Tzipi Livni is termed the most powerful woman in Israel since Golda Meir. Livni is a strong supporter of the peace process and a member of the Knesset. Livni is a former foreign minister and vice prime minister of Israel. When asked during an interview that she sounded optimistic given what was happening there, she replied, “I am not optimistic but without hope you can’t survive in the swamp called politics.” She added, “I once heard a story about a Western doctor working in Africa who worked 24/7 with victims of terrible atrocities. Someone asked him where do you find the strength to keep doing this night and day? Two words he said, anger and hope.” To the interviewer she looked and said, “I have both.”
Not just India, the biggest democracy in the world that is undergoing elections, Israelis too just chose their new government. Both democracies are in the regions (Middle East and South Asia) which look threatening as well as dangerous. Both the states face an internal conflict and clash where the civil society is divided and debates whether it is more Jewish and Hindu than more democratic. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi are experienced and strong populists and nationalist leaders representing the far right and in an acute demonstration of political similarity both have brought together their states and executed a relationship of strategic partnership. The world is now witnessing Netanyahu return to power and Narendra Modi’s BJP which had earlier grabbed 282 seats in the 543-seat parliament is predicted to win 240-odd seats. Both leaders are likely to fall short of winning an outright majority and both will need to pull together a coalition.
One can bet on Modi (the CM of Gujarat state from 2001 to 2014 and now seeking a second term in PM office) and Netanyahu (PM from 1996-1999 and PM since 2009) that their nature and form of politics “will continue to militarise the region”. Both have made electoral promises which if fulfilled will cause deeper trouble and chaos in their countries. Modi’s BJP in its party’s political manifesto released before the polls has explicitly called Article 35-A “an obstacle to the development of the state”. Article 35-A of the Indian constitution protects the demographic status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the article acts as a centre of gravity of the relationship of the state with the Centre. Historically, the Maharaja of Kashmir didn’t allow anyone to acquire land in Kashmir and that status has continued. Kashmiris don’t want to be overrun by people with more power, money and military and political authority. Similarly, Netanyahu who has overseen Jewish settlement and its expansion in his four terms as prime minister now promises to “annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if elected”. He has never been an admirer of the ‘Two State Solution’ and with Donald Trump in the Office (who recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and even its sovereignty over Golan Heights), PM Netanyahu has strong reasons to be further politically embolden to execute his ‘anti-Arab’ and ‘anti-Palestine’ policies. Some 90% of the Arabs living in Israel (21% of Israel’s population) live in exclusive Arab towns and villages. And 66 of the 112 towns in Israel, with more than 5,000 residents, have virtually all-Arab populations. Muslims under Modi in India experience similar discrimination. So the real question that the supporters of democracy need to ask is whether democracy is about the rule (tyranny) of majority or about upholding and maintaining democratic values such as equality and the rights of minorities.
Netanyahu and Modi and their politics has a method — their politics opposes ‘Oslo peace agreement’ and ‘peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue’, and propagates equal status but gives preferential treatment to Jews and Hindus; there are no current threats of war to Israel (turmoil in the Middle East has improved Israel’s strategic position and there is no likelihood ever of Israel being attacked again by multiple armies on the multiple front as in 1948, 1967 and 1973). Similarly, there is no immediate military threat to India unless it wants to initiate a war itself with Pakistan. Despite this favourable geo-strategic environment the politics of both Modi and Netanyahu is devoid of peaceful coexistence and is militarised to the core. Since the breakup of the diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel in 2010, Israel has been investing in its relationship with Cyprus and Greece — two of the bitter rivals of Turkey. Modi, following the Israeli example, has also extended political and economic support to Afghanistan and Bangladesh — the two countries with which Pakistan shares a bitter past but wants to improve its relations. Because of the Indian political influence, Pakistan is facing difficulties to reach out to these countries and convert the existing unfriendliness into friendship and partnership. Israel has been happy allowing the Hezbollah and the ISIS to fight each other, because doing so would hardly enable them to turn their guns towards Israel. On a similar note, India under Modi has been much happy allowing Pakistan to continue to experience terrorist threats and violence emanating from Afghanistan. To India, a Pakistan involved in internal turmoil will not be free to support the insurgence that India faces in Kashmir. To achieve that end, it also purses a policy of Pakistan’s regional and international isolation.
Seen in the light of the above context, both leaders (one of which is already elected) are likely to continue practising bad ethnic, racial and divisional nationalism rather than good civic, all-embracing and encompassing nationalism.
That brings me to question what our Prime Minister has witnessed in Modi’s 18 years of politics (as Gujrat CM and Indian PM) that suggests to him that he and his party will be Pakistan’s best bet to initiate and engage in a peace dialogue with India. Conversely, Modi, if he wins elections, will ride on the shoulders of the Hindutva ideology that supports the establishment of Hindu hegemony and Hindu way of life.
Swamp is defined as “low-lying uncultivated ground where water collects”. The political swamps that both Modi and Netanyahu are creating smell bad. These political swamps are likely to convert into the very political marshlands and quagmires in which the politics of both the leaders is most likely to be eventually caught.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2019.