by: Achin Vanaik
It was after the Cold War that the Indian establishment’s attitude to Palestine could not escape the impact of the overall lurch rightwards of the centre of gravity of the Indian polity. At home this has meant much greater accommodation towards— and acceptance of— Hindutva, which applauds Zionism.
Neither the Indian government, the ‘foreign policy establishment’, the strategic elite, the mainstream media, nor that broader category loosely termed as the Indian middle class are seriously bothered by the plight of the Palestinians, or at all interested in there being a truly just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
That Israel is a Jewish state, it says, should be welcomed and India should recognize that it is basically a Hindu nation requiring a representative Hindu state. Common to both Hindutva and Zionism is the belief that true democracy is majoritarian and must above all protect Hindus/Hinduism and Jews/Judaism respectively. It cannot and must not, therefore, assign full citizenship rights to other ethnic/religious groupings such as Muslims and Christians in India (Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are subsumed under the label of Hindu since they are faiths originating in a Hindu India) or to the Palestinians or “Israeli Arabs” as they are called in Israel.
The Hindutva are represented above all by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, comprising an estimated 2 million-cadre force organized in some 60,000 branches throughout the country. It also has its political-electoral wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as a host of other organizational offshoots. The RSS-BJP posit as their hostile and dangerous ‘other’ the Muslims, while for Israel it is the Palestinians, mostly Muslim but also Christian. Hindutva thus sees an emotional-ideological affinity between itself and Zionism.
Complementing this presumed cultural affinity between Hindutva and Zionism are the new post-Cold War era strategic compulsions and realignments. Whether the BJP or the Congress Party reigns at the centre— independently or in a coalition— both are committed to deepening the India-Israel-US alliance. After the 2009 Indian elections, the current Congress-led ruling coalition will continue on this path.
Israel is now the second largest supplier of military equipment to India (after Russia, which might well be permanently overtaken in due course by both Israel and the US) and India is now Israel’s biggest arms purchaser. In New Delhi, Israel is seen as a key conduit for influencing the US government, which while seeking to consolidate its strategic partnership with India also— to the irritation of India— feels the need to sustain its strategic ties with Pakistan.
In the US much of the politically active Indian diaspora believes that it must emulate and work with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) if it is to establish a powerful and organized lobby in the elite decision-making circles that count in Washington. High-level representatives of both the BJP and the Congress Party have thus made it a point to visit Tel Aviv and to meet AIPAC leaders in the US. In addition, India and Israel are now collaborating ever more closely on anti-terrorism.
India makes occasional noises about Palestinian suffering along with mildly worded criticisms about Israel, but Tel Aviv knows these are pro-forma objections that mean little to nothing. With regard to the Palestinian struggle for justice, India— like the EU— will do two things: it will throw money to Palestinian agencies and pay lip service to its cause. Nothing more. The predominating view in India is, ‘why should India be more pro-Palestinian than the Arab governments whom subordinate that cause to their own interests?’
So why should India not pursue its perceived national interests, which geopolitically means forging a strategic link with Israel and the US? Some argue that the traditionally non-aligned Indian national interest lay elsewhere— and that there are similarities between the plight of the Palestinians and another long-suffering people.
To wit, connect the Dalit upsurge in India to the solidarity movement for Palestine. Racism must be understood in broader terms as encompassing various forms of exclusionist ideologies founded not just on biologically or physically determined markers, but also on cultural ones. Thus cultural identity markers, when used for the purposes of institutionalized discrimination, are also to be seen as forms of racist injustice. Both casteism and Zionism come into this category of culturally based discriminations. You do not have to be a Palestinian to empathize with the Palestinian cause. Palestinians are fighting for much more than just their national liberation; they are fighting for progressives everywhere.
Achin Vanaik is a Professor of International Relations and Global Politics in the Political Science Department of Delhi University.