Old-timers would remember the iconic photograph of then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hugging the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The venue was New Delhi's newly renovated Vigyan Bhawan. The event was the Non-Alignment Summit. The year, 1983. Exactly 31 years later, it is not just Arafat and Indira Gandhi who are long dead but also the tight hug of comradeship and empathy between India and Palestine. Instead, India today is in bed with the biggest bully of the modern era, the world's only real apartheid state, Israel. The mammoth war crimes committed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza in the last several weeks that have left nearly 2,000 people dead, most of them women and children, has been a moment of shame and disaster for India, whose government refused to allow a discussion in Parliament on the illegal war.
To be sure, it would be unfair to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government alone for turning India's back on the cause of Palestinian freedom. As I have been writing and saying for many years, nothing differentiates the Congress party and the BJP from each other in their cynical and shameless subservience to the god of mammon, as reflected in New Delhi's abject sycophancy of the United States. My first passport issued in 1989 stipulated that it was valid for every country on the planet except the apartheid Republic of South Africa, which was then boycotted globally except by the US and the UK, and Israel. It was in 1993 that India's then Prime Minister, the late PV Narasimha Rao, began partial diplomatic relations with Israel which were later upgraded to full relations by the BJP's earlier Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India's embrace of Tel Aviv is difficult to comprehend and accept not just from moral, ethical and ideological standpoints but also entirely from the point of its national interests, including economic, and its internal and external security. Israel is a tiny nation of just 6 million people and is thousands of miles removed geographically from India. Its only role in India's political economy lies in supplying weaponry and a promise of non-defense technological support. Of course, Israel's Zionist leadership and its international sponsors in West Europe and North America — or across the world in the form of international finance capital — have much greater muscle than that country's tiny size and population suggest and warrant.
The fact is that India's ruling crony-capitalist clique, regardless of which party or government is in power, is very much a part of the international setup that seeks to undermine peoples' movements and democratic foundations to line up their pockets. In short, Israel provides the perfect landscape for India's dubious business and political elite to network globally. Of course, it helps that the Palestinians are Muslims, that the Middle East itself is overwhelmingly Muslim, from whom a majority of India's upper and middle class opinion-making and -influencing classes have deep-seated hatred that is owed to nothing but irrational medieval bigotry.
What these middle and upper classes, whose understanding of geopolitics and its framework is even less than their understanding of domestic socio-political compulsions, don't understand is that siding with Israel is not just showing their middle finger to the Muslim Arabs and Palestinians but also a pointless exercise with only losses and no gains. For one, the Arabs have had no history of hatred towards India. On the contrary, except for Pakistan and perhaps Bangladesh, it would be difficult to find Muslims in other lands who have any reason to dislike India and Indians. Even geopolitically, the Muslim world has largely fought off attempts by Pakistan to corner India on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. India's historical, economic, cultural and political ties with West Asia and other Muslim countries have always been of camaraderie. On the other hand, the western powers have always had an exploitative approach towards India, as much in the era of globalization as they were in their imperial and colonizing past.
It is a pity that while an increasing number of countries across the world are denouncing Israel, India is seen to be standing by the criminal regime at Tel Aviv. India's continued support to Israel can only lead to New Delhi's diminished soft power, if it ever held any.