November 29 marks the doleful 69th anniversary of the UN resolution in 1947 that led to the partition of Palestine and the inauguration of a never-ending conflict in West Asia. Having herself been the victim of Partition but a few weeks earlier, living through the horrors of that vivisection, India voted against the November 29 resolution partitioning Palestine and creating the new state of Israel on Palestinian soil. We were the only non-Arab, non-Muslim country to do so. A grateful Palestine has stood rock-solid with us as we have with them — until the advent of the Modi regime.
Now, on two crucial resolutions, one in the UN Human Rights Commission dealing with Israeli violations of international humanitarian law in the Occupied Territories, particularly East Jerusalem and Gaza, and another in the UN General Assembly six weeks ago, India has abstained on resolutions exposing the barbarities of the Israeli establishment.
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The UNHCR resolution specifically referred to Israel’s “extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius”. The world was so horrified by this barbarous assault on an entire people that many Western countries, hitherto unquestioning in their solidarity with Israel, began asking questions. At precisely this juncture, the Modi government moved in the opposite direction and abstained. We have done this again in the UN General Assembly vote in October.
A huge majority of the UN membership voted for the resolutions; a tiny number opposed it. Shamefully, India, which had been at the vanguard of the global struggle to restore to the cruelly displaced Palestinians their human rights, has, by abstaining, shied away from taking a stand. It has thus isolated itself from its natural partners in the Arab world and the Non-Aligned Movement.
This is because Modi is fascinated with Israel. He loves its militaristic character. He identifies with its communal, anti-Muslim nature. He brushes aside the atrocities the Israeli state has inflicted on hapless Palestinians for the best part of the last seven decades. He enthusiastically approves of the idea of a “Jewish” homeland even as he espouses a “Hindu” homeland in India. He has just demonstrated through the amendments moved by his government to the Citizenship Act, 1955, his cherished ideal of India as the “natural home” of Hindus (which, of course, implies that India is the “unnatural home” of Muslims and other minorities).
So too has Israel relentlessly pursued the majoritarian path, privileging the Jewish majority, whatever the discrimination against the Arab minority within its boundaries and the continuing exclusion it is inflicting on Palestinians driven out of their millennial homeland. Modi deeply empathises; his goals for India are similarly majoritarian. The difference is that what Modi dreams of, the Israelis actually do. The example Israel sets inspires the sangh parivar. As the Israelis have translated Zionism’s philosophy into a Jewish state, in India, Modi and his ilk hope to translate Hindutva’s philosophy into a Hindu state. This is the diametric opposite of what India has championed for close to a century, summed up in Mahatma Gandhi’s celebrated declaration: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England to the English and France to the French.”
India was appointed to two UN committees that considered Palestine’s future at the termination of the British mandate after World War II. While initially a majority of members were against the partitioning of Palestine, the US and the Soviet Union leaned so heavily on governments of member-states of the committees that the majority shifted to the unholy combination between the two powers — who disagreed on everything else, but were united in their resolve to divide Palestine to grant Israel a Jewish homeland.
India alone held out. There was consistency between what we said in committee and how we voted on November 29, 1947. A few days later, Nehru explained that negative vote to the Indian Parliament. He argued that India did not believe partition to be any solution and urged that Palestine be jointly inhabited by Jews and Arabs, each community having its respective autonomous region within a common state, running the federation on a democratic basis. This, he foretold, would facilitate a gradual dissolution of the communal divide between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine, leading eventually to a common destiny for both.
Although P.V. Narasimha Rao (with Yasser Arafat’s consent) departed from the Indian stand of not according full diplomatic relations to Israel, India continued to be at the forefront of support to the Palestinian cause, even after establishing full ambassadorial-level relations with Tel Aviv. Indeed, Vajpayee as PM rejected the Israeli request that India declare Hamas and Hizbollah “terrorist” organisations. All that changed in 2014 after the inauguration of the Modi government.
It is such inhumane, merciless acts of the Israelis that Modi had in mind when he described our “surgical strike” of September 29, 2016 as demonstrating that what we did was comparable to what the Israelis have been doing. In one unguarded moment, Modi revealed what his government wishes to do is emulate Israel. Such extolling of brutal Israeli action has now been further endorsed by India abandoning its traditional positive vote for Palestine and taking to abject abstention. The cleavage between Nehru and Modi is clear. There is no space left now for morality in the formulation of foreign policy.