The 'world's largest democracy' and the Middle East's 'only' democracy have a lot more in common than you'd think.
In the fog of war, ambiguity reigns. Since tit-for-tat military escalations between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan ramped up less than two weeks ago, practically everything about the clashes between the two arch-rivals has been bitterly contested.
What we do know is that in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks, hysterical media coverage recklessly amplified a jingoistic fervor that was pumped into the Indian body politic.
The air raids into Pakistani territory on February 26 in Balakot were conducted as a pre-emptive offensive and alleged to have struck the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad’s headquarters. While this claim has been contested by open-source evidence, what was incontrovertible is that Israeli-made, GPS-guided SPICE 2000 bombs were dropped by IAF Mirage jets.
If the missiles are Israeli, so too are the tactics: a surgical, non-balance-shifting assault that Israel has perfected not only in Palestine but during the Syrian civil war. Given a situation where conventional deterrence and inaction are unrealistic, reconnaissance, precision weaponry, and surveillance have become integral to India’s arsenal. Along with joint-commando exercises, its lucrative defense relationship with Israel is burgeoning.
There is a swathe of online Sanghi brigades that fetishize Israel’s pugnacious and assertive nationalism. Following the Balakot strikes, former army chief-turned-minister VK Singh bemoaned in a Facebook post that India was not like Israel, on account of its “anti-India” opposition that dared to question its armed forces – which would never occur in Israel.
Even moderate voices deem it has much to learn from Israel or should model its intelligence services on one that “has gone all over the world to eliminate those who opposed its interests.”
Given Israel’s unrestrained ability for punitive action, many Indians observe the nexus between Israeli statecraft and military conduct with a sense of operational envy.
Hasbara & Tactical Symmetry
Amidst the post-Pulwama information terrain, the Indian media’s campaign of smoke-and-mirrors echoes a strategy of narrative control and disinformation long employed by Israel.
Termed hasbara (“explanation”), this technique embodies a public-private partnership which links information warfare with the objectives of the Israeli state. Multifaceted and tailored to the digital age, it is deeply aware that perception shapes reality and promotes selective listening by limiting informational receptivity. As a result, Israel has been able to frame itself as a victim; one that is morally justified whenever Palestinian resistance flares up.
The Indian state – under the corrosive sway of the BJP’s Hindu nationalism – has taken a page out of the hasbara playbook. To manufacture consent and legitimise an occupation, the discourse around Kashmir has frequently been couched in terms of ‘security’ and ‘counterterrorism.’
The ‘War on Terror’ logic has provided both the Israeli and Indian state with a shared linguistic, legal and policy framework for their projects of dispossession. Palestinian and Kashmiri emancipatory cries are routinely conflated with extremism, which ultimately serves to obscure the reality of state-sponsored violence and evaporate agency from those resisting their oppression.
Furthermore, the chilling symmetry is hard to ignore. Both nations pursue colonisation of a territory inhabited by a Muslim-majority. Both are governed by far-right parties piloted by a programme of ethno-religious nationalism. Both trumpet the facade of democracy to grant themselves immunity from criticism and exploit Islamophobia to lend their domestic security discourse a veneer of credibility. Both have committed war crimes and human rights violations and used civilians as human shields.
Back in 1945, George Orwell argued that Indian nationalists would naturally oppose Zionism. Given the context of interwar fascism, in which a leftwing dispensation of Indian nationalism and Nehruvian policy of support for Palestine prevailed, Orwell’s sentiment wasn’t misguided. However, its inversion some 70 years later has produced a peculiar paradox: Hindutva’s admiration of both Hitler and Zionism.
The bromine between Modi and Netanyahu rests on more than just a military-industrial complex. That is, an alliance of Zionism and Hindutva: ideological bedfellows whose reactionary politics are laced with exclusivism, supremacism, and anti-Muslim animus.
It is an embrace rooted in Hindu nationalism’s historical affinity for Zionism.
Well before the end of the 19th century, Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay wrote that Jews were admirable because they were clean, socially self-contained and attached to their own traditions.
A generation later, VD Savarkar, author of Hindutva (1923), remarked: “If the Zionists’ dreams are ever realized – if Palestine becomes a Jewish state – it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends.”
MS Golwalkar, the preeminent RSS ideologue, drew parallels from the Zionist movement’s essentials of “country, race, religion, culture and language” as being typified in his own “five unities” of Indian nationhood.
Early on, Zionism and Hindu nationalism developed an interest in establishing an unbroken historic-ethnic link to an ancient past that could undergird claims to a geography of national self-determination. Both ethnocracies entertained colonial fantasies in their longing to produce a homeland (one upon a foreign land, the other to reorder/purify itself). While Zionism sought to violently exclude the Palestinian, Hindutva proposed to contain the Muslim in a subordinated position to the Hindu polity.
Hindutva at its core is a phenomenon of majoritarianism with a minority complex. Like Zionism, it adopts irrational anxieties (such as being outbred) simultaneously with the desire for domination, ultimately producing a fascist horizon – realised in intimidation of minorities, an obsession with degenerate and/or seditious populaces, mob lynchings, detention camps, and open-air prisons.
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