In India, a muted reaction to clashon the high seas

Key test will come at the mosques on Friday.

June 2, 2010 07:49
3 minute read.
In India, a muted reaction to clashon the high seas

Indian paramilitary troopers 248.88. (photo credit: AP)


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NEW DELHI – Reaction to Israeli commandos raiding the so-called “Peace Flotilla” early Monday has been muted in India, at least till now. The key question is whether the country’s large Muslim population will be stirred into protests at the mosques on Friday.

Most newspapers have carried the story prominently, many on the front page, but without screaming headlines or editorial comment. Television news channels, too, have refrained from playing up the story. This could be primarily because there was a devastating attack on a passenger train in eastern India late last week by Maoist extremists, leaving at least 148 people dead and 200 injured. Media focus has been on this story and its implications.

The government of India has, as expected, issued a statement that, while on the face of it is a stern expression of displeasure, in substance amounts to no more than an admonishment, even ambiguous in its conclusion.

“India deplores the tragic loss of life and the reports of killings and injuries to people on the boats carrying supplies for Gaza. There can be no justification for such indiscriminate use of force, which we condemn,” the statement said, adding, “It is our firm conviction that lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force.”

The only political party that has issued a statement is the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has consistently opposed the blossoming of India-Israel relations. Describing the flotilla raid as showing “complete contempt” for international law, the CPI(M) has called on the government to “work actively with other countries from the non-aligned nations in the UN and other bodies to force Israel to lift the illegal siege of Gaza.”

However, unlike in the past, the Marxists have not called for severing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Intellectuals are clearly divided, but with most arguing the case for Israel. “It is entirely Israel’s sovereign right to protect its national interest. It has chosen to exercise that right,” a senior academic and research scholar said. Others feel that the Israeli response was “disproportionate and uncalled for.”

But it is an acknowledged fact in India that even the harshest critics of Israel have a sneaking respect for its “zero tolerance” towards terrorism. Many dream of India becoming as tough as Israel vis-à-vis its western neighbor. Indians are also mindful of the fact that Israel stood by their country at moments of crisis. Israel now competes with Russia as India’s biggest arms supplier. Israeli investment in India has been steadily increasing, as has scientific and technical cooperation. India and Israel have a joint program to counter terrorism. This summer’s ambitious book release is Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.

However, the reaction of India’s huge Muslim community – 12 percent of the country’s more than a billion population – will be known on Friday when kutbas (sermons) are read at mosques.

In the past, fiery speeches at Friday prayers have led to anti-Israel protests. Much of India’s political reaction to events in the Middle East is dictated by what is known as “Muslim politics.” A well-known Muslim commentator commented, “It’s a pity that just when Muslims had begun to forget about perceived Israeli hostility during Operation Cast Lead, something like this should happen.”

Interestingly, a certain chill has settled into India-Turkey relations over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. New Delhi feels Ankara has been pushing for greater Pakistani say on and control over Afghan affairs, and this has not gone down too well with the Indian establishment and masses. Turkey’s increasing closeness to Pakistan has been noticed in India. This may result in India not blindly endorsing any initiative by Turkey to isolate and punish Israel.

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