Dalit, Palestinians in solidarity of broken people

Hindutva and Zionism – the ideological contract

New Delhi:A two-member delegation from Palestine was in India to seek support of civil groups, Churches and the government to help end their people’s decades of suffering.

Last week they addressed a group of Christian theologians who called for reinterpreting the Bible that some had used to justify the creation of Israel. This week, they met several groups in New Delhi.

So, many justifiably asked why the Palestinians have come to India for support and why some Indians have taken up the Palestinian cause.  In the following commentary, John Dayal, a veteran journalist and general secretary of the ecumenical All India Christian Council explains the India-Palestinian link.

No one can compare the plight of the Palestinian people –Muslims and Christians – over the last 64 years under the Zionist Israeli regime with anything in India, unless it would perhaps be the case of the 100,000 Hindu Pandits of the Kashmir valley who fled or were displaced in the 1990s from their homes by Islamic fundamentalists.

However, the Palestinians  share their fate, in a manner of speaking,  with the Dalits and religious  minorities in India in being second grade people in their own homeland where caste and religious violence under an umbrella of State connivance and impunity mirrors the violence of the Zionist state and its racist  armed forces.

It was the solidarity of the victims, and the congruence of the attributes of Zionism and Hindutva, or militant right wing Hinduism, which marked discussion at the first seminar of its kind to be held in Delhi in decades, organized by the ‘Indian Solidarity Ecumenical Network – Palestine’ in New Delhi over two days this week, with some first-hand experience coming from a Palestinian delegation of a Catholic priest, a Muslim human rights lawyer, and a student.

Congress party leader and former federal minister Mani Shankar Iyer and Communist Party of India leader Sitaram Yechury spoke at the inaugural and concluding sessions respectively, attended by ecumenical leaders from India and senior academics specializing in the study of religious extremism in India and its international linkages, among them Professors  Ram Puniyani, Shamshul Islam and AchinVinayak.

India has had a traditional, warm relationship with the Palestinian people from before the Indian Independence in 1947. The leaders of the Indian National Congress were sympathetic to the people who would be affected by the Balfour declaration, the  British mandate and the Zionist armed action for the formation of a Jewish homeland.

But then, as now, there was very little understanding of the fundamentals of Zionism, the manufactured history underpinning  the case for a homeland for the Jewish Diaspora. There had been Jews in India from perhaps the 5th Century BC, a small but significant community living in Cochin in Kerala and several other coastal cities as traders, building beautiful places of synagogues, mixing with the local people while nurturing their distinctive culture. The Indian Jews, one group of whom was known as the Baghdadi Jews living in Bombay, never did experience the exclusion and persecution that Jewry faced in Europe even before Hitler and his Final Solution.

Mahatma Gandhi was sympathetic to the persecuted Jews, but not to the concept of a homeland, expecting the survivors to remain in their homelands, albeit with newfound freedoms guaranteed in a post World War polity. That remained the official Indian policy. It recognized the PLO, but recognized the State of Israel only as late as the Congress government of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in the 1990s.

Analysts say this was under the persuasive influence of Rao’s friend  Lal KrishanAdvani whose “Yatra,” evangelizing travels, across India led to the demolition of the 4-century-old Babri mosque at Ayodhya, said to be the birthplace of the Lord Rama of the Hindu pantheon, and unleashed a cycle of violence against Muslims.

For the Hindu right wing led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS,  and its political face the Bharatiya Janata Party,  BJP, making common cause with the Jews has been an article of faith. They have admired Israel’s religious hypernationalism, and its strong arm tactics against the Muslim Arab neighbors.

In a joint conference hosted by the US Indian Political Action Committee, the American Jewish  Committee and the American Israeli Public Affairs committee discussed the “Symbiotic and unique” Indian-Israeli relations and the similar problems they faced. In an infamous and widely quoted remark, Democrat Congressman Gary Ackerman  of New York said  “The real problem is that Israel is surrounded  by 120 million Muslims  while India has 120 million” of them within the country. The RSS quite agrees.

The RSS and the segment of the middle class and upper caste population that backs it up feel, in the words of columnist Pankaj Mishra, a “ruthlessness toward Muslims bordering on hatred.” It is this hatred that fuels the apparently contradiction  of the RSS-BJP love for Israel  and their ideological fascination and connection with Hitler for his nationalism and his treatment of  national enemies of the ruling race.

Observers have noted the upper caste right wing nationalists’ reverence for Adolf  Hillier who has been described as a “hero” in several textbooks published in the state of Gujarat – the  state ruled by the BJP chief minister Narendra Modi who was denied a US visa for his role in the massacre of Muslims in 2002 riots in the state.

A pretty large chunk of the Indian Muslim population comes from what are called the Other Backward Communities, OBCs, and converts from the Dalit castes. So do perhaps 60 percent of the Indian Christians. The BJP-RSS have been in the forefront of the political mobilization that opposes these Dalits and OBCs getting Constitutional rights of reservations in employment, education and politics –rights which are given only to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits. The Sangh has made no bones about its fear that the Dalits will convert to Christianity in large numbers if these rights are given them, and some to Islam.

If the Muslims are seen as a Fifth Column of enemies trying to sabotage a Hindu majority state, the Dalits are seen as collaborators with “foreign” elements out to subvert the pure Hindu state which the Sangh has been working for. This it has done through the RSS, the BJP and a critical section imbedded even in the Congress and other political parties, barring perhaps the Communists and the Bahujan Samaj Party of the Dalits.

This violent paranoia built on concepts of sacred nations and God given powers, and the denial of even basic human rights to the second grade of residents, marks the kinship between Hindutva and the Zionists. The kinship between their victims, the religious and caste minorities of India and the Palestinians, is a natural consequence.

John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council.