barged into the police cordon", B. Sivaraman, a CPI-ML polit bureau member, told Green Left Weekly. Sivaraman himself sustained multiple blows while breaking through the cordon.

Sivaraman added, "In Andhra Pradesh, the police forcibly disembarked about 500 of our comrades from trains when they were proceeding for a protest march in Hyderabad ... and detained them for a day.

"Still, some managed to reach Hyderabad, which witnessed an impressive 10,000-strong rally jointly organised by 16 left parties and organisations."

Similar protests took place in many towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madras and Assam. In Kerala, in India's south, the CPI-ML Red Flag, one of India's many Marxist-Leninist groups, organised a "fairly successful" bandh (people's curfew).

In Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal and a high point of Clinton's holidaying, planned protests by were preempted by police raids and arrests. Protesters stepped up their defiance, hoisting black flags and black balloons from rooftops to greet the US president.

A joint statement by Clinton and Vajpayee at the end of Clinton's trip spoke openly of partnership — the BJP's increasing embrace of the US's "strategic interests" (on trade, investment and global policing) in South Asia in return for US approval of India's domineering role in the region and the BJP's Hindu fundamentalist agenda. About US$3 billion of business deals were sealed by US CEOs accompanying the President.

"Unlike other visiting leaders from the West, Clinton didn't shed many crocodile tears about [the] poverty and suffering of the mass of Indians. That India perhaps didn't exist for his entourage. Rather he was wooing the middle class, praising them for their self-confidence and [information technology] prowess", Sivaraman concluded.


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