The vote of the Jewish community is of crucial importance in a number of key states in the American elections. Equally important is the size of campaign funds Jewish business tycoons are capable of contributing. It is also not possible to overlook any more the space Israel has come to fill in Samuel Huntington’s “Two Civilizations” hypothesis. The Arabs and the Israelis might have come from the same stock two thousand and odd years ago, but the Israelis are now decisively on their side of the racial barrier, or so feel considerable sections of Huntington fans. Combine these factors, and you get to know the reason Israel has the sort of clout it has over the US administration. Its troops and auxiliary forces engage in international brigandage with the full assurance that no reprisals could touch them, and that the United States of America would defend them till the last cow comes home.
The outrageous series of events in west Asia over the past few weeks, therefore, bear the imprimatur of an inevitability. The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, followed by the killing of two others by the Hizbollah, has led to indescribably gory events. Apart from incidents inside and along the Gaza strip, the massive invasion of Lebanon by Israel’s armed forces is writing a new script for what is claimed to be a retributive strike. No force is apparently capable of restraining Israel. Cocking a snook at the United Nations, Israeli troops have shot in cold blood four advisers of the supposedly august body who were posted in the region. The UN has time to issue an ultimatum to Iran, but not one to Israel. And the US will, of course, not lift one little finger to stop the ongoing festival of death and destruction. West Asia will continue to suffer; not only because its overwhelmingly Arab population has developed irretrievably inimical relations with Israel; it also happens to be from the same community that the perpetrators of 9/11 belonged to.
Charity and other things begin at home. For our purpose, what is of greater relevance is the government of India’s stance apropos of the flare-up in west Asia. Other Asian nations, along with most of Africa and Latin America, have risen in unison to protest against the mayhem let loose by Israel’s troops. Not a squeak though was heard from India during the excruciatingly long first fortnight of grisly killing and extermination. It is only after Indian citizens in Lebanon began to enter the list of casualties that New Delhi could be nudged into making a formal statement of disapproval of the goings-on.
The statement, however, scrupulously stayed away from commenting on the original events in Palestine which led to developments in the neighbouring country. Apart from its contents being unusually tepid, the statement was made at what is known in diplomatic circles as “the joint secretary level”; there is always an indirect hint that such statements need not be taken seriously. The prime minister’s subsequent statement in parliament was hardly any better: not one word of condemnation of Israeli excesses, it was more in the nature of a polite appeal to the authorities in Tel Aviv to be merciful. A staunch ally of the US has to be treated with the softest of kid gloves — even if it is guilty of near-genocide.
The conclusion is obvious. Even before the nuclear deal with the US is operational, our government has decided to tow the strict American line on issues of foreign policy; it does not matter if that takes us away from the phalanx of the nations of the non-aligned movement. Jawaharlal Nehru, after all, has now been dead for a full 42 years. What must be carrying equal weight with the current lot of policy-makers in North Block is that Israel has promised to sell us sophisticated arms which would come in handy to give a bloody nose to China or Pakistan or both.
Evidence is forthcoming from yet another direction of creeping external influence on the making of our foreign policy. In the years following King Gyanendra’s declaration of war on his people, hundreds of political activists from Nepal had sought refuge in India. They included members of the parliamentary parties opposed to the king as well as the Maoists. Given New Delhi’s formal expression of unhappiness at the demeanour of the king and his men, such transient visitors to India, it was expected, would receive a warm welcome here.
It did not, however, happen quite that way. New Delhi adopted a palpably discriminatory policy. Members of the parliamentary parties entering India were showered with every courtesy and consideration. Escaping Maoists were a different kettle of fish; at least they were treated as if they were a different kettle of fish. On a rough reckoning, at least 70 Nepali Maoists escaping to India were rounded up on trumped-up charges. The allegations against them were so altogether flimsy that the authorities have not dared to submit chargesheets and prosecute the arrested persons in court; they continue to languish in prison; some of them are in need of medical attention.
In the midst of the outbreak of bonhomie after the recent change of regime in Kathmandu, leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (M) reportedly sent a message to New Delhi requesting the release of their comrades locked up in Indian prisons. There has been no response yet to this appeal. Most of the arrested Nepali Maoists are lodged in jails in northern Bengal. The grounds on which they are being held, a senior official of the government of West Bengal has indirectly admitted the other day, are not at all serious. He went on to state that should the government of India want these prisoners to be set at liberty, the state government would not stand in the way.
A murky element enters the picture here. Rumour is rife that the Indian authorities are under strong pressure to make the issue of the release of these Maoists a bargaining counter in the ongoing negotiations over the shape of Nepal’s future constitution and the parallel issue of disarming the army raised by the Communist Party of Nepal (M). Apparently, the government of India is being cajoled not to release the Maoists detained in India till as long as Prachanda and his comrades do not yield enough ground in the talks currently on in Kathmandu; in other words, in case the Maoists want to see their comrades out of Indian prisons, they must agree either to dismantle their army or to transfer control over them to the generals heading the Royal Nepalese Army.
New Delhi owes it to its credibility to deny the story and release forthwith the Nepali Maoists. If it does not do so, suspicion would soar that influences are indeed at work and that the government of India’s intransigence in the matter is pursuant to hints dropped by external sources.
A certain exhilaration inheres in surrendering one’s prerogative of independent decision-making. This is true as much for an individual as for a government — shed your burdens and feel as free as a bird. On the other hand, by alienating Nepal’s Maoists, New Delhi might succeed in achieving precisely the reverse of what it is keen to avoid — providing them with a pretext to aid and abet the insurgents who, invoking the name of Mao, are creating havoc in the wildernesses of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
Whether it is west Asia or Nepal, we are seemingly determined to put our worst foot forward. But that is perhaps because we do not, any longer, control our own locomotion.