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Palestine brings out the Orwellian in us

Last week, as Israel and Gaza began their united journey into the unknown, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed his police to act against anyone opposed to India’s official stand – in other words, anyone supporting Palestine. A senior state official said, “Any attempt to incite passion on social media or a similar call from the religious places will not be tolerated.”

“Inciting passion” sounds like a dishonorable enough act, but let’s parse exactly what the UP government was trying to do. Reports suggested that UP Police had suspended a Muslim cop for fundraising to help Palestine. They had also registered a case against an unidentified person for posting pictures of aerial bombings on Gaza.

This was supposed to be a fallout of foreign policy. After the horrifying terrorist attack by Hamas militants, India had declared that it “stands firmly” with Israel. Adityanath, for obvious political reasons, wants no-one to differ from that. But what he didn’t factor in is that Indian foreign policy is shapeshifting and amorphous. By the yardstick that the UP Police were enforcing, many in the Indian government themselves would have to be charged with “inciting passion.”

Days before Adityanath launched his crusade against supporters of Palestine, for instance, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said that India supports “establishing a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine” — the exact opposite of what Israel believes in. While UP Police were investigating the Muslim cop for fundraising, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We will continue to send humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.”

Critics of the BJP/government argue that the Palestine issue has merely formed the backdrop for an ongoing assault on minorities — that authorities capitalised on an already communalised issue to pursue routine identity politics. But “inciting passion” is, after all, a dishonorable act and Chief Ministers are honourable men. Except that elsewhere in India, others were “inciting passion” and fell through the cracks of the law.

In the aftermath of Hamas’ attack and Israel’s declaration of vengeance, India emerged as a leading global source of misinformation against Palestine.

On Elon Musk’s X, where users can now pay a monthly fee for a blue tick and inflated reach, many India-based blue-ticked accounts were found to be propagating the rumourthat “40 babies” had been beheaded by Hamas.

A leading Indian national security reporter claimed that a pregnant woman was dissected by Hamas militants and that her unborn baby was killed. It later transpired that these crimes were from 1982. The reporter offered no evidence or substantiation in response.

What is perhaps most striking, however, is the stark contrast in the way that the Indian television media and the Israeli media have each handled the Gaza conflict. In keeping with the jingoistic manner in which Indian television news covers India’s own national security issues, several Indian news anchors declared that one is either with Israel or with the terrorists. One leading Indian news anchor even publicly admired the Israeli army for its multimedia propaganda abilities and asked the Indian army to learn from it.

Meanwhile, in Israel, several leading newspapers were railing against their own government, in ways that many Indian news anchors would consider blatantly “anti-national.” Israel’s oldest and most reputed daily, Haaretz, has run multiple columns that have criticised Israeli intelligence failures, denounced the Israeli government’s plans for revenge, and called for a lasting political solution. One headline read, “No to collective punishment against Gaza.” Another said, “A ground invasion of Gaza is a disaster foretold.”

As George Orwell once said, “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

(Published 21 October 2023, 19:04 IST)

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