By Vijay Prashad
George W. Bush has a cat named India. In New Delhi, about thirty
activists of the Hindu Right's political formation, the BJP, stood
before the US Embassy outraged with this news. "We are not cats," said
one man, "we are lions."
And lions don't lie with the lamb, or with the goat.
Which is why the Hindu Right government does not want to make nice with
Pakistan, and much prefers the other lions in the region, such as
Israel, and the big lion of the planet, the USA.
Bear in mind, however, that this outburst against Bush the Second has
little to do with anti-imperialism. While one section of the Hindu Right
government demolishes the economic sovereignty of India on behalf of
transnational corporations and the Dollar (under the auspices of the
Ministry of Disinvestment), another section of the same government
offers the nation's children a chauvinistic version of history in which
the great Hindu Nation comes off as the next great Universal Empire
(under the auspices of what might as well be called the Ministry of
Disinformation). The Hindu Right is the Trojan Horse of capitalist
globalization, even as it portrays itself as the conquering lion of the
On missile defense, on globalization, on so many of the contentious
issues of the day, the government of India has come out slavishly on the
side of the US (even as there is dissension among the generally
compliant G-8). This is diametrically opposed to what one expects from
the government of India, which had a reputation as a stanch defender of
the international Third Way, of peaceful coexistence, of
anti-nuclearism, of genuine anti-poverty, etc. Nehru was not Castro, but
he was certainly not the Hindu Right.
The fantasy entertained by the Hindu Right government is that an
alliance with the world's lions (USA-Israel) will allow India to sup at
High Table, to eat high on the hog. Certainly the expectation is that
trade will follow the military tie-up.
For that reason, we see a wholesale sell-out by the Hindu Right to
US-Israeli foreign/military policy objectives. Hardt and Negri in their
new book <Empire> come to the conclusion that imperialism is perhaps an
out of date formulation, that there is no real center to the current
political economic formation. To get to this position, they must, and
do, neglect the world of the military (and to a certain extent the role
of the Dollar -- for which, see Peter Gowan's The Global Gambit, from
Verso). And they mistake the contentiousness of past imperialisms.
Imperialisms of the past (English, French, German, Japanese), for
example, remained confined to certain zones, and these nation-based
formations came into conflict with each other. If the English dominated
the rest for a period, it did not mean that they ceased to feel pressure
from the other European pretenders. The model, with some variations,
works today. The US is paramount not in a total way, but through
alliances with sub-imperial powers (Israel in west Asia, Japan-South
Korea in east Asia, etc) and with military pacts with lesser powers (the
US Navy conducts joint exercises, for example in Asia, with Singapore,
India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many others). To neglect the role of the
official forces (the military) and the unofficial forces (the
paramilitary units) is to miss the way imperialism functions.
The Hindu Right, unlike Hardt and Negri, recognize the persistence of
imperialism, and Israeli sub-imperialism -- and they want a piece of the
action in South Asia. It appears that the Hindu Right seeks the
franchise for US lackey against what it sees as Islamic fundamentalism
and Chinese Communism. In exchange for trade arrangements and a seat
with the big boys (in the UN Security Council), the Hindu Right
government will allow the US to create the biggest aircraft carrier in
the Asian region (and render Diego Garcia, and maybe Okinawa, obsolete).
After Rajiv Gandhi allowed Gulf War planes to refuel in Mumbai in 1991,
the door to this lay open. The Hindu Right stepped right in.
But the entire thing seems odd: the Hindu Right and the Israelis? In
1930s, the Hindu Right was ecstatic about the advent of Hitler, and one
of its founders, V. D. Savarkar was feted in the Nazi press for his
enthusiasm at the Blitzkrieg (I've written about this in my forthcoming
book from Beacon Press, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian
Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity; a very cogent analysis is
available on the web from Raja Harish Swamy at
important Hindu Right figure, M. S. Golwalkar, reflected on the
Holocaust, and concluded: "Race pride at its highest has been manifested
here. Germany has shown how wellnigh impossible it is for Races and
cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into
one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit
by." Indeed, this philosophy remains at the heart of the Hindu Right's
ideology, what is known as Hindutva.
But the alliance with Israel is not so strange after all, because at
ideological level, Hindutva is much like Zionism, for both extol the
importance of the Race-State, and both cast aspersions at the presence
of a Muslim minority. An India-born analyst at the Zionist Freeman
Center in Houston, Texas, makes just this connection: "Islamic fascists
see Bharat [India] as the soft spot to propagate their irrational creed
and foment violence. India tries to placate them. Israel expels them.
This is what Bharat should do. If they hate Hindu Rashtra so much they
are free to leave for dar-ul Islam." [I'm puzzled by the claim that
India "placates" anyone, given the rather ruthless actions of the army
and police against, for example, the residents of the Kashmir valley].
At the unofficial level, the links seem to be growing. The leading
Indian-American newspaper, India Abroad, hired a veteran Jewish lobbyist
who worked on Israel and on Jewish causes. Ralph Nuremberger's job was
to do to the Indian Americans and India what the newspaper felt he had
done for Israel and for Jewish Americans. There is a general sentiment
that Indian Americans should follow the Jewish path to whiteness and not
dwell in the world of color that tries to undo racism.
Among semi-fascists the links are deep. I recently found that I was
the "hit-list" of the US-branch of the notorious Bajrang Dal (who are
the shock troops of the Hindu Right), and are here known as Hindu Unity.
None other than the Kahane group (Haktiva), well known for its Iron Fist
Zionism, sponsors the website of the group.
But the real dangers lie on the official level. Both India and Israel
came to life due to the mendacity of a waning English imperialism that
conjured up the idea of partition to hastily dispatch its problems in
west and south Asia. India was averse to a relationship with Israel
mainly because of the injustice done to the Palestinians. From the late
1940s to 1992 there was no substantial relationship (indeed my Indian
passport did not allow me to visit South Africa or Israel -- both seen
as racist states).
This was at the political level. At the military level, something else
was at work.
In January 1963, a few months after India's border war with China, the
government of India reached out to the Israeli military establishment
and opened a dialogue (the story broke in the Hindustan Times on 15 May
1980). Two years later, Israeli cabinet minister Yigal Alon visited
India. Mossad and India's Research Analysis Wing (RAW) shared
information and analysis from the late 1970s onwards.
In 1992, India openly embraced Israel's military establishment. There
are several reasons for this shift. First, the Indian military was eager
to find a supplier for military hardware to replace the by then defunct
Soviet pipeline. Second, the Indian government's enthusiastic 1991 entry
into IMFundamentalism enabled the heresy of a rapid pro-Americanism, and
on its back, a pro-Zionism. 1992 also signaled the emergence of the
Hindu Right as a leading contender for national office, and its ideology
remains far more compatible with that of the US-Israel than that of the
Left and the Center-Left.
A few months after the establishment of full diplomatic relations, a
member Israeli Defense contingent came to India to discuss arms issues
with the Indian Ministry of Defense. Military preceded the political
India's first shopping list was loaded with aircraft demands, mainly
replace the ailing MIG-21 and MIG-29 fleet. But by the time the Hindu
Right took power in 1998, the list grew much longer and far more
complex. It also reveals the sub-imperial ambitions of the Hindu Right
over southern Asia.
In May 1998, a few days after the nuclear tests, a
delegation from Israeli Aircraft Industries toured India to sell their
pilotless aircraft anti-ship missiles. Components of a missile defense
shield, then, have been in the works for India for at least three years.
A set of deals have been signed between the arms merchants in India and
Israel to buy goods for the airforce (MIGs, Light Combat Aircraft,
AWACs), navy (aircraft carrier, maritime radar, attack craft), army
(Main Battle Tank, Advanced Light Helicopters), and for the missile
branch of the military (the Indian defense contractors want to buy
Israeli guidance and launch systems for the Prithvi surface to surface
missile, and for the sea to surface Sagarika system, but there is also
evidence that India wants Israeli help with the Akash, a missile system
akin to the M-11). These weapons would put India into contention as the
main power not only in south Asia, but perhaps, as the second front
against the Chinese (a move that enabled the US to revise its military
doctrine to fight only one full-scale war; its proxy powers would take
care of the other one, in the new scenario). Furthermore, the missile
defense parts of the deals would enable India to fantastically suggest
that Pakistan's nuclear option had been neutralized, and that the parity
of 1998 had been negated. India's eagerness for the missile defense,
then, is part of the desire of the Hindu Right to will away the
Pakistani tests on the Chagai range.
As the India-Pakistan summit fizzled away on July 17th, the Indian and
Israeli defense contractors met in Israel and concluded a US$ 2 billion
deal that will upgrade Indian fighter jets, provide India with
Barak-type surface to surface missiles, and with parts of a missile
defense package (unmanned aerial vehicles and radar systems). The boys
and their toys had already undermined the political pieties in Agra.
The restless lions of west and south Asia join the tigers of east Asia
to encircle China and the predominantly Muslim states of west and
central Asia. The big cats are at Genoa, but they significantly meet in
military headquarters and in the secure offices of arms merchants around
the world, eager to undermine the political process with the sorts of
hardware that ensures that our world remain undemocratic. Empire is
alive and well.