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Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

Posted January 27, 2009 | 10:41 AM (EST)

Apologia


Dear Friends,

Instead of an article this week, I'm issuing an apologia.

Several of you have written to me in response to my last column, syndicated around the world by Project Syndicate, which appeared under various titles written by assorted editors, including
"India's Israel envy". Many of you have read my article as endorsing Israel's military campaign in Gaza and deplored the article's apparent indifference to the humanitarian tragedy that followed.

I regret the misunderstanding of the intent and thrust of the piece, which was not written as a commentary on the conflict in Gaza. When I wrote the article I was thinking only about india/pakistan - the assault on Gaza had just begun when I put my fingers to the keyboard. (Though the Australian carried it on the 19th, and that was the link forwarded to you, the first paper to use the syndicated column was Beirut's Daily Star on the 8th). Obviously I had no sense at the time of writing of the scale of the israeli action that was to follow and the toll that would be taken in civilian lives. But in any case the article says India cannot, should not and would not do what Israel has done.

Some of you, from the opposite perspective, have written to point out that Israel did not act in haste but only after the 6000th rocket had fallen. To you too, I would repeat that my column was not about Israel, but about India, which in 2008 had already suffered more casualties to terrorism than any country other than Iraq.

The purpose of the column was to reflect - and deflect - some of the calls for military action that have enveloped middle-class India (and that will certainly explode if there is another terrorist attack of comparable scale). Anyone who has followed the public debate in India will confirm that I was amongst the first voices arguing against even limited "surgical" strikes on Pakistan, which many in the Indian media (and voluble members of the public) were calling for. Using the Israel parallel - at a time when my email inbox was brimming with messages of the "why can't we do the same as Israel?" variety - was just a way of bringing greater attention onto India's dilemma and its anguish, while arguing that there is no "Gaza option" for India.

Of course I should have realized that using an unfolding event as a peg would make my argument hostage to the way that situation evolved. Inevitably, some readers would judge the article in the light of what has happened in the two weeks after I wrote it. Had Israel taken out a few rocket sites and withdrawn in 3 or 4 days, as I had expected, perhaps the analogy would have seemed less offensive. But the article was always meant to be more about India's options than about Israel's actions.

Anyway, I am chagrined and chastened - and I intend in future to discuss each issue I tackle in its own terms, rather than draw analogies which only serve to obscure the point I was trying to make.

Shashi Tharoor