Democracy not for a ride

By K.N. Pandita

Recently, for the first time in contemporary history of Jammu, a public demonstration spearheaded by Jammu and Kashmir Shia Federation was held in the main city. Hundreds of Shia Muslims, including groups of students participated in the march. Slogans raised were pointed against Israel and the US. Speakers urged the world community to take serious note of “atrocities” and “oppression” on people of Palestine by the Israeli government with the help of USA.”

Supported by the activists of Ladakh Students Welfare Association, the protestors carried placards with captions “Stop supporting child killers”, “Boycott Israel”, “Stop killing innocent people” etc. 

A protesting person said, “Our nation was earlier oppressed by the British for about 200 years and now Israel with the help of USA resorted to atrocities. We understand the pain of our brothers and sisters in Palestine and we will not tolerate such atrocities. The world community should help the Palestine by boycotting Israel and USA.

What did he mean by “our nation” and “our brothers and sisters”?

Indian democracy allows freedom of expression unknown to Arab countries.  People can come together to vent their grievances or aspirations. As such the protest march in question cannot be defaulted.

But the tone and tenor of the slogans and utterances are precisely reminiscent of the tantrum of Iranian Ayatollahs who never fail spitting venom against the two countries. The survival of the theocratic regime in Iran is superscripted by deep hatred for Israel. It is not an inherent trait of Iranian character but a self-generated message to the Arab world that Iran is more Islamic than what they construe of her. In a scenario of fierce rivalry with the Saudis, Iran wants to steal a march over her by feigning to be more Pan-Islamic than the Arabs.

The Ayatollah regime is at loggerheads with the US — the “Big Satan” of Khumeini’s nomenclature—more because the US protects and aligns with the Saudi monarchy about which Khumeini had said that monarchy was illegal in Islam.

But notwithstanding the civil and political rights ungrudgingly allowed by a democratic state like ours, publicly castigating a third country on local soil for real or imaginary infringements is tantamount to breach of privilege. It is in the logic of things that the local government takes cognizance of misuse of political freedom in a way that puts the State of India in an embarrassing situation.

Public demonstrations and anti-government slogans are nothing new in our State but a huge protesting rally brought out on streets against two foreign countries, both of them having good relations with India, is something that must evoke the attention of Indian authorities.

Indian Government has always supported the Palestinian cause and has been seeking justice for the people of that beleaguered land. It is an established policy of the foreign office. Former Indian Prime Minster Indira Gandhi had special regard for late Yasser Arafat who was always treated a distinguished and honoured guest whenever he visited India. Our government is alive to the Palestinian problem.

But to make a hotchpotch of the Palestinian issue and bring in Israel and the US for damnation on our soil is a step fraught with grave repercussions. It can adversely affect India’s bilateral relations and broad outlines of her foreign policy. India is the last to precipitate estrangement with countries whose friendship she has cultivated with patience and in national interests.

The organizers of the protest rally never brought out any rally during past two decades against Pakistan exporting terror to Kashmir that has resulted in the death of innocent thousands of Kashmiris besides the extirpation of entire Hindu minority of the valley. It never brought out protest rally against wanton killing of Shias in Pakistan where factional violence has wrought havoc to that society. It never protested against Pakistani rulers whose highhandedness and dictatorial conduct engineered demographic change in Gilgit-Baltistan reducing the Shia majority to a minority.

Two-decade old turmoil in Kashmir has created piquant situation in which various internal and external elements are trying to fish in the disturbed waters in one way or the other. The OIC has been passing resolutions at its apex meetings against India on Kashmir. Iran has been in the forefront of signatories despite claiming good relations with India. OIC has refused membership to India, a country that contains second largest population of Muslims in the world.

At the same time, India is the world’s biggest democracy and the way it runs the affairs of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country is a great experiment in human society unprecedented in history.  India has to have firm and decisive foreign policy and she cannot be intimidated by any country that might have scores to settle elsewhere.

The US is the world’s strongest democracy, like it or not, and as such, India needs good relations with the US to promote democracy and secularism in the world and bring economic prosperity to her people. Any denunciation of the US on India soil is not acceptable because it can adversely affect good relationship which is being built assiduously.

Not only that, India has good relations with Israel also and the two countries are cooperating in various fields of mutual interest like anti-terrorism, cross border infiltration, internal sabotage and in arms deals to modernize India’s defence capability.  But that does not mean that either India overlooks the situation in the Middle East and the just cause or that countries which have stakes in Middle East would want India tow their line.

Do not forget that during Iran-Iraq war, it was on the behest of the US that Israel supplied weapons and war material to Tehran via Pakistan. Iran did so arguing it was in her national interests.

India is not a small country with flip-flop foreign policy perceptions. India could not accept the IPI gas pipeline proposal not because the US exercised pressure on India against Iran. India’s first apprehension was the security of the proposed route of the gas pipeline and the second concern was the cost of the project. India knows that the proposed gas pipeline has to pass through Balochistan province of Pakistan, a very volatile province where nobody can guarantee security to a multi-billion project. The Baloch insurgents have blown up the Sui gas pipeline a number of times.

We are aware that Iran has some presence in a small segment of Kashmir and in Kargil. We appreciate if Iran identifies projects in which she can collaborate with India to help improve economic condition of people in J&K State. We have age-old cultural relations and we can cash on that in positive terms. But nobody should be under the impression that being a free and open country Indian democracy is for a ride.

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