A video news report last week from Israel on the Voice of America speaks of the Israeli Builders’ Association asking their government for permission to bring 100,000 workers from India to replace the Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank whose work permits have been terminated.
We can be sure the government of India, anxious as it is to “#Stand with Israel” on anything and everything, will jump at the invitation when it comes, unmindful of what it signals to the Palestinians, and unconcerned as it is about the bombs raining on Gaza and the hundreds of children being killed every day.
From the government of India’s point of view, the Palestinians are now expendable and will only be given lip-service support. This is a long journey from the time India was a strong ally of the Palestinians, right from 1948 when Israel was created and Palestinians were driven from their homelands.
From the very first reaction after the Hamas attack on Israel (the Prime Minister expressing India’s stance on Twitter/X of all places), to the token mention of support to the two-state solution, to India abstaining from a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a cease-fire, the government of India has shown that in its aspiration to be global power it will stay as close as possible to the US – and Israel – couching its arguments as a position against terrorism.
The token dispatch by India of relief material on a single Indian Air Force flight to Egypt, for onward shipment to the Rafa border in late October is just that – a token.
Call it whatever the policy-makers on strategy call it, realism or neo-realism, great power ambitions or delusion, this is an India that has now emptied a little more of its soul. If it was bad enough that the government has taken a callous position, it would seem that Indian public opinion amplifies this position. It is by and large the least concerned about the mayhem that is being wreaked on Gaza. If anything it actively supports Israel’s war.
When a few people’s groups try to publicly express their opposition to the war, they are not allowed to. In keeping with the environment of a disregard for the fundamental right to expression that now pervades the country, the government of India stand on the war has been turned into a prohibition on showing solidarity with Palestine.
Police across the country – Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and even Opposition-ruled Bengaluru and Kolkata – have refused permission for public protests against the attacks on Gaza. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has said that no protests against the official position of the government of India will be allowed.
Such public protests are prohibited because they are said to pose a danger to “communal harmony”. Yet, since the day of the Hamas attack on October 7, social media has seen an explosion of Islamophobic posts by Indians. With a nod and a wink from the “IT cell”, as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s social media wing is called, the government’s stand has been converted by social media warriors into hate towards Palestine. The Palestinian cause is seen as an Islamist cause, and therefore we must support Israel lest we are also overrun by Hamases of our own. There is a complete conflation of domestic Islamophobia with Israel’s war against the people of Gaza.
It has been noted worldwide that the most virulent of Islamophobic posts since the war began have come from India. These are the same groups who express an admiration for Hitler, which makes Mein Kampf popular in India, a book now joined in bookshops by Gopal Godse’s Why I killed Gandhi. There is no irony here; it is all the same world-view. The nature of the Islamophobia of Indians has even horrified some Israelis who have said they can do without the support of Indians in their war.
Should we be surprised by any of this? No, we should not be. We are now an India that is seeing more and inequality even as it gawking with wonder at the prospect of becoming the second or third largest economy, whatever and whenever – even as we remain in the bottom third on the United Nations Development Programme’s country-wise ranking of human development (132rd among 191 countries, if we care).
The well-off are the least concerned about the marginalised, the discriminated and the economically poor. The insensitivity is now most marked towards the religious minorities and it remains masked behind a barely controlled anger about constitutional protections to the Dalits and Adivasis. The same insensitivity spreads to attitudes towards people in the rest of the world; that India’s expanding gross domestic product and wooing by the US makes us exceptional. Why should we even be bothered about the sufferings elsewhere in the world; we must look after ourselves because our time has come.
Our sense of empathy is being eroded, not bit by bit but by a tidal wave of bigotry and a sense of superiority among the rich and middle classes. Now, with a government and public callousness towards Palestine, a little more of India’s soul has got washed away.
(By the way, since the current global touchstone for expressing your views on Palestine is about where one stands on the Hamas attack of October 7, I am supposed to first express my views. Here it is: it was a horrific and inhuman savaging of civilians, which must be condemned without qualification.)
C Rammanohar Reddy is the Editor of The India Forum.