The usual conduct of diplomacy, bilateral visits and international summit meetings creates much room for cynicism. At such events, the mouthing of banalities about “historical ties between peoples” and the showering of insincere praise for each other’s “commitment to peace and development” is sort of par for the course. This makes it all the more special when we get to witness a true “breakthrough moment” of genuine warmth.
Pick out India on a map of the world and then move your finger westwards in a roughly horizontal line, looking for a fellow democracy to befriend. It’s just one disappointment after another : you run into countries that are best described either as failed states, dictatorships, Islamic theocracies or all of the above. Until … the State of Israel. If you aren’t very careful, you might miss this thin strip of democracy on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and get lost in the deserts of Arabia and North Africa where freedom goes to die.
Suffice to say that the majesty of this occasion is such that the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi has been enriched by it.
There is only one nagging question here : what took us so long? How could Narendra Modi possibly be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel? How is it that India could not see the advantages of allying with the only democracy in the Middle East? Dare I ask those who have led our nation for 70 years? Dare I ask the visionary Nehru?
But then who am I to question Nehru? I am just an anonymous writer on a corner of the web, while the formidable Nehru has stuff named after him and his illustrious descendants in every stretch from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
But then, I went to school in this country. Every year on November 14, we lined up to celebrate the dear leader’s birthday. I was taught about how much he loved children. I was taught about his deep insights such as “children are the future of the nation!” Who knew? I was taught to call him Chachaji. Surely our beloved Chachaji will not mind this nephew asking some naive questions.
First of all, what benefit did we get by refusing to recognize the State of Israel? Was there a moral argument or even an economic / diplomatic rationale behind this? We recognized the murderous regime of say North Korea, but not the legitimacy of the State of Israel? In fact, India was one of just 9 nations to vote against the inclusion of Israel into the United Nations : six Arab countries along with Afghanistan, Burma, Ethiopia, Iran and Pakistan. Is this the club of nations that Chachaji wished we should join?
Did any of the Muslim countries that we supported against Israel for 45 years support us in Kashmir?
Wait : Kashmir! That gaping wound in the side of India. Would it not have been better if the matter had been sealed in 1947-48 itself? Instead, why did we stop our victorious army in its tracks and go to the United Nations? How could you not have foreseen that the unfinished conflict would fester and fester and keep claiming more lives and more material for decades? Has anyone ever tried to count how much we have lost over Kashmir since then?
Which reminds me of 1947. Chachaji, you made a deal with the British. All future generations of Indians permanently lost nearly a quarter of their country. And 3 million people died on top of that! What kind of deal did you make Chachaji?
And the lesser we say about the Chinese misadventure, the better. A shattering blow to our psyche that we simply haven’t recovered from. Only the other day, our Chinese brothers were taunting us with it, despite the five wonderful principles of peaceful coexistance you framed for them.
But above all, how did you manage to pick the wrong side in the Cold War? How did you manage to call the Soviet Union the hope of humanity?
At the root of all our foreign policy failures is the fact that we misjudged the eventual outcome of the Cold War. You actually expected the Communist model to work, calling for the ending of private property and the replacement of the “profit system” by something that you called “a higher ideal of co-operative service”.
This resulted in 40+ years of India seeking out the wrong allies across the world, spurning democracies such as Israel and acting out of a strange suspicion for the United States. We shook hands with despots, Communist dictators and the worst mass murderers. And yet we won neither the diplomatic battles, nor the moral high ground.
At home, we put all our eggs in the socialist basket, creating an economic prison house that lasted 40 years at the very least. Inside this prison, poverty became endemic and every form of corruption, nepotism and malpractice took root. It all blew up in our faces in the 1990s. Imagine what we could have done if we had started on the path of free enterprise 40 years before we did. Would we be smarting under China’s cruel taunts today? I think not.
They said Chachaji that you were a “visionary”. That means a person who has an enlightened view of the future. How could you not have foreseen all this?