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War on Palestine Mirrors war on Indian Democracy

Suhit K Sen |
In the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, BJP regimes are defaming an entire community to push their idea of a Hindu nation, but other state governments have no excuse.

Thousands rally in Times Square in solidarity with Palestine (Photo: ANSWER Coalition)

It’s a pattern. People participating in pro-Palestinian protests are being apprehended across the country, by all manner of dispensations, in a wave of actions undertaken to prevent Indian citizens and groups from expressing their solidarity with a colonized people facing one of the most savage instances of genocide in recent memory.

The last time anything of comparable brutality occurred was the incineration of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition supplied with the most sophisticated of weaponry, unsurprisingly, by the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its regime, the soi-disant champions of decolonization and spokespersons of the colonized, who actually wish to attain global heft by hanging on to the coat-tails of the last of the truly imperialist and colonialist power, the United States, are trying to repress dissenting voices to prove to the world that ‘India’ supports Israel’s genocide in Palestine, backed by the United States and its clients. Thus, firmly aligning themselves to a colonial and apartheid regime.

The irony is, of course, that across the Western world, including the capitals and metropolises of  the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries, massive protests are being held against this genocide—including by Jewish and interfaith groups demonstrating for an immediate ceasefire and peace. They are, let us note, echoing what the United Nations has been saying, both officially via a resolution and through the pleas of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The irony, too, is that irrespective of stated positions, state governments run by various parties are policing physical protests, though it is mostly BJP governments that are actively persecuting people who are physically protesting or sharing pro-Palestinian sentiments on social media platforms.

 It began with the filing of FIRs against four students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on 9 October, charging them, risibly, with, among other things, creating enmity between groups. Later, in response to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s order, the overzealous government of Uttar Pradesh began to crack down on social media posts—in Kanpur and Lakhimpur Kheri, while Muslim clerics were warned that action would follow in case of ‘incitement’ from religious platforms or on social media.

The law-and-order machine in Delhi, controlled by the BJP regime, has allowed no quarter to citizens exercising their democratic right to protest. Two busloads of protesters were arrested on 17 October; and hundreds of people were arrested from Jantar Mantar on 27 October. In a major crackdown, Friday prayers were prevented at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, while Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who had recently been released and allowed to offer prayers at the mosque, was placed under house arrest again on 15 October. Similar actions were undertaken in Maharashtra and Assam. Action in states run by the BJP is not surprising. Demonising the Muslim community, upfront or by dog-whistling, forms, after all, the essence of the political-ideological project of the Sangh parivar.

The more unfortunate part of the story is that few parties have taken an unambiguous position against both Hamas’s terrorist act and Israel’s genocide, which is an instance of state terrorism, many times multiplied. The Congress and the Left Front are the only groups that have taken a clearly pro-Palestine stance, by which I mean they have restated the long-standing position that the two-state solution has to be respected and the Palestinian people are entitled to a sovereign state, unmolested by Israel.

The problem is that states ruled by the Congress and other opposition parties have also been cracking down on pro-Palestine and anti-genocide public meetings. It has happened, for instance, in Karnataka (Congress-ruled) and Kolkata (Trinamool Congress); and, Hyderabad (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) and Coimbatore (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). It must be said, though, that many protests have been held in Hyderabad without state intervention.

In this climate of moral and political ambiguity, with the scale being tilted Israel’s way by the persecution of pro-Palestine, anti-Israel, anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid, anti-genocide protests, the BJP and its regime have been able to make its pro-Israel position apparent in a not-so-subtle way.

This has allowed the social media pack of Hindutva peddlers to disseminate a flood of fake news that seeks to demonise Palestine and Palestinians by categorising them as terrorists; by extension, demonise the Muslim community in general and particularly in India by drawing imbecilic and false equivalences—valorize Israel, while simultaneously representing it as victim; by extension, presenting the Hindu majority as victim by manufacturing something called ‘minority appeasement’, a well-worn strategy; and, finally, representing peddlers of hardline Hindutva as heroes and saviours.

Thus, amid the welter of prime ministerial messages affirming solidarity and support for Israel and the abstention from the United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Palestine, was lost the pro-forma statement from the Ministry of External Affairs iterating its support for a two-state solution. The justification at the United Nations, that Hamas had not been condemned afresh, was less than meaningless.

It should not, therefore, come as any great surprise that social-media posts from India on the West Asian catastrophe are clogging cyberspace. Publications across the world have noted that fake posts from Indian handles and accounts vilifying the Palestinian side have been flooding social media: if you don’t want to believe Al Jazeera or The New Arab, you can check out The Atlantic or a number of mainstream Indian newspapers.

France 24, the French news channel, which we have no reason to suppose has a partisan stake in either domestic Indian politics or the West Asian conflict, also calls out two fake videos circulated from India, while noting that 20% of anti-Islamic content is from Indian accounts or handles.

The connection between Palestinian ‘terrorists’ and Indian Muslim ‘anti-nationalists’ has been explicitly made on social media and in the real world as noted by fact-checkers and media platforms. Recidivist hate-peddler Yati Narsinghanand, incredibly still at large, is a prominent example of those making the connection by calling for bulldozers to be deployed at AMU and the arrests of the ‘terrorists’ who had demonstrated. Many others joined him.

Adityanand’s order and the virtual sealing of Srinagar’s main mosque are, of course, indirect ways of making the same connection and stoking Islamophobia. We note, then, the explicit role of the regime in defaming an entire community. While other state governments may plead law-and-order considerations, their dereliction is an abomination. The Congress, especially, has to make good on spoken commitments. Only the Left, as a formation, has done this.

The illegal and colonialist war on Gaza is unsurprisingly providing momentum to majoritarianism in India and the drive towards a Hindu state—a state of apartheid in which India and Israel are homologically bound.

The opposition has to resist this. And resistance must begin with the recognition of and respect for plurality of views and the people’s democratic right to protest. Especially since the basic premises—that there must be a ceasefire and peace, and Palestine must be a fully free and sovereign nation—are not in doubt. 

The author is an independent journalist and writer. The views are personal.

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