November 16, 2000


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Ashok Mitra

Courting animosities

The feeling of enchantment has soared to ecstasy. We have entered into a very special relationship with the United States administration; President Bill Clinton's Happy Diwali greetings recently are resounding proof of that. The heartbeat of the US is our heartbeat; our heartbeat, goes the assumption, is theirs too.

With such as the credo and belief of our current rulers, certain things become easy to understand. France has raised its banner of revolt against the continued US policy of imposing severe trade restrictions on Iraq and the dictate that those who want to curry American favour must follow suit. The people of Iraq have been victims of indescribable suffering for one full decade. Now resentment is accumulating against this unfair regimen.

Apart from France's prime minister, the Venezuelan president has also cocked a snook at the US administration; with tremendous flourish, he flew into Baghdad to participate in a ticker-tape reception and announce his solidarity with the cause of the Iraqis.

India, the proud sponsor and main inspiration of the Non-Aligned Movement some decades ago, has, in contrast, kept mum. The erstwhile United Front government risked American ire to show at least a gesture of camaraderie toward Iraq. That is distant history.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government obviously considers outrageous a repetition of that kind of folly. Out, out, brief candle. Since the ongoing motto is to do as the Americans do, this change of stance was only to be expected.

Is there, though, something a bit more in what constitutes current Indian foreign policy? Please take into account the latest episode of gruesome aggression by Israel against Palestinians along the entire stretch of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Public opinion in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been incensed no end by reports of the nature of atrocities that are being perpetrated, so much so that the United Nations Human Rights Commission has been forced to have a discussion on the issue. Even more significantly, the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution condemning Israel and drawing the attention of the world to the barbarity unleashed against the people of Palestine.

Most of our neighbouring countries have been forthright in their support of the Palestinians. Sympathy has flowed in generous proportion for the afflicted people. The Government of India has, however, been extraordinarily mute in the matter; silence is golden, or so it has been concluded. Even that stooge of stooges, the Government of Saudi Arabia, has issued a communiqué not only lambasting Israel for its attacks but also severely criticising the US administration itself for its covert support to Tel Aviv. That too has not shamed us into committing indiscretion. We have continued to be demure. No disapproval of Israel has been voiced by New Delhi; admonishing the US is, of course, an undreamt-of proposition.

This is where a doubt sneaks in. Is it merely an endeavour to establish ourselves as the most loyal of American lackeys, or is there a more basic consideration at work? Can it be that the Hindutva psychosis has infiltrated into the arena of foreign policy too? We will in any circumstances be on the right side of the Americans, but perhaps the demonstration of subservience to American policy is also being further invigorated by a decision to combine it with a hatred of believers in Islamic tenets, which are regarded as a sworn adversary of Hindutva. We will not in any case lift even a little finger in sympathy with the Iraqi cause; for that nation is infested by Muslims.

A similar point of view on the Israel-Palestine imbroglio: forget the valour of the struggling Palestinian people, spanning more than half a century, in defence of their right to stay as sovereign entities in their own land. They deserve to be despatched to their fate, for they are heathens par excellence, and never mind whether the instrumentality for their execution be Israel or the US.

Not that either the Christians or the Jews are our particular friends; we will deal with them in due course. But for the present, the strategy of Hindutva, as it guides our external affairs, is to treat the enemy of our enemy as our chum; team up with the Americans and the Israelis to give a bloody nose to wherever those owing allegiance to Islam are concentrated. There are umpteen other reasons for loving the Americans; this is, however, a very special one.

The US is a superpower, in fact the only superpower left on earth. The Americans will therefore be able to take care of themselves even if, for argument's sake, the rest of the world turns against them. Should we, however, not be prepared to calculate where our long-term interests lie? Hindutva may be by axiom uber alles; does that automatically imply that we must court the animosity of certain countries? Such an attitude, and practice based on this attitude, can have awesome consequences. Just look across our borders.

Even apart from Pakistan, we have, within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation combine, such Muslim-dominated nations as Bangladesh and Maldive islands. Along the southeast Asia region, Malaysia and Indonesia too are predominately Muslim nations. And how can we ignore west Asia and north Africa, that vast continuous stretch of one Arab country after another, not only oil-rich but equally proud of their Islamic heritage.

A species of insanity is seemingly abroad, with some fundamentalists assuming that revolutionising domestic policy is not enough, the imprimatur of Hindutva must be impressed on India's foreign policy as well. We are not well-disposed towards China. If, on top of that, we actively cultivate unfriendliness with most of the countries that either surround us or are reasonably proximate to us, there could be a grave question mark over our ability to survive in a globalised economic system.

True, much of what has just been stated above may not yet have permeated into the corpus of the country's overall policy. In some spheres, though, image matters as much as substance. If the impression spreads that Hindutva is the motive force driving the New Delhi regime's urges and activities, India would increasingly be alienated from a significant number of countries. To cite an instance, the excessive complaints by BJP followers about alleged infiltration from Bangladesh have been mainly responsible for stoking the indignation of large sections in that country against India. This was altogether avoidable.

Perhaps the BJP has still a few sensible elements left in its fold who perceive the enormity of the danger the country faces from its more sectarian agenda and would do something about it. The party received less than 25 per cent of the votes cast in the last Lok Sabha election. It does not by any means have the mandate from the Indian electorate to do a drastic re-ordering of the country's foreign policy, effecting permanent damage to long-range national interests. The party has to rein itself in.

If this does not happen soon, the rest of the political parties owe it to the nation to come together on the issue. The protestations of the newly installed president of the BJP have a hollow ring; the party's cohorts are behaving in a manner that belies his supposedly filial ardour for the minority communities. To repeat, if foreign policy is to be built in the image of the party's domestic policy, it is going to be darkness at noon.

The Hindutva enthusiasts have not only alienated quite a few Islamic nations; they have gone some way to mess up our relations with the country described as the only Hindu kingdom in the world as well. Nepal has a Hindu king, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's zeal to regard the people of that country as part of the vishal Hindu fraternity has caused widespread anger there. The BJP has to, or has to be made to, pipe down, as much for the sake of the nation as for its own sake.

Ashok Mitra

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