July 04, 2020
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HQ, South

Free India also liberated the enslaved Arab

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HQ, South
The independence of India constituted a landmark in contemporary human history. It was the result of a struggle that brought out the best in human values, and made real what appeared to be ideal—non-violence as a potent instrument for human liberation and development. India's national movement defined anew what constitutes legitimate resistance.

Today, amidst Israel's campaign to confuse legitimate resistance with criminal acts of terrorism, it behoves us in the Arab land to summon India's experiment with resistance using civil disobedience and peaceful demonstrations. The militant option is an option of last resort and is a response to the pain and humiliation that the occupiers' intransigence and indifference impose.

India's independence movement and its intellectual and political legacy can surely bring clarity to Israel's deliberate attempts at confusing resistance with terrorism—too prevalent in much of Western discourse. Equally, the attempts of terrorists to take cover under religious slogans by cruel distortions of their meanings must be met by a response from the devout of all religions to restore the moral guidelines and the noble imperatives that are the common pursuits of all those who have experienced the authenticities of religion's spiritual experience. India's struggle for liberation emphasises that no proclaimed noble end can be achieved by ignoble means.

India's experience has always been, and hopefully will continue to be, an inspiration for the Palestinian, the Lebanese and all the other peoples of the Arab national patrimony, in their collective efforts to bring about peace and human development. I remember, when I was serving in India in the '60s, how reassuring to our mutual hopes was the intimacy of our relations with India and the depths of our mutual understanding.

Today, on the 59th anniversary of India's Independence, we must remember the new meaning that India gave to the term "independence". Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was never satisfied with the paraphernalia and the legalistic attributes of independence. To him, independence meant independence of judgement. That enabled him to pioneer a policy of nonalignment, rendering possible what had seemed impossible during the Cold War. This provided the critical compass to all the liberation movements at that time. It was India that sustained the independent will of other developing societies. This was, in a way, a golden period of Arab-Indian relations.

For the last few years, the Arab-Indian intimacy has shown signs of strain. Our relations are not as close as many of us in the Arab world want them to be. But we have invested too much in each other's destiny to allow any alienation. That is why, despite what Arabs are now experiencing in terms of pain, division, aggression and occupation, on this day—August 15—we celebrate India's independence and all that India represents.

We do so because Indo-Arab relations are a continuum. Strains in our relationship are intermittent and amenable to management. In recent years, these strains have not been addressed in a focused manner because of the reconfiguration of the global order. Many of us, after the end of the Cold War, accorded priority to relations with the world's only superpower, the United States. During this period, Arabs and Indians didn't seek to reinforce their bonds. Consequently, Indo-Arab ties became less animated than before.

There was a time when Indo-Arab relations were assumed! Now, there is no sense of urgency to affirm what unites, but a propensity to underline what separates. Though this is temporary, I must confess that much of the blame lies with us. Enthralled by the US and the West, many of our leaders chose to cosy up to them. This has brought about a reaction and explains the gap between Arab regimes and what is called the "Arab street".

Yet, the lack of animation in our relationship is also because of India upgrading its ties with Israel. But, in a sense, it's we who are to blame, as major Arab countries had done precisely the same. While we do understand India's relationship with Israel, there's no denying that the military aspect of this relationship, initiated under BJP rule, poses problems. As India celebrates August 15, I'd like to help reopen an Indo-Arab dialogue to impart a direction to our deep historical relationship. Only then will our celebration of India's independence be meaningful and, as it used to be, inspiring.

(The author, currently director, Centre for the Global South at American University, Washington DC, earlier served as the Arab League representative in India.)
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