A late start perhaps, but finally the Indian Opposition woke up to India’s commitment to the Palestinians. The last few days have seen the Rajya Sabha, where there is still a sizeable opposition, in furore with the political parties refusing to back off from their demand for an immediate discussion on the Israeli attack on the Palestinians in Gaza.
Interestingly, on the first day, the government seemed to agree and the discussion was listed in the business of the day. However, on the day itself the government backed off, maintaining there was no need for a discussion on the issue at all. The Opposition parties took to the floor, the House was adjourned repeatedly for two days until finally the government agreed to a discussion, but only next week on July 21. The Opposition parties continued their agitation on July 18, demanding an immediate discussion on the issue that the government continued to resist. The Rajya Sabha thus was again adjourned repeatedly without business being transacted.
Despite this, there have been several protests by concerned citizens across the country with Delhi alone witnessing three demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy here in as many days. In one of these, angry students of different universities managed to get to the gates of the mission, leading to some panic and considerable high-handedness on the part of the police force.
Jammu and Kashmir, in particular, has taken its protest to the streets, with the police battling angry stone pelting youth on an almost daily basis. The emotionally surcharged groups giving vent to their feelings has worried the administration. It is, however, not using the kind of force often seen in the past to disperse the agitators. Kashmiri clerics and the business community have issued calls for the boycott of Israeli goods that seems to be set to now become a reality in the state. A shutdown called by Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani in support of the Palestinians was particularly successful with all shops, commercial centres closed and even public transport off the streets.
In Mumbai, traders and shopkeepers have also decided to boycott Israeli goods, all spontaneous gestures that are feeding into the larger BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) that has been seeking the economic, military and social boycott of Israel. In Bangalore, groups objected to an Israeli cultural event, with every incident now adding to a rising disgust in India.
So much so that the new Israeli ambassador, almost as soon as he landed in Delhi, rushed to South Block to meet the mandarins of the Foreign Office and urge them to remember and act in accordance with New Delhi-Tel Aviv ties established during the days of the Manmohan Singh government and supported by the BJP. It is not clear what responses he received, but there is no doubt that the Opposition pressure on the government is having an impact and creating some unease in the corridors of power.
Israel is leaving its supporters with little defence as the photographs of innocent civilians and little children pour out of Gaza. The normally vocal pro-Israeli lobby in India, that is in fact usually rather aggressive in its views, is finding itself on the back foot and unable to defend the violation of every law and charter that Israel extends into Gaza.
The Congress Party, interestingly, is taking a lead in the Rajya Sabha against Israel and for the Palestinians after 10 long years during which it worked with the US and Israel to strengthen military and economic relations. This to a point where, in the past, similar acts of aggression by Israel against the Palestinians drew usually a delayed and visibly reluctant response from the UPA government. However, this time around the Congress seems to have got sight of some of its moorings and is vocal along with almost all other political parties representing India in demanding a discussion so that the ‘sense of the House’ could be communicated to the people of the country, and the world.
Perhaps, one could end with Mahatma Gandhi’s quote that should serve as a reminder to many in India and even the region, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.
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