Israel - Hamas war: BJP Embraces Israel in Theory but Supports Two-State Solution
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
Among the Hindutva ideological offshoots, VD Savarkar, a leading figure of the ‘Hindu Mahasabha’ (Hindu nationalist political party), was the staunchest champion of a Jewish state. The Mahasabha, writes Chirayu Thakkar (doctoral candidate jointly with the National University of Singapore and King’s College London) “never signed up for the two-state solution nor deliberated in detail about the status of Jerusalem. In other words, Hindu Mahasabha never took a policy approach.
“For other Hindutva offshoots, Israel-Palestine was as much a policy question as it was an ideological issue. For the ‘Swatantra Party’ (a classical liberal political party that existed from 1959 to 1974)—the free market coalition of Hindutva—establishing diplomatic ties with Israel was a priority.”
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent to both the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “took a part-ideological part-political view of the topic, leaving the precise solution to its political arm, the BJP,” according to Thakkar.
To a student of Hindutva politics therefore, “it becomes clear that the closer a Hindutva offshoot is to party politics, the more they approach the Israel-Palestine issue as a policy question. For the ideologues, who maintained an arm’s length from the trenches of formal politics, it was all about supporting another religious homeland—of the Jews on the shores of Galilee—that was under menacing aggression from Arabs (read Islam)…..”
Policy of Equidistance
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya—the third ideologue in the trinity with Savarkar and Golwalkar, whom the RSS loaned to the BJS—was most clear-eyed policy-wise. His view was that [‘we should not become blindly pro-Israeli just because the Congress is blindly pro-Arab… We must judge every issue on its own merit.’ “This advice metamorphosed into an equidistance policy between both the Arab bloc and Israel. For the BJP, however, the Israel arm of the equidistance policy was missing in Congress’ Middle East vision, which ought to be rectified by establishing formal ties with Tel Aviv.”
The notion of bringing equanimity to the West Asia policy, however, states Thakkar “did not prevent the BJP from advocating a two-state solution and the rights of Palestinians. In its resolution on the Gulf War in 1991, the BJP resolved: ‘The Palestinians have an inalienable right to a homeland, just as Israel has a right to exist in comity of nations’.”
The balancing acts of subsequent BJP premiers, when in power, echo this policy. “If Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Israel, he calibrated it by stopping over in Ramallah. If Modi tweeted in support of Israel, he later spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Beyond the Israel-Palestine question, the Modi government’s Gulf outreach exhibits clinical; outreach pragmatism flowing from Upadhyaya’s advice of merit and interest-driven approach.”
Some might argue that there is indeed an erosion of this equidistance policy under Modi. For instance, India has dropped the demand for East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital since November 2016. However, argues Thakkar “one can chiefly attribute this shift to the Trump administration’s alacrity to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital than to Hindutva ideology.”
The Hindutva policy of balancing, concludes Thakkar “stems from a duality: the embrace of Israel is rooted in conviction, while the support for Palestine is undergirded by cold pragmatism. The former is firm, the latter is vulnerable.”