In many ways, today’s India is fast changing and unrecognizable from what it was just half a decade ago. State repression, criminalization of dissent and attacks on minorities are not new. But the impunity of the state machinery, its forever-ready army of zealot supporters, the breakdown of institutions and the irreversible damage that this has brought upon the society is unprecedented. An aspect of the social and political commitment that has completely reversed at breakneck speed, in the two terms of the right-wing government led by the prime minister Narendra Modi and the ruling party chief Amit Shah, is our relationship with Palestine and its freedom struggle.
From being seen as one of the forerunners of Palestinian solidarity globally, India has come to be seen as one of Israel’s closest allies. Learning from Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian people and admiring the racist and supremacist moorings of Zionism has been a long-standing feature of Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist ideology subscribed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is now playing itself out.
This ideological connection has material consequences. Trade agreements between the two countries, especially in the agriculture sector, have grown by a big margin. Bollywood is also being roped in to fight the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. However, the area where India-Israel relations have grown exponentially is arms trade and security cooperation. There are two aspects to this intensifying trade relationship: the sheer volume of the arms trade and security cooperation, and the ideological import of Israeli methods and war doctrines.
Importing Israeli weapons and methods
Since 2017-18, India has imported nearly 50% of Israel’s weapons exports. Many of these deals are mired in corruption and are often pushed at the cost of India’s public sector defense units – starting from the Bofors scam (a scandal involving Swedish weapons company, Bofors AB, that brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government) to the Spike missile deal, signed with Israel. For Israel, these arms purchases directly finance its occupation of Palestinian territories. Israel markets its weapons as “field-tested” on Palestinian bodies. There are reports of the repression of Palestinians in Gaza, during the Great March of Return protests, being marketed by Israel’s arms industry. The everyday reality of Palestinians, of living under the barrel of the gun, the checkpoints, home demolitions, raids, and the massacres, are all bank-rolled by the sale of arms. Israel, in fact, is invested in selling arms to repressive regimes world over, thereby connecting the occupation of Palestinian territories with the growing militarism from Latin America to Myanmar.
Israel also has a vast array of security cooperation and joint training with India. Every year since 2014, prospective Indian Police Service officers are sent to Israel for training. India and Israel have a Joint Steering Committee on counter-terrorism, including cybersecurity. Israeli military delegations have visited Kashmir. As of today, everything from guns to surveillance drones that are being used in Kashmir are of Israeli make. As has been noted before, Israel not only sells its arms but also its methodology of repression along with them. The last few months of tension with Pakistan and the ongoing situation in Kashmir are testimony to this.
In February, following an attack on a CRPF convoy in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, which led to the death of 40 jawans, tensions between India and Pakistan escalated. India carried out a high-profile attack, allegedly targeting a terrorist camp lying in disputed territory within Pakistan. This attack was invoked by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in its election rallies, as well as by pro-government commentators, for its similarity with Israel’s tactics. The deep linkages with Israel were not only about the rhetoric used therein, but also the fact that the Spice-2000 missiles used in the air-strike by the Indian Air Force was of Israeli-make. This escalation between two nuclear-armed nations demanded calls for peace and sanity, but the ruling party used it for making “national security” the top issue in its election campaign amid a floundering economy and unprecedented attacks on minorities.
On August 5, home minister and BJP president Amit Shah made the shocking announcement of a presidential order, abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted relative autonomy to the State of Jammu and Kashmir and served as the tunnel between the State and India. This included abrogation of Article 35 A, which granted the state legislature the power to make laws regarding residency, employment and land ownership. Even though such provisions exist in several other States, the autonomy of J&K had been a long-standing grouse of the BJP and its parent organization, the Hindu-right militant group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), because Jammu and Kashmir was the only Muslim majority state in India. The next step for the current regime has been speculated to be to bring demographic changes in the region to permanently alter its nature.
Even as the region has been under a three-week-long military curfew and communication blackout, the government is inviting private investment and opening the doors for corporate profiteering. This idea of enforced demographic change is a mirror image of Israel’s settler-colonial policies in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli citizens have built illegal colonies and commercial spaces, apart from the massive military infrastructure, to create “facts on the ground”.
In such a context, it is necessary to build global solidarity as the ruling regimes come closer in their methods of repression. Israel’s military occupation is linked to militarism in Kashmir. As democratic and progressive forces gather to demand peace and justice in Kashmir, as well as in the rest of India, the struggle must be coordinated to counter the liaison between India and Israel. It must be remembered that this connection has been established over a concoction of arms and ideologies which spells dire consequences for South Asia.
This was first published on the Indian Cultural Forum.