India has not only changed domestically, its foreign policy has also taken a 180-degree turn.
The country has left its non-aligned days far behind. It’s now taking stands in favour of states indulging in outright brutality: abstaining from the Palestinian cause; abstaining from the vote on Myanmar.
Why this silent support to a country that is bombing the hell out of the Arabs? And another that has killed its Muslim residents with impunity, and is now firing the daylights out of its own unarmed citizens who are fighting for democracy?
Is India hoping to get the same response from these countries, if the need arises?
Will India Gain From Supporting the Junta?
It is often said that there are no permanent friends or foes in international relations. The only friend is one’s own strategic interest.
So let’s look at how helping the Myanmar military junta will help India. It’s not as if the Rohingya Muslims, who were killed and driven out of Myanmar were helping anti-Indian insurgent groups that had hideouts in Myanmar. It was actually the Myanmar government and its army that has been clandestinely allowing anti-India insurgent groups to operate there and continue their insurgency in the north-eastern states of Nagaland and Manipur.
So much so that the Indian Army had to undertake a cross-border operation inside Myanmar to destroy an insurgent group’s hideouts in 2015.
India Should Set an Example
India is the biggest democracy in the world. It’s high time it provides leadership and inspiration to other countries that are struggling with autocracy.
In Myanmar, the elected government was overthrown in a coup in February. And the army, which has suspended the constitution, has crossed all limits of brutality against its own countrymen who are protesting to bring back democracy. Unarmed demonstrators have been shot at with impunity killing more than 800 till now. How can any country condone this? But India has! By abstaining from the vote at the United Nations General Assembly to delegitimize Myanmar military junta and to prevent the flow of arms to them.
The other two countries that did the same were China and Putin’s Russia.
The Evolution of India-Palestine-Israel Relations
As far as Palestine is concerned, India was an all-weather friend. Yasser Arafat had ensured that.
At the time when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was an anti-India pro-Pakistan front, especially after India had helped the creation of Bangladesh by defeating Pakistan in a war, it was Arafat, and his influence with the other Arab nations that ensured no anti-India resolutions were passed at OIC meets.
On Kashmir, too, it was Arafat, who called Indira Gandhi his sister, who ensured that Pakistan was never allowed to browbeat other Muslim nations to pass anti-India resolutions. India, in return, always recognised the legitimacy of the aspirations of Palestine.
But, it’s always been different whenever BJP has been in power. I remember when Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani had visited Israel in the year 2000—when I was covering that visit for New Delhi Television—Advani also clearly believed that Israel and India were natural allies and trade between the two nations had begun to pick up. However, India also made sure that Yasser Arafat was also kept happy by Advani paying him a visit in Gaza.
Business, Economics Govern Relations with Israel & Palestine
Gradually, India has become Israel's second-largest trading partner, while India is Israel's largest arms market. Now it’s business and economics that rule nations’ relationships with each other. Despite that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the West Bank in February 2018 was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Palestinian Territories.
However, this time it’s different.
It was not just a skirmish at Al Aqsa Mosque or Hamas firing indigenously made rockets at Israel, or Israel Air Force jets pounding Gaza Strip, which is probably the most densely populated area of the world.
It was a fight between David and Goliath; 277 Palestinians died including 59 children. The toll on the other side was 12, including two children.
The world needed to get together quickly to stop the bloodbath in Gaza and Israel; Hamas needed to be reined in. Benjamin Netanyahu, who was fighting a losing electoral battle at home needed to be stopped. But the US, the all-weather friend of Israel, kept vetoing resolutions at UNGA on ceasefire. Three in a week!
Allegedly the US is planning to sell $735 million worth of precision-guided bombs to Israel.
After 11 days, the conflict ended and the bombing stopped.
The UN Human Rights Council brought in a resolution called - ‘Ensuring respect for international human rights law and humanitarian law in Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem and in Israel’, to probe alleged crime during the Gaza conflict. India - along with 13 others - abstained while 24 voted in favour and nine against it.
And that hurt the Palestinians.
Palestine Foreign Minister Dr Riad Malki wrote to India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, that the “Republic of India missed an opportunity to join the international community at this turning point, both crucial and long overdue, on the path to accountability, justice and peace.”
It’s well known that Bibi, as Benjamin Netanyahu is endearingly called, is a dear friend of our Prime Minister. But some issues should be sacred.
Especially those dealing with human rights violations. And what happened in the Gaza Strip and what is still happening in Myanmar has to be condemned, unequivocally, by all. The Indian government will earn the respect of its own people if it stands with those who are underdogs and are at the receiving end of mindless violence.
(Sanjay Ahirwal is a former managing editor at NDTV Worldwide and is currently heads the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Apeejay Stya University, Gurugram. He tweets at @ahirwal. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)