India's changing stand

Published : Oct 28, 2000 00:00 IST


INDIA was among the countries that voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Israel's "excessive use of force" against Palestinian civilians, but New Delhi has not issued an official statement condemning Tel Aviv and ca tegorically supporting the Palestinians in their struggle. It has instead made a token commitment, to supply medicines worth Rs.25 lakhs to Palestinians wounded in the latest intifada. A senior Arab diplomat said that the stand of some European Un ion (E.U.) countries on the Palestine issue was better than that of the current stand of India.

The first statement issued by India urged both sides to restore normalcy. Another statement condemned "...the deliberate acts of provocation, excessive use of force, wanton killing of innocents, desecration of places of worship, taking hostages and retal iatory killings of soldiers...' This statement apportioned blame to both sides equally. Naturally, Arab diplomats were angry. The victims and perpetrators of crime were treated with the same yardstick.

The Left parties have been critical of the Vajpayee government's pro-Israel tilt. The general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, said that the government had reversed the national consensus that characterised In dia's foreign policy. The Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan said that by not condemning the Israeli attack on unarmed Palestinians "the Government of India has let down an old friend".

Before the vote in the U.N., Arab diplomats in New Delhi tried to impress upon New Delhi the need to come out openly in support of the Palestinians. They say they are aware of the present government's changing priorities but they argue that India's perma nent interests lie in the Arab world. They point out that even a country like Turkey, a strategic ally of Israel, has pledged $500,000 to the Palestinians and issued a statement condemning Israel.

Arab diplomats say the senior officials of the External Affairs Ministry want continuity in India's policy on West Asia; they, however, point an accusing finger at some ideologically driven Ministers. Home Minister L.K. Advani is among the most unabashed admirers of Israel. During his visit to Israel he called for greater cooperation between India and that country in the military and nuclear fields.

A recent issue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-backed weekly Organiser has gone out of its way to support the Zionist cause, arguing that the recent violence was the result of Palestinian intransigence. The article endorsed the Zionist dr eam of a "Greater Israel". (When the first Al Fatah delegation was officially invited to India by the Congress(I) government in the early 1970s, the only party that staged a demonstration against the visiting delegation was the Jan Sangh, the earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party.)

A senior Arab diplomat said that there was a lot in common between the Zionist and Hindutava world views. However, he emphasised that there was a basic continuity and consensus in Indian foreign policy, which no government can afford to ignore. India, he said, could not adopt a negative approach to the Arab world. He pointed out that oil prices had registered a big increase after the crisis erupted. Another diplomat said that the BJP government had shown a marked tendency to defer to the wishes of the Clinton administration. The sudden postponement by New Delhi of the Iraqi Vice-President's visit is cited to illustrate this. The abrupt derecognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic earlier in the year also came as a shock to the diplomatic com munity in New Delhi.

"All the previous governments in India would have immediately issued a statement condemning the Israeli atrocities. All what we need is moral support, nothing else," said the diplomat. The Iraqi Ambassador to India, Salah al-Mukhtar, said that it was "un fortunate" that the Indian government had not condemned the killing of Palestinian civilians. It has so far only "regretted" the killing. He was of the opinion that the Indian government applied the same yardstick Washington used to judge issues. He expr essed the hope that the Indian government will condemn the killings.

He was also of the view that the Indian government had shifted from the position it held in the 1970s and the 1980s. India's seeming ambivalence may hasten its alienation from the Arab world. According to informed sources, the visit of External Affairs M inister Jaswant Singh to Saudi Arabia was a casualty of the emerging suspicions.

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