W. Asia: Looking at the big picture

Those who imagine that the scheduled debate in Parliament on the hostilities in Gaza stemmed from a heartfelt desire of concerned MPs to avert a ‘humanitarian tragedy’ are either being wilfully naïve or plain disingenuous. Under the guise of tear-jerking speeches, the debating chambers will echo a narrow, sectarian rhetoric aimed at a purely domestic audience.

It is time to stop skirting the real issue. The 2014 general election was a turning point in more than one way. Apart from the fact that an avowed non-Congress party secured a clear majority, the election verdict indicated the limits of ‘secular’ scare-mongering. The results clearly suggested that no group or community can exercise a permanent veto over which party and which leader has the right to run a government at the Centre. The victory of the BJP-led NDA exposed the popular impatience with a spurious secularism based on manipulating the fears and vulnerabilities of India’s Muslim citizens.

For both, the so-called secular parties and the custodians of ghetto politics, the clear mandate for Narendra Modi and the BJP was a monumental setback. The orchestrated furore over India’s alleged insensitivity to what a senior Trinamool Congress MP bizarrely described as Israel’s “genocide” against the Palestinian people is the first serious attempt to get over the post-election demoralisation and reclaim lost ground. It is a calculated attempt to inform the Modi dispensation that while it may have a functioning majority, their veto is still intact.

For understandable reasons, the Modi government may be anxious to minimise the confrontation with the opposition, particularly in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have a working majority. However, this is no reason for the government to be unmindful of the political-ideological challenge that has been thrown by parties that are unable to break out of the mould of sectarian politics.

What is interesting is that the challenge is brazen and with little attempt to conceal its real nature. The Israeli retaliation to the 1,200 or so rocket attacks on its citizens was not against some benign, if helpless, Palestinian dispensation. It was directed at an administration controlled by Hamas, an organisation that has consistently shunned all peace initiatives and is committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. Inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the Hamas is a radical Islamist body that invokes revulsion in other parts of West Asia and is both feared and despised by the more legitimate Palestinian Authority operating from the West Bank. Hamas does not merely threaten the security of Israel, it has the potential to destabilise the neighbouring Arab states of the region. To convey any sense of sympathy with its political goals and war aims is reprehensible. Even by the dubious standards of the selective ‘morality’ of the Israel-haters, Hamas is beyond the pale. India must not be seen to have any truck with it.

If a parliamentary debate on the situation in West Asia is now a given, it is important that the government side enlarges its scope beyond the national boundaries of Israel and the embryonic Palestinian state.

First, the threat Hamas poses to the lives of Israeli citizens cannot be seen in isolation. From India’s perspective, it is also linked to the establishment of the ISIS-run Caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. To view the emergence of one mysterious Caliph al-Baghdadi as yet another manifestation of warlordism may well turn out to be correct, especially if the ISIS challenge is repelled by the legitimate government of Iraq. However, for the moment, the importance of the ISIS Caliphate is not on account of its bid to turn back the clock of history, but on account of the hold the promise of a pan-Islamic empire has for many thousands of impressionable youth.

For the moment, going purely by the extremely conservative estimates of India’s intelligence community, there are 18 known Indian nationals who are helping ISIS go on a bloody rampage. However, there are fears that the numbers could be much higher. Certainly, if the 200 or so British Muslims of subcontinental origin who have joined al-Baghdadi’s jihad are factored in, there are strong grounds for anticipating a potential threat to internal security. Another wave of Islamist radicalism, targeting the ‘unbelievers’, seems to be on the cards. At this juncture, the last thing India needs is an onrush of romantic infatuation with Hamas terrorists, with whom ISIS has an implicit commonality of interests.

The sponsors of the parliamentary debate will be anxious to limit their focus to painting Israel in the darkest of colours and demanding that relations with Jerusalem be downgraded. Since the target audience of a parliamentary debate is the whole country, it would be of immense value if Indian nationalists ensure that the contours of the larger threat emanating from an unstable region be clearly drawn.

Secondly, a debate must end the spurious suggestion that the national consensus is decisively ranged against Israel. It is not. Israel has far more friends in India than TV anchors and left-leaning foreign policy correspondents realise. This friendship is partly based on the admiration of a people that has struggled and achieved in the face of colossal adversities and deep prejudice. Equally, it is also centred on an increasingly deepening bilateral relationship whose full details are best understated. Israel is a friend of India and more mindful of our larger strategic interests than the entire OIC.

It is time that some of us flaunt our partiality for Israel. And this parliamentary debate may be as good an occasion as any to stand by real friends.

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