Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brief stopover in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank has been hailed by parts of India’s media as “historic”. It is premised on what they tout as “the first ever Prime Ministerial visit to Palestine from India.”
Strangely, the media interest seems to be generated by a debate about whether Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to the Gaza Strip in 1960 qualified him to be the first serving Indian PM to go to Palestine. At the time, Nehru met with Indian troops deployed by the UN as a buffer following the 1956 Suez War between Egypt and Anglo-French-Israeli colonisers.
Whether Modi or Nehru was the first is actually beside the point. While some media houses in India may have reason to indulge in these irrelevant technical issues, the real story seems to have evaded them.
The surreal parallel in both visits is military control. In the case of Nehru’s trip it was related to the battle for the control of Egypt’s all-important Suez Canal. As for Modi, his visit to Ramallah required special clearance from the Israeli occupation forces to permit a Jordanian helicopter to fly him to the West Bank.
What’s more, “sitting on the fence” is described euphemistically as “neutrality”. Both administrations – Nehru’s and Modi’s – are guilty of this. Nowhere has this been more pronounced than in Palestine.
Nehru’s UN aircraft was nearly blown out of Gaza’s skies when Israel’s menacing fighter jets flew dangerously close. Though he said that the threat posed by Israel was “unwarranted”, it appeared to have ended there.
It is important to note that in 1960 India’s recognition of Israel as a state was a decade old; its recognition of Palestine only came along in 1988, almost three decades later. Fast forward another 30 years, and we find Narendra Modi’s bizarre trip marred by Israeli checkpoints and military control, of which he and his security detail would undoubtedly have been aware. Under such siege-like conditions, protocol took a backseat for he had to rely on a helicopter from a third country to fly him into Palestine. Equally bizarre, but not unexpected, has been the Indian Prime Minister’s muted acceptance of the apartheid conditions imposed on Palestinians by the settler-colonial Israeli regime.
Though it may surprise some people that an anti-colonial power such as India, which struggled long and hard to rid itself of the British Empire, would embrace Israeli colonialism just two years after the Zionist state declared its independence, in keeping with India’s inglorious record of betrayal of Palestine’s just cause, Modi’s subservience to Israel confirms it. This is the substance of the debate which India’s media seems to have evaded; the hasty recognition of Israel while the massacres and ethnic cleansing which accompanied the birth of the state still shocked the world.
To extend the debate further, does the number of times that India has voted against Israel at the UN constitute the only form of solidarity for victims of colonialism? The answer clearly is no, but recent conduct by the Modi government tells a different story. Cosying up to Israel’s right-wing terrorists in the Benjamin Netanyahu government and compromising the arts in the way that Bollywood producers and stars were manipulated recently – willingly or not – reflects the obnoxious conduct of a regime which is itself deeply implicated in gross human rights violations in occupied Kashmir.
Which brings me to the final point which the Indian media failed to tackle; India has pariah status in common with Israel. While the histories of the two countries are vastly different and conflict with their current alliance, does it not matter that both are headed by warmongers whose political careers have been defined by hate, intolerance and bloodshed?
India’s birth came about by the defeat of British colonialism. Israel, on the other hand, credits its birth to the success of its colonial project.
To add to the confusion arising from the reason and nature of Modi’s visit to Ramallah, an Indian Foreign Ministry official, Bala Bhaskar, made an equally perplexing announcement: “This is a stand-alone visit. We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive…”
“De-hyphenated”? This term is nothing more than an attempt to inject new adjectives into a narrative which leans towards the occupying power. Whether deliberate or not, it signals how blinded Modi’s India is. Palestinian ghettos – Bantustans in all but name – are a product of Israel’s fascist regime and to delink it from Zionism’s expansionist programme by using terms such as “de-hyphenated” is both cruel and dishonest.
It is quite disappointing that India, which boasts of a diverse and robust media, hasn’t displayed the aggressive journalism for which it is known. Being self-centred by focusing on and celebrating “friendship” with an apartheid regime – as many Indian media houses have done – is to confer legitimacy on Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinian people.
The expectation we have of India’s media is that it will dispense with irrelevant point-scoring about whether Nehru or Modi was the first Prime Minister to visit Palestine. Instead, the message ought to be that Modi’s biased policies in favour of Israel cannot be reconciled with India’s freedom struggle against British colonialism.