Summary: The Indian Government under Narendra Modi has deviated from India’s traditional stand regarding the statehood of Palestine and it is more than just Islamophobia — Editors.
The Israel-Gaza War has exposed fault lines in major democracies such as the United States and India. In 1974, India became the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, followed by its recognition of the State of Palestine in 1988. India’s resolute stand regarding the sovereignty of Palestine played a major role in shaping its diplomatic ties and its attitude towards its Muslim populace, with Mohandas K. Gandhi himself rallying behind the cause. However, 75 years later, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has completely changed the traditional position of India over the question of Palestinian sovereignty. On paper, India continues to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue, but in reality, the Indian state has provided an unflinching support for Israeli aggression on Gaza, attracting widespread criticism from the progressives and the left.
While the characteristic Islamophobia behind the position has gained widespread attention, it would be myopic to analyse India’s position on the Israel-Gaza war only through the framework of Islamophobia. The pro-Israel stand of India is driven by a combination of majoritarianism, strong-arm diplomacy, and political economy – one that is influenced by the global arms economy and the race for global supremacy, alongside Islamophobia. India’s position on the Israel-Gaza war is a part of the efforts taken up by the BJP government to garner global support for its Hindutva agenda formed on the complete exclusion of Muslims from the public discourse. The public discourse in India is mostly shaped by media houses that toe the line of the government and have left no stone unturned to paint Gaza, Palestine, and the Palestinians in bad light. Modi’s support for Netanyahu has been complemented by the growing hatred against Muslims in general on various social media platforms. In India, Palestine has always been an issue that has evoked strong sentiments from the 172 Million Muslim populace who constitute about 25 percent of the total population of India. Being one of the most important landmasses within the Indian Ocean region and given its recent self-positioning as a potential leader of the Global South during the recent G20 summit in India, India’s position on Palestine will have ripple effects across the Global South.
The Indian State is well aware that in order to position itself as a global power, merely being a leader of the Global South would not suffice, especially with its contentious relationships with China and Pakistan. The strained relations with the United States of America and Canada over the issue of Sikh separatists and the worrying condition of its long-standing ally, Russia, because of the Russia-Ukraine war, has made the Indian government desperate for allies in the developed world. Israel is the perfect contender for fulfilling that role with its large-scale defence-equipment manufacturing systems, the ability of diplomatic strongarming, and its opposition to Islamic assertion. While the BJP has argued that the friendship between India and Israel is because of the shared history pertaining to British colonization and the threats that both of them face from radical Islamic groups, the truth is more complicated than that. The supposed friendship between India and Israel is constructed on the grounds of a radical Islamophobia that the global far-right possesses in general. The fact that India is the largest importer of weapons from Israel constitutes an important part of India’s pro-Israel position. India’s pro-Israel position has exposed the internationalist nature of Hindutva and has globalized the ideological narrative of radical Hindutva, which has been able to gain widescale legitimacy in the world by banking upon the global support for Israel following the events of October 7. The right-wing Indian government under the far-right BJP has seen the Israel-Gaza war as a potential outlet for legitimising its actions against Muslims.
The Israel-Gaza war has provided a new lease of life the globalization efforts of the Hindutva narrative – something that it had lacked. The BJP with its agenda of forming an exclusively Hindu State has often used Gaza as an example for its prospective actions in regions such as Kashmir and Kerala – states which have since long rejected the hate-mongering politics of the BJP. It has used the commonalities between the actions of protestors in Gaza and Kashmir to generate a global public perception in favour of militarisation of regions such as Kashmir and North-East India. It cannot be denied that the position of the current BJP government on Palestine is a manifestation of its position towards Indian Muslims. But, under the conditions that the Israel-Gaza war presents, India’s Pro-Israel position has become a global concern because it globalizes radical Hindutva and places it on an equal pedestal with radical Zionism – an ideology that has often garnered widescale support even from those on the left.