Namaste Sharon

Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, will be in India for the second anniversary of the September 11 attack on the United States. He will arrive on September 9 in New Delhi, travel to Bangalore and Mumbai, and then go to a Sixteenth Century synagogue in Kochi, Kerala. The Israeli and Indian governments did not advertise the trip, keeping quiet about it till the last minute.

News of the visit first came from the mouth of Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra during his May 2003 visit to the United States. After a twenty minute meeting with US President George W. Bush, Mishra spent his only evening as one of the chief guests at the American Jewish Committee’s annual dinner. At this “Tribute to US Allies,” Mishra announced that the Indian government looked forward to Sharon’s visit. Mishra made the point that in the past decade “the tempo of our high level visits” between the governments of Israel and India had increased significantly. What began in 1991 as a slow thaw in an uncomfortable half-century of relations would now blossom into the summit between Prime Ministers.

“India, the United States and Israel have some fundamental similarities,” Mishra told the twelve hundred diners, including Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair Yuval Shteinitz. “We are all democracies, sharing a common vision of pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity. Stronger India-US relations and India-Israel relations have a natural logic.”

Now, in late August, with the suicide attacks in Israel, the “pinpoint” assassination of Hamas political operatives in Gaza, the bomb blasts in Mumbai and the mayhem that has since followed, the climate for an Indo-Israeli entente decidedly favors the Right. More contact between ordinary people of both countries, of course, is to be welcomed, but Sharon’s visit to India will not increase human interaction.

It is designed to emphasize a Global Counter-Jihad, to create an alliance that wants to will away the local politics of discord that rend West and South Asia, to obscure the grievances of the Palestinians and the Kashmiris behind the rhetoric about terrorism. Acts of terror by groups like Hamas and the Lashkar-e-Toiba are elitist – they do not draw people into mass movements to overthrow oppression, and they almost always take the lives of those who are innocent. The Indo-Israeli gathering will forget all this and seek to make all Muslims guilty of terrorism.

The night before Mishra’s speech to the AJCommittee, he had addressed the influential New York-based Council of Foreign Relations. In that speech called “India, United States and the New World Order: Prospects for Cooperation,” Mishra quoted a 1998 phrase from Prime Minister Vajpayee, that the US and India are “natural allies.”

What seems “natural” in the world of geopolitical alliances may not seem so obvious to the citizenry of the states in question. India, Mishra noted correctly, is one of the “very few countries with no history of anti-Semitism.” This is true. However, the foreign policy of India has been strongly opposed to Israeli intransigence on the question of the Palestinians. A broad consensus existed between the many political parties, as well as perhaps among the citizenry, on India’s refusal to align itself with Israel while the cauldron of west Asia remained on the boil.

So what are the contours of this “natural alliance” that is now being formed between India and Israel with the United States as the “natural,” and most important, third leg in the axis? India and Israel established relations in the early 1990s, when the Congress held power in the former while the Labor Party ran the latter. Both these formations emerged out of the traditions of social democracy – with an inclination toward the ideals of socialism, with a strong bent toward import-substitution national economies, and with a general sense that all national citizenship should not be equated with either confessional or racial divides.

The alliance created in the early 1990s had a strong pragmatic side: Israel’s newly buoyant military industrial sector sought a market for its goods, and India, who had recently lost its Soviet supplier, needed to find a supplier of military hardware. There was little ideological enthusiasm for the new relationship, illustrated by the virtual silence in both countries regarding the change of status.

When the forces of Hindutva took New Delhi and when those of Sharonism established themselves in Tel Aviv, they spoke of this new relationship with relish. One Israeli commentator argues that the high-level and high profile meetings in this period reflect “the quickening pace of a strategic partnership that has moved from relative obscurity to the center of Israel’s foreign policy agenda.”

A similar statement might be made about the centrality of Israel to Indian foreign policy calculations, since the closeness to Israel might open a back door for the Right to secure its desired special relationship with the United States. The Hindutva-Sharonist alliance is not simply about the opportunistic needs of the Israeli defense industry and the Indian military, but it is also about the creation of an alliance alongside the Bush-run Pentagon against two foes: Islamism (or, in the most vulgar interpretations, the Arab states and Iran in general) and Communism (or, China).

There has been little discussion on this point as Sharon arrives in New Delhi. His arrival sanctifies the emergence of Hindutva-Sharonism as a bloc that functions as subcontractors for the messianic imperialism of the United States.

So, Namaste Sharon, welcome to India. You will meet your ideological kin in New Delhi, businessmen who are eager to profit by the new relationship, military personnel and intelligence experts who want to learn how you control the Palestinians, and Indian Jews who will show you that India, despite Hindutva, remains a culturally diverse society. You will find, behind the barricades, a resolute population that opposes Sharonism as much as Hindutva; like your own government, Mr. Sharon, this too is a cobbled together coalition hijacked by the Right, and operating in the main against the popular will. Sharonism, Hindutva and the Evangelical Imperialism of the Pentagon disgust the ordinary people of India, Israel and the US. Our opposition to this entente is fueled by that disgust – and by the politics of retaliation and fear that keeps you in power.

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (South End Press). Leftword Books in New Delhi will soon publish his Namaste Sharon: Hindutva and Sharonism Under US Hegemony.

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