M K Bhadrakumar |
When India took the pusillanimous stance on Jerusalem issue – for whatever reasons – and shied away from taking an open, forthright stance in its inter alia comment on December 7, here, it was apparent to observers that this was not going to be the end of the story. And it isn’t.
The Indian Express newspaper has an exclusive lead story today to the effect that a foreign-policy controversy – nay, crisis – is snowballing the like of which South Bock seldom, if ever, faced in India’s relations with the Muslim Middle East. The Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have made a collective demarche — as apparently the Palestine Authority.
Any whichever way one looks at it, East Jerusalem is not a controversy that India can afford to get into because its fallouts can seriously damage the lives of several million Indians and can affect their families’ livelihood. The government shouldn’t put sand into their rice bowl. Period.
The Modi government should rethink its stance and show the moral courage and diplomatic and political sagacity to be on the right side of history. Above all, it is an act of solidarity by a nation.
The South Block should not regard this as a touchstone of India’s fealty to the United States and the present ruling elite should not regard this as a ‘Muslim issue’ alone. And, indeed, we aren’t Zionists, either. This is a diplomatic and political issue that is stoking up the fires of a historical controversy that goes back by millennia and India certainly should not get entangled in it in its supreme national interests.
The heart of the matter is that India’s sophistry on this issue is in full view. Virtually the entire international community has condemned the US President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. India is a rare exception and it stands isolated.
Second, something has changed fundamentally in the Indian stance on Palestine. A play of words alone can no longer obfuscate it. Not only did India keep quiet on Jerusalem issue last week, in the following days, India stuck to the pattern. The joint communiqué issued after the RIC meeting at foreign minister level on Monday omitted any references to Jerusalem despite the fact that both Russia and China have been upfront in criticizing Trump’s decision. Clearly, it was at the instance of the host country, India.
To compound matters further, Minister of State MJ Akbar travelled to West Asia (Bahrain) this week to attend the Manama Dialogue, a Track-II sponsored by western think tanks, where he spoke on India’s policies toward the region. I just couldn’t believe that in his entire speech, Akbar could not even once bring himself to say the 9-letter word – Jerusalem. Why such trepidation and fear? What do we make out of it?
The politics of Muslim Middle East is churning and a new alchemy is forming. If our bureaucrats in the foreign-policy establishment think that OIC is a toothless, ineffectual platform only, hold your breath.
It is hard to believe that Akbar was blissfully unaware of what has been unfolding in the Middle East region during the past week. It is also not as if that region is unfamiliar to him personally. He used to be even a columnist for an Arab daily. The only conclusion one can draw is that for most pragmatic personal reasons, he set aside intellectual convictions and decided that the right thing to do was to simply read out the bureaucrats drafted for him and counseled him to read out from the Manama podium, knowing that was precisely what the PMO expected him to do.
In any decent democratic country, if a minister has such grave policy differences with his government, he takes recourse to the one and only honorable option available to him – resign from the government. (Transcript of Akbar’s speech is here.)
As for the South Block mandarins, they should explain to the PMO from the diplomatic angle as thoroughbred professionals the likely fallouts of India’s cowardly stance on East Jerusalem. Conceivably, Prime Minister Modi may not be aware of the implications – as evident from his strange act in July to pay homage to the founder of Zionism at his grave, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (with a triumphalist look on his face.) Mahatma Gandhi who has spoken out against Zionism would have turned in his grave. Modi didn’t seem to know that Zionism is antithetical to everything that India’s freedom struggle epitomized. Our present leadership apparently needs proper briefing as to what East Jerusalem means to the Muslim psyche and the politics and tortuous history of the Middle East.
The heart of the matter is that India’s sophistry on this issue is in full view. Virtually the entire international community has condemned the US President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Frankly, it is incomprehensible why India should stake such a mulish stance at all, which is bordering on the farcical. Is it fear of Trump? Is it fear of upsetting his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka, whom the government welcomed with red carpet recently in Hyderabad? The point is, even within the US, it is apparent by now that aside the evangelical constituency within the Republican Party (similar to the ‘core constituency’ within the BJP), there is deep scepticism in large sections of American opinion about what Trump has done.
Arguably, even among the Jews, there are lots of people who disapprove of ‘Zionism’ as an ideology. Evidently, there is no reason on earth for us to be more loyal than the King himself. (I am reminded of Uzbekistan in a wild periodical swing toward ‘pro-Americanism’ in the late nineties supporting the US sanctions against Cuba, as the only country to do so other than Israel.) As for Israel, we paying that country the asking price for the weapons it supplies, isn’t it? The arms deals are highly lucrative transactions for them and become a significant source of budgetary support.
Regrettably, Akbar spoke in full view of the extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Istanbul on Wednesday. The Istanbul event’s proceedings should have been an eye-opener that these are only early days and the Muslim countries will draw a ‘red line’ for the US over Jerusalem.
Mahatma Gandhi who has spoken out against Zionism would have turned in his grave. Modi didn’t seem to know that Zionism is antithetical to everything that India’s freedom struggle epitomized.
Make no mistake, Turkey’s Recep Edogan is a fighter to the core and is cast in a mould somewhere between Suleiman the Magnificent who laid the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Jerusalem is an issue he feels in the blood. More importantly, Turkey under his leadership has ‘returned’ to the Muslim Middle East, reconciling its torn identity after the agonizing wanderings under mistaken notions through nearly a century. (Read my blog Turkey reclaims Muslim world.)
The politics of Muslim Middle East is churning and a new alchemy is forming. If our bureaucrats in the foreign-policy establishment think that OIC is a toothless, ineffectual platform only, hold your breath. There is a stirring in the air that is already palpable. A new consensus is building up that Muslim unity is the need of the hour. This is where India’s core interests can get very seriously damaged – from different angles. With US prestige at its nadir, its classic strategy of ‘divide and rule’ may no longer work. (Pakistani PM attended the summit in Istanbul.)
The Modi government should rethink its stance and show the moral courage and diplomatic and political sagacity to be on the right side of history. Above all, it is an act of solidarity by a nation, which has not fully forgotten yet the incredible saga of its own freedom struggle.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.