Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support for Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country is at war with Hamas following the massive attack on Israel contradicts India’s long-standing foreign policy of solidarity with the Palestinian cause. By supporting only Israel and not the Palestinian people who are now being relentlessly bombed in Gaza, and not even making a token appeal for restraint and a ceasefire, he negated the vision of support to the Palestinian cause articulated by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru when India was fighting for freedom. That vision was articulated by successive prime ministers from Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
In his interview published in the Jewish Chronicle on October 2, 1931, Gandhi famously said, “Zionism meaning reoccupation of Palestine has no attraction for me… I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain.”
Seven years later on November 26, 1938 he emphatically wrote in Harijan, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.” “It is wrong and inhuman,” he stated, “to impose the Jews on the Arabs.” “Surely,” he sharply remarked, “it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.” “This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.”
Nehru on June 13, 1936, in a press statement on the April 1936 revolt in Palestine against British imperialism, condemned it for creating a state for Jews in the Palestinian territory. He sympathised with the Jews and presciently observed, “A new state within a state was sought to be created in Palestine, an ever-growing state with the backing of British imperialism behind it, and the hope was held out that this new Jewish state would, in the near future, become so powerful in numbers and in economic position that it would dominate the whole of Palestine.” According to him, the Arabs viewed it as British imperialism’s ploy to make the Arab-Jew problem a permanent obstacle to their independence. Therefore, he categorically said, “The problem of Palestine is thus essentially a nationalist one — a people struggling for independence against imperialist control and exploitation… It is not a racial or religious one.” Observing that, “Perhaps some of our Muslim fellow countrymen extend their sympathy to the Arabs because of the religious bond,” he affirmed, “But the Arabs are wiser and they lay stress only on nationalism and independence, and it is well to remember that all Arabs, Christian as well as Muslim, stand together in this struggle against British imperialism.” He then remarked, “If the Jews had been wise, they would have thrown in their lot with the Arab struggle for independence.” “Instead,” he said with anguish, “they have chosen to side with British imperialism and to seek its protection against the people of the country…”
Those observations of Nehru assume significance in the context of some Hindutva forces distorting the Israel-Hamas conflict by employing Hindu-Muslim binaries.
That vision of Gandhi and Nehru shaped during the freedom struggle guided our policy towards Israel and our support to the Palestine cause. India under Nehru voted against the partition of Palestine and Israel’s admission to the UN but recognised Israel in 1950 after Turkey and Iran did so. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister carried forward India’s solidarity for the Palestinian struggle and recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of Palestine. She upgraded the PLO office in Delhi to that of an embassy, enjoying all diplomatic immunities and privileges. She forged strong ties with Yasser Arafat and in the NAM summit hosted by India in 1983, she reiterated that solidarity with Palestine. Rajiv Gandhi continued that policy towards Palestine, and when the Palestinian intifada (uprising) began in December 1987 in Gaza and the West Bank opposing the ‘iron fist’ policies of Israel, India stood by the Palestinian people.
Vajpayee as foreign minister during the Janata government under Prime Minister Moraraji Desai upheld the cause of the Palestinian people and continued to do so as Prime Minister of India.
P.V. Narasimha Rao established diplomatic relations with Israel and at the same time extended India’s support for the Palestinian struggle. Successive PMs, including Manmohan Singh, who preceded Modi, expressed India’s solidarity with that struggle.
Therefore, Modi’s unequivocal declaration that India is with Israel in its war against Hamas, without saying a word in support of Palestinians, negates our cherished foreign policy rooted in national consensus.
S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President K.R. Narayanan.