With Narendra Modi’s ‘ground-breaking visit’ to Israel, India seems to have traversed the distance of 70 years and bypassed a long history of standing by the dispossessed Palestinians in the blink of an eye. As a beaming and effusive Netanyahu put it, after hugging the guest for the sixth time, Israel has been waiting for this moment for 70 years. And who better to accomplish this task than the man who has made a tradition of breaking with all hallowed traditions?
With his eventful past, it is but natural that Modi should enjoy the distinction of becoming the first Indian leader to visit Israel, overturning the historical policy of solidarity with Palestinians.
Long before Israel was carved out of Palestinian land, leaders of India’s freedom movement batted for the Palestinians. As early as November 26, 1938, when Western powers were laying the groundwork for Israel, Gandhi wrote in his journal Harijan: “My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine.
“Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What’s going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.”
Although Israel soon became a reality, India continued this unequivocal support for the Palestinians under Nehru and even under his daughter Indira Gandhi till her assassination in 1984. Owing to this vocal support, Yasser Arafat used to frequently visit India rather than his fellow Muslims next door in Pakistan. Few may know that Nehru even travelled to Gaza in 1960 to visit Indian and UN troops based in the Gaza Strip and also as a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians.
All that is history now. Under Modi, India couldn’t be a more different country. The world has moved on. Today, the secular, socialist and democratic republic of Gandhi and Nehru has never been closer to the Zionist, apartheid Israel.
Under Modi, India has given an elaborate burial to the policy of paying lip service to the Palestinian cause. Since India established full diplomatic relations with Israel under Narasimha Rao in 1992, Delhi has tried to strike a semblance of balance between romancing Tel Aviv and keeping the Palestinians in good humour with perfunctory visits to the Palestinian side. Modi is breaking away with that tradition by skipping Ramallah as a message to his hardline constituency back home.
Having visited some Gulf states in the past few years and establishing a good rapport with their leaders, he isn’t too worried about upsetting the Islamic world. Besides, Israel is too important right now to fuss over such diplomatic niceties. Of course, there is an economic and strategic side to this relationship. Eyeing the world power status, India has been on an unprecedented shopping spree for the world’s finest and fiercest weapons. Indeed, the Gandhian nation is the world’s largest importer of arms right now, even though nearly half of its population still struggles below poverty line and yearns for the basics like water, healthcare, education and electricity.
Israel has been one of India’s largest suppliers of arms – many of them US-made and provided with the help of the US taxpayers’ money – after Russia and the US. Of course, Washington looks the other way. Thanks to those exports to India, Israel has been earning more than a $1 billion annually in addition to the vast military and economic aid that it receives from the US. Israel offered arms as well as strategic expertise during India’s wars with Pakistan –and not just in Kargil.
For years, the Israelis have been training Indian forces and intelligence agencies in fighting ‘Islamic militancy’, given their vast experience of ‘dealing’ with the Palestinians. Over the years, visits by top Indian security and intelligence officials as well as their political masters to Israel have been frequent and are hardly a secret.
It’s not just the elite of the security establishment who have been besotted with the Zionist regime that has terrorised the larger Muslim neighbourhood with its US-funded arsenal and deadly firepower. It is widely known that Hindutva has been inspired by the Nazis and Mussolini’s Fascists. The extermination of Jews at the hands of Hitler has long been idealised by the Sangh as the ‘final solution’ to deal with India’s own minorities. This hasn’t in any way dampened the love affair between Hindutva and Zionism. Indeed, the Hindutva ideologues have long admired Israel, hoping to replicate its apartheid model of the supremacy of one religion and culture. As Anilesh S Mahajan has argued, Israel is everything that the RSS has wanted India to be since long and Modi is making it happen.
This is why this government has been in bed with Israel – the last symbol and vestige of colonial tyranny and apartheid – ignoring the close relations that India has historically enjoyed with the Arab world. The region is home to around 10 million Indian workers who contribute more than $35 billion annually in foreign remittances to the economy. In addition, it’s not Israel but the UAE and Saudi Arabia (second and third, respectively) that are India’s largest trading partners after the US. Yet successive governments have increasingly hobnobbed with Israel, ignoring its abominable crimes against humanity and long history of persecuting the Palestinians.
There are many parallels between Hindutva and Zionism. If the Israelis have found and invented new ways of humiliating and dehumanising Palestinians in what little remains of their own land over the past seven decades and more, Hindutva has been looking to reclaim the imagined ‘Akhand Bharat’ by cleansing it of the people it has always considered to be ‘impure’ and ‘invaders’.
If the Israelis have been shooting down Palestinians like flies at the ubiquitous check posts under some pretext or the other, the Hindutva zealots have been going on a rampage since Modi came to power, lynching Muslims in the name of the cow and other such excuses. There is an unholy nexus between two ideologies of hate. Joining forces with the US neo-cons, it is a powerful axis, which is united in its visceral hatred of Islam and has long plotted against its followers. Now with power in its hands, it is totally out of control. Look at the chaos and turmoil that it has unleashed in India.
This is an alarming state of affairs, to say the least. It’s even more so considering those at the receiving end seem so disorganised and oblivious to the spectre. The Muslim world, preoccupied with its own internecine conflicts and domestic economic issues, is indifferent to the clear and present danger. The opposition in India is in total disarray and appears incapable of taking on the growing menace of Hindutva.
But doing nothing is no option. We must all resist these tendencies in our own small ways and continue to work for a global alliance of peace and justice against the forces of darkness. The price of inaction is peril.