Veteran Israeli politician Ariel Sharon had a way of talking peace when he meant the opposite. His stated purpose in going on a wander about the premises of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque in September 2000[1] was to make a case for peace. And from behind massed ranks of grim, heavily armed security personnel guarding his promenade around one of Islam’s most hallowed spots, he did manage to mouth a few pieties on peace into the scrum of media microphones that loyally followed in lockstep behind the security detail. Unsurprisingly, the immediate outcome of the Sharon ramble was an explosion of suppressed rage among the Palestinian people that the thuggish soldier turned politician had spent all his mature years devising ways of removing from the land he imagined as the indivisible patrimony of the Jewish people.

First protests were met with brute force. Mourning rituals for those killed in asserting the claim to a Palestinian homeland merged into the spiral of rage. All of Palestine was soon in a state of full-fledged insurrection. That, we are told by a comprehensive study of the charade of the U.S.-sponsored “peace process” in Palestine and its ignominious end, may well have been the tacit calculation of then Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak in indulging Sharon’s instinct to trample over the territory of an enemy faith. Palestinian factions most amenable to peace had just thrown up their arms in despair at the derisory and mean-spirited offer made by Prime Minister Barak at a peace summit at Camp David in July 2000. And to retrieve political advantage, Israel sorely needed to prove that Palestinians could never be a credible partner for peace. Streets seething with rage were seen as a useful accessory in pursuing that agenda.

Sharon enjoyed Barak’s unstated patronage in calling forth this final showdown before the peace process was formally administered its last rites. He soon ascended to the Prime Ministerial position, after general elections that fed into the prevailing mood of paranoia. From then on, there was no talk of peace, only of “unilateral separation” on terms that Israel would impose. In the twilight years of his career, Sharon had opted for the lesser act of brutality as his parting gift to the Palestinians, since expulsion — always his first preference — was clearly infeasible. From being a region under active military occupation, Gaza was transformed into the world’s largest prison, garrisoned through air and sea-power and remote-controlled weaponry. And the West Bank was transformed into a maze of roads and settlements of Jewish exclusivity guarded by an apartheid wall of hideous concrete snaking through its length.

Sharon’s first known entry in the register of crimes against humanity can be traced to 1953, when he was a newly commissioned officer in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and carried out an armed raid in the village of Qibya, killing sixty-nine Palestinians, mostly women and children. The purpose evidently, was didactic: to underline that Palestinians displaced from their homeland by the last kick of Britain’s colonial mandate, should not make too strong a point about return and restitution. As he moved up the military hierarchy, he became a highly valued hit-man for the Israeli political leadership, always willing to fulfill their deepest wishes, though without the formal instructions that would encumber them with moral responsibility.

No such convenience was afforded him when the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982 occurred under his watch as Defence Minister. Indicted by a commission of inquiry and compelled to serve a longish political exile, he managed a rehabilitation without really seeming to seek one. He was just too integrally connected to the thuggish, terrorist personality of the state of Israel, to be too long in the wilderness. And once having ascended to the office of Prime Minister, Sharon was not about to retreat from the path of blood-soaked violence.

In September 2003, Ariel Sharon came calling in Delhi, in a visit touted as a historic first for an Israeli Prime Minister in India. The day before he was scheduled to land, a commentator in India’s largest English language newspaper acclaimed his visit as an occasion to “finally put behind us a dreary chapter in the history of our relations with the outside world”. India’s longstanding refusal to do business with Israel, he said, might once have had a purpose: it “took care” of India’s oil imports, “ensured” jobs for thousands of citizens in the Gulf, and “kept afloat” the foreign exchange situation. But that was only part of the story.

The other side, perhaps the decisive influence in determining decades of estrangement between India and Israel, was more unsavory: “dogmatic anti-Americanism fanned by fellow-travelling academics, politicians and bureaucrats to ensure Soviet support for our foreign policy objectives and the desperate need that avowedly secular parties felt to keep on the good side of the Muslim electorate”. This “vote bank phenomenon”, accounted for India’s “refusal to build bridges with Israel” — a “vibrant democracy” that it shared core values with — and its willingness to be best friends intimate with “tinpot dictators and sundry sheikhs”.

On the day of Sharon’s arrival, another major English-language newspaper ran a commentary which purported to see amid all the apparent differences certain key points of convergence between India and Israel: “… two nations. One large and the other so diminutive that it appears as a mere dot on the map. Both contain within their boundaries so many diversities. And yet, both exhibit several similarities: the fight against terrorism being perhaps the foremost of them.”

In their tone, these commentaries foretold most of the themes that were played out during the Sharon visit. A common commitment to democratic pluralism and shared concerns over terrorism were ostensibly two powerful solvents that at long last, were wiping away the legacy of estrangement between India and Israel. In brief and heavily guarded moments in the public eye, these were precisely the themes that Sharon underlined. Following the accustomed ritual Sharon was compelled among his first public engagements to pay a call on Rajghat, India’s memorial for Mahatma Gandhi. Having paid ostentatious homage to the message of peace with rose petals strewn over the spot where the Mahatma was cremated, Sharon wrote the following few lines in the visitor’s book: “From Jerusalem, the city of peace, eternal capital of the Jewish people, I bring you a message of hope and peace. Today Israel and India are embattled democracies, sharing values and the challenge of terrorism. United in our quest for life, liberty and peace our joint determination to fight for these values can inspire our hopes for a better future for our people.”

As during his walkabout in the Al Aqsa compound, the pieties at Rajghat issued from behind a heavy security blanket. Local police took over the venue many hours in advance and traffic on main thoroughfares leading there was stopped an hour ahead of Sharon’s arrival. It was a harrowing experience which top officials of the police admitted they were happy to see end.

After it all, a curiosity persisted and an enormous, unresolved incongruity. The man that Sharon paid florid homage to at Rajghat was best remembered for his insistence on the peaceful attainment of political ends, for his deep religious beliefs which coexisted with a wide and generous ecumenism in matters of faith. And even if these aspects of Gandhi’s legacy could be submerged in the empty ritualism that diplomacy today thrives on, Sharon surely could not have been unaware of the views on Palestine of the man whose memorial he was at.

This is an aspect of Gandhi’s political legacy on which there is absolutely no ambiguity. From the time of the Balfour declaration promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine, to the very eve of the creation of Israel, Gandhi remained a resolute opponent of the forcible expropriation of the Arabs from their land by terrorism and military coercion, tactics that reached their very acme in the person of Ariel Sharon.

In 1921, soon after the Balfour declaration and the revelations of the Sykes-Picot agreement had brought to light the devious imperial game-plan for the Arab lands, Gandhi had this to say: “So far as I am aware, there never has been any difficulty put in the way of Jews and Christians visiting Palestine and performing all their religious rites. No canon, however, of ethics or war can possibly justify the gift by the Allies of Palestine to Jews.” It is true that Gandhi’s principal concern here was not the territorial integrity of Arab lands, but preservation of the institution of the “Khalifa”, putatively the spiritual guardian of the Islamic faith.

In this respect, Gandhi’s priorities seemed to fit the description of what revisionist historians today would term the theme of “appeasement” of the Indian Muslim. Indeed, Gandhi explicitly refers to the need to “placate” the “Indian Mussalman”, for which a necessary condition would be the preservation of the “Island of Arabia” (sic) under “exclusive Mussalman control … and under the spiritual sovereignty of the Khalifa”. This effort to forge a cross-confessional alliance in India using unrelated and disparate issues to appeal to different partners, has often been criticized as one among a succession of political blunders, born in Gandhi’s belief that all politics is a variety of religious faith.

The jury is still out on the strategic wisdom of Gandhi’s espousal of the cause of the Islamic Khalifa. Charges of pandering to extreme religious chauvinism have been leveled against him, but these, typically, have come from those who would rather overlook the contribution that Hindu extremism made to India’s bitter communal estrangement during the 1920s. What is relevant is that Gandhi retained till his last days his conviction that the Zionist colonization of Palestine was an unqualified wrong. His most famous locutions on this matter of course, date from 1938, when the Palestinian intifada against the expropriation of their land was raging and the Jewish influx was rising to a flood — aided as we shall see, by a policy of relocation actively sponsored by Nazi Germany.

Asked to clarify his point of view, he said, famously, that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French”. It was “wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs”. The colonization of Palestine by the Zionists could not be “justified by any moral code of conduct”. And the ostensible “mandate” under which it was being carried out had “no sanction but that of the last war”. The program of reducing the Arabs to an alien presence in their own land was, in this respect, little less than “a crime against humanity”.

In the twilight of the British mandate in Palestine, when the imperial power was in the throes of its ignominious scuttle, unmindful of the political and humanitarian disaster it was leaving behind, Gandhi chided the Zionists for “seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism”. And in one of his last public statements on the issue, he responded with little equivocation when asked the best way out of the spiraling crisis in Palestine: “The abandonment wholly by the Jews of terrorism and other forms of violence.”

Evidently, Gandhi’s abiding solidarity with the Palestinians had nothing to do with political constituency building or pandering. It was simply the spontaneous reaction of a fighter against colonialism, who saw the same malign practices that had fettered his people, refurbished and implemented elsewhere. A point expressed in various ways over the years, was put with appropriate clarity in a 1979 work by the great Palestinian scholar, Edward Said. Literary creations and social commentary in Europe, through the years when Zionism as an ideology was in its formative phase, saw it as a movement of redemption, of bringing vast expanses of territory into the benign embrace of civilization.

That these territories were inhabited by people with their own cultures and traditions, and ideas about how to forge their destinies, was simply not admitted into the realm of possibility. Thus, Palestine was a “land without a people” destined to be settled and civilized by “a people without a land”. “Zionism appealed to a European audience for whom the classification of overseas territories and natives into various uneven classes was canonical and ‘natural’. That is why, for example, every single state or movement in the formerly colonized territories of Africa and Asia today identifies with, fully supports, and understands the Palestinian struggle”[2].

Said wrote at a time when Third World governments still retained some sense of anchorage in the ethos of their national liberation movements. But the glow was rapidly fading. The economic crises that many of these countries sank into over the 1980s, was apt reflection of the underlying moral bankruptcy of their ruling elites. And as they began flailing desperately in an effort to regain the legitimacy forged for the most part in struggles against colonialism, there seemed only one way forward, involving the ardent embrace of the mantra of progress in a free enterprise world, where every country would get ahead to the extent that it enjoyed the benediction of the U.S. Considerably strengthened by the resurgence of a vein of Islamophobia that had briefly remained buried in these countries — India included — this became the determinant of a new attitude, which viewed Israel not as unlawful colonizer of another people’s land but as long-lost friend.

The motif of “Muslim appeasement” as a force retarding India’s quest for its rightful place in the world, was raised to the status of official policy when Jaswant Singh, then External Affairs Minister, visited Israel in July 2000. Deliberations during this visit focused on moving the military and strategic relationship between India and Israel several notches higher. And on his triumphal return, Jaswant Singh put down India’s unreasonable hostility to Israel to the domestic politics of cultivating the Muslim vote. Jaswant Singh had been preceded by a few weeks in Israel by his cabinet colleague at the time, Home Minister L.K. Advani, principal political ideologue of his party through the 1980s and beyond, and key architect of the “Hindutva” platform, which set itself up as a quest for enthroning the authentic cultural identity of the nation, ostensibly buried under the debris of minority appeasement.

Sharon’s homily on terrorism at Rajghat tapped into a quite different political tradition than that identified with the man memorialized there. It was eloquent homage though, to a state system that had, in deluded pursuit of international recognition, successfully interred the ideals that brought the nation into existence.

Islamophobia is a thread that runs through India’s modern history, notably among those who sought to put down the indignities of colonialism to the loss of its primordial cultural identity. This fall of the nation was in turn the consequence of the intrusion of the Islamic cultural strain under the sword-arm of conquest. Like Zionism, Hindu revivalism came in a spectrum of shades. In the more moderate variants, it took the shape of a quest for a golden past that could be recreated in modern times.

Typical in this regard was the Arya Samaj, a social reform movement that gained roots in India’s Punjab region in the late 19th century. Like many such movements from the time, the Arya Samaj drifted into quite distinct streams by the early years of the 20th century. One of these sought “political solutions to the problems that faced the Hindu community” and “merged with a broader Hindu consciousness”. Another strain retained a “more religious and devotional vision” and sought to “create a new man, the Arya Hindu and a new world for him to inhabit”. This was an ideological and political tendency that worked through active processes of defense of the community (“prachar”) and conversion of those who had strayed into other faiths (“shuddhi”).

Writing in 1902, Lala Lajpat Rai — an early lion of Indian nationalism, nurtured in the political cradle of the Arya Samaj — was at pains to refute the common supposition that Hinduism is “devoid of any basal principles on which the foundations of a church national could be laid”. The accusation that Hinduism was not a unified religion but a wide congeries of myths and beliefs, often inconsistent and incommensurable, was devoid of all validity. Hinduism had a “pivot” and that was and would remain the Veda. “Philosophers and non-philosophers, Vishnuits and Sivaits (sic) all echo the word Veda..,” said Rai.

In a later work, also written in 1902, Rai challenged the notion that “the idea of Nationality is an essentially European and modern idea.” The Hindus were a nation from the earliest origins of the faith and there was no substance in the argument that they did not merit this status by their failure over history to establish themselves as an autonomous political entity. The mere fact that such a question could be posed, he said, meant that “Hindus” as a distinct body within society always existed in history.

“We cannot deny the existence of a nation simply because all the members of that nation did not join in the struggle for defense, or that some of them seceded or proved traitors, or joined the enemy’s camp… Nor can we deny the existence of the sentiment of nationality, because that sentiment was not sufficiently strong and marked to overcome all differences, among the different numbers of that nation, to enable them to stand as one man in defense of national interests….. If in 1193 providence decreed the fall of the Hindus, that alone is not sufficient to justify us in damning the Hindus of that period as men who were totally bereft of the sentiment of nationality.”

Tellingly, the “fall of the Hindus” is ascribed to the date of Islam’s advent in India’s northern plains. In the years that followed his early writings on Hindu nationalism, as competitive politics expanded in scope, Rai spoke of the unfettered exercise of rights by all communities as cause of the attendant surge in communal violence. A doctrine of rights had been implanted with mischievous intent by western civilization, when Indian traditions placed emphasis on the duties of man. Rai took note of Gandhi’s suggestion that Hindus should honor their duty towards other faiths. Those of the Muslim faith had an aversion to loud revelry outside their places of worship, which imposed in Gandhi’s vision, a duty on the Hindu to maintain silence outside an Islamic mosque at all times. Lajpat Rai found this attitude lacking in symmetry, since Gandhi did not at any point, administer “similar admonition to the Muslims”.

Rai also took issue with Gandhi’s effort to promote unity among Hindus and Muslims on the platform of the Khilafat campaign. Reliance on the theme of the Khilafat, which recruited Muslim loyalty to the cause of a supranational, alien institution, was totally out of place for the Indian nationalist cause. This tendency for the Indian Muslim to respond to an extra-territorial call, put his place in India on a different plane than the Hindu’s, who had no other space on earth to call his own. And from his travels through some parts of the erstwhile Ottoman empire that just preceded these 1924 writings, Lajpat Rai had found that pan-Islamic bonding was really an illusion conjured up by self-serving religious leaders. Palestine was a case in point.

“In Palestine the Muslims are an overwhelming majority over the Jews,” he observed. “Christian Europe is creating a strong and well-protected Ulster in Palestine, which leaves almost no hope of the Muslims ever regaining their lost position of supremacy. Everywhere one sees well-built and well-equipped colonies of Jews springing up with their own highly efficient educational and philanthropic institutions and with their equally efficient industrial concerns. They are fast buying lands of Muslims and Christians. Money is pouring in from America and Europe. The only ‘disconcerting’ feature is that it is only the poorer class of the Jews and the oppressed members of the race that are emigrating to Palestine for permanent settlement.”

Rai is careful not to state an opinion on the Jewish influx into Palestine under western colonial sponsorship, but he does seem to view it as a most useful antidote to the deep malaise of pan-Islamism, which seriously afflicted the prospect of national unity in India. As a pragmatic politician committed to constitutional means, Rai was disinclined to follow the more extreme elements of the Arya Samaj in advocating the “shuddhi” of the Muslims in Punjab and the North-West Frontier, to secure the frontiers of the Indian nation.

The “shuddhi” program was a key contributor to a surge of communal animosity, provoking the countervailing mobilizations of “tablighi” by the Muslims. Competitive politics was making its entry into India under the colonial dispensation and strength was seen to lie in numbers. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who found the shuddhi ritual singularly unappealing, as, too, the counterpart movements among Muslims, Rai was quite unequivocal that it was there to stay. There was no way that the Hindus could be swayed from the political program of augmenting their numbers by bringing communities that had strayed, such as the Malkana Rajputs, back to the faith.

These shades of opinion within Hindu revivalism corresponded, though not always exactly, to a similar differentiation within Zionism. Theodore Herzl is seen as representing mainstream Zionism but he was always in competition with other approaches. A more benign variant originated in Eastern Europe with the Russian born Asher Ginsburg (better known by his Hebrew pen-name Ahad Ha’am), who broke bitterly with the Zionist strategy of actively cultivating the patronage of western powers to facilitate the colonization of Palestine.

Ha’am saw the mission of Jewish civilization not as a program of colonization but as a spiritual revival without a necessary territorial component. He warned repeatedly against the Zionist practice of writing native Palestinians out of their history and territory, foreseeing bitter strife as the inevitable consequence of the forced expropriation of another people’s land. Herzl dismissed him as an impractical and woolly-headed idealist, famously pointing out that the Jewish people, with their facility in arithmetic, would have little difficulty figuring out how long it would take them to claim a homeland of their own if they were to follow the glacial pace of settlement Ha’am advocated.

Since Herzl’s death at a relatively young age and especially since achieving the signal triumph of securing the Balfour declaration, the Zionist movement split over strategic perceptions. Chaim Weizmann and others – who were branded, rather inaccurately, as Ha’am’s successors – favored working closely with Britain and France to secure the ends of a Jewish homeland. The other main faction headed by the Russian, Vladimir Jabotinsky, insisted on an accelerated pace of colonization, aided if necessary by governments and armed movements in eastern Europe that had been among the most resolutely anti-Semitic in both ideology and practice.

Jabotinsky’s effort to secure the active support of a rabidly anti-Semitic Ukrainian armed group, then deeply committed in the civil war against the Bolshevik revolutionaries, for an accelerated program of Jewish transfer to Palestine, enraged others within the Zionist movement, contributing among a host of other factors to his formal break from mainstream Zionism.

This willingness to barter and deal with even the most hostile and virulently nationalistic elements, persisted long into the career of Zionism. In many senses, Zionism identified as a greater enemy than anti-Semitism the assimilationist tendency among European Jewry, which saw the future as one of striving towards a universal and inclusive culture that all could partake of, irrespective of ethnicity. Despite Herzl’s concerted campaign to drum up outrage over the persecution of a Jewish officer in the French army – in what came to be called the “Dreyfuss affair” and the continuing threat of pogroms in Russia and its wider zone of influence, Jews were not signing on to the Zionist project in the numbers that he expected.

The far-right nationalists of Ukraine and Poland had in this respect an identity of interests with the Zionists in seeking a thinning down — or even an eventual effacement — of the Jewish presence in their territories. The triumph of Nazism in Germany was a final moment of vindication for Zionism. As the author and biographer Emil Ludwig, then a recent convert to Zionism, put it: “So many of our German Jews were hovering between two coasts; so many of them were riding the treacherous current between the Scylla of assimilation and the Charybdis of a nodding acquaintance with Jewish things. Thousands who seemed to be completely lost to Judaism were brought back to the fold by Hitler, and for that I am personally very grateful to him.” Chaim Nachmann Bialik, a Russian Jew who is recognized as the poet-laureate of Zionism, put it with an eloquent economy of words: “Hitlerism has perhaps saved German Jewry, which was being assimilated into annihilation.”

It was this bizarre conflation of seeming opposites, the identity of interests between the brutal Nazi regime and the political campaign for a Jewish homeland that Hannah Arendt reflected over as she watched the trial of the notorious death camp commandant Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1962. Eichmann’s defense was that far from being an enemy of the Jews, he was their most ardent ally. He had attended a commemoration of the thirty-five year anniversary of Herzl’s death in 1939 and remonstrated very strongly with Nazi youth who had vandalized his gravesite in Vienna. He had thrown himself into the project of relocating Germany’s Jews in a homeland of their choice: first Palestine and when that proved difficult because of British ambivalence, other parts of Europe and the distant shores of Madagascar.

The Zionists were, in Nazi perceptions, Jews they could do business with. The larger Jewish organizations, which sought to combat the growing tide of anti-Semitism, were seen as enemies of the German Nazi State which it could not possibly engage with in any meaningful manner. Between 1933 and 1938, an agreement between the Zionists and the Nazi regime for the transfer of Germany’s Jewish population to Palestine worked with great efficacy, beating the economic sanctions imposed on Germany and contributing to a substantial accretion in Zionist numbers and economic assets in the territory. When the Nazi gaze turned east with the invasion of the Soviet Union, the regime found many more Jewish people coming under the putative “area of German influence in Europe”, making both relocation and concentration infeasible. The first and second options had to be abandoned and the “final solution” of mass extermination brought into active play.

Eichmann claimed at his trial to have been appalled at the orders he received from on high. But as a loyal citizen of the German Reich and a bureaucrat concerned about career advancement, he fell in line with due deference to authority. As recounted at his trial in Jerusalem, his ardor in enforcing the “final solution” did not lessen his admiration for the Jewish people, or diminish the sincerity with which he had partaken of the Zionist project of colonizing Palestine. On this narration of a dark chapter of twentieth century history with its kernel of partial truth and its deep moral ambivalences, on this arrangement of mutual convenience between political forces that have since then sought to portray themselves as resolute opposites, Arendt quotes a study of the early phase in Hitler’s Germany by a team of Jewish historians: “Thus, what must have been one of the most paradoxical episodes of the entire period of the Nazi regime began: the man who was to go down in history as one of the arch-murderers of the Jewish people entered the lists as an active worker in the rescue of Jews from Europe.”

As Hindu nationalist ideology moves into its more extreme fringes, its inherent paradoxes stand out with similar starkness. These are articulated by the early pioneers of the ideology in the confident belief that in the prevalent mood of facing down a common enemy in Islam, minor doctrinal inconsistencies would be of no consequence. As India under colonial rule lurched from the bitter aftermath of the collapse of the Khilafat agitation, into an extended phase of bitter communal estrangement, the notion of a country inhabited by two nations became widely accepted, crystallized especially in two political vehicles: the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). A text published in 1939 by M.S. Golwalkar, a year before he took over the leadership of the RSS, remains one of the most authoritative statements on Hindu nationalism, offering rich insights in its comments on contemporary world events, into the ideological pantheon that it drew sustenance from.

Golwalkar’s statements lauding Nazi Germany for its virulent manifestation of “race pride”, which led to the expulsion of the Jews despite the world recoiling in horror at the enormity of the deed, are widely cited. These offer eloquent testimony in themselves, but only tell the full story when juxtaposed against the observations on Zionism that the same text offers. Golwalkar identifies India as one among the early nations to afford sanctuary to the Jews after their country passed into Roman tyranny, though the greater dispersal in his view occurred when the “engines of destruction … under the name of Islam” were let loose in the land.

Palestine in this sense, suffered much like India did, losing its culture and traditions on account of the intrusions of Islam: “Palestine became Arab, a large number of Hebrews changed faith and culture and language and the Hebrew nation in Palestine died a natural death”. But hope was not lost, since the “attempt at rehabilitating Palestine with its ancient population of the Jews is nothing more than an effort to reconstruct the broken edifice and revitalize the practically dead Hebrew National life”. Nationalism for Golwalkar was a compound of religion, culture and language, which he found somehow lacking in Palestine. All three attributes though, were on display among the Jews, who unfortunately, lacked a territory. It was entirely appropriate then, that “in order to confer their lost Nationality upon the exiled Jews, the British with the help of the League of Nations, began to rehabilitate the old Hebrew country, Palestine, with its long lost children”. “The Jews”, said Golwalkar, “had maintained their race, religion, culture and language: all they wanted was their natural territory to complete their Nationality.”

Golwalkar’s attitude towards India’s Muslims is well known and recorded: they could either adopt the Hindu religion and all its customs, learn to glory in its heritage, or live on sufferance, “wholly subordinated … claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights”. India did not quite take that path, though “Guruji” as he is referred to in RSS circles, should be credited with a remarkably accurate forecast of what life for the Palestinians would be after the Zionist takeover of their land.

Towards the mid-1980s, as the political consensus forged through India’s struggle against colonialism and the subsequent effort at “nation-building” through centralized planning and administration fell apart, Golwalkar’s vision began its journey back towards the mainstream. Resurgent Hindu nationalism charged that decades of rule under the Congress party which claimed — spuriously at the best of times — to have inherited the mantle of the liberation struggle, had enshrined the denial of India’s primordial cultural solidarity as a governing virtue.

As the decade wore on and the troubles in Punjab added to existing headaches in Kashmir and the North-East, indicating how tenuous the integration of religious minorities into the national mainstream had been, an embattled ruling elite in India stood in need of a coercive state ideology to restore order. Hindutva filled that need. And as the country lurched towards its most serious economic crisis in decades late in the 1980s, the state itself felt compelled to shed its pretense towards being an agency for the welfare and development of all. From then on, it was each for himself and the devil take the hindmost. This shredding in domestic policy of all norms of equity and justice, created beyond Indian shores, the climate for a warming towards the U.S. and Israel. Restoring the foundational values of equity and justice to India’s overseas engagements is partly about political activism in the domestic arena, partly about solidarity actions with global civil society actors.

[1] He would become prime minister of Israel just months later, in March 2001

[2] Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine, Vintage, New York, 1980, p 68

This article has been excerpted from the author’s essay, “Parallel Trajectories: Zionism as Conquest, Hindutva as Exclusion”.