Israel was in the news quite a bit those days. Even though nobody I knew had a passport at that time, it intrigued me that the Indian government did not allow its nationals to travel to Israel. Indian politics, which was dominated by Indira Gandhi's Congress Party, the various flavors of communist parties, and a few regional ones, was overwhelmingly against Israel and pro-Palestine. That approach had been in place ever since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, who " was an outspoken partisan of the Palestinians."
As a teenager, I felt torn between an admiration for Israel's achievements and enormous sympathies for the Palestinians. "If only India could be well organized and focused as the Israelis are" was a thought that often crossed my mind. But, simultaneously, I was drawn to the Palestinian cause, and the PLO, as well and simply could not understand why there was this bitter conflict. There is a good chance that many thinking people in my demographic group had similar experiences.
As I transitioned out of the teens, and was a tad more informed about the world, the admiration for Israel lessened, and the sympathies for the PLO significantly diminished. There was nothing but violence from both sides, which did not appeal to my pacifist sensibilities. Dayan and his eye-patch rapidly faded away.
Over the years, India's politics has also dramatically changed. The fall of the Soviet Union and the changing global order also coincided with India's near-bankruptcy that triggered economic reforms. A relatively liberal India began to look at the world differently.
Congress Party Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao ended India's Cold War hostility toward Israel by establishing full diplomatic relations in 1992By then I was easing into a life in the adopted country where politics was almost overwhelmingly pro-Israel while academe was (and is) predominantly in support of the Palestinians. In one of the graduate school classes, Professor Lowdon Wingo even brought into the discussions the intifada. Wingo walked a fine line expressing neither support nor criticisms for either side. A wonderfully committed academic he was.
Since then, India has rapidly expanded its economic and military relations.
In terms of military cooperation, few countries have backed New Delhi as Israel did by supplying artillery shells during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan. Since then, Israel has emerged as India's second biggest arms supplier after Russia.It is a different India now. Especially with the Hindu nationalist BJP in power, and with a government led by Narendra Modi. The old political calculations of empty rhetoric favoring the Palestinians as a way to appeal to the Muslim vote has been replaced by ache din aane wale hain. So much has the political atmosphere changed that:
The NDA government came under sharp attack in parliament for refusing to allow a resolution condemning Israel for the strikes on Gaza even as the death toll crossed 500 on Monday. In particular focus is the BJP’s top leaderships’ close ties with Israel, given that Prime Minister Modi had travelled as Gujarat Chief Minister to Israel in 2006, promising to return if he became Prime Minister. As Home Minister, L.K. Advani was the first senior Minister to visit Israel in 2000, and External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj once chaired the India-Israel parliamentary friendship group and led a delegation there.That same essay notes this about India's radically different stance on the Israel-Palestinian issue:
Former diplomat and UN official Chinmaya Gharekhan, who was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy to West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process, told The Hindu, “There is no doubt that India’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict has moderated gradually over a period of time, from its once categorical support for the Palestinian cause.” Mr. Gharekhan says the game-changer in this regard was Israel’s assistance to India during the Kargil war, when it supplied much needed artillery shells at short notice. “It was gratitude for this act and our growing defence relationship with Israel that made the difference in later years. Even at the UN, while we still support statements in favour of Palestine, we no longer co-sponsor such resolutions.”In the old country, it is not uncommon for seasoned commentators and intellectuals to look at what the "father of the nation" opined on this geopolitical struggle:
Writing in the Harijan newspaper, which he edited, in November 1938 on the vexed Palestine issue, Mahatma Gandhi declared that "my sympathies are all with the Jews... but my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice." World War II was a year away and the world was yet to become aware of the scale of the persecution that befell the Jews and the enormity of the Holocaust and the Gandhi view merits recall.Hopefully, within my lifetime, everlasting peace will descend upon the troubled Israel-Palestine area, between India and Pakistan, and all around. If nothing works, I will wear metaphorical patches over both my eyes and pretend that everything is well and good with the world.
In the same article, he continued: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs."
Much water and blood has flown since 1938 and the Jewish state is a reality, in much the same manner that Pakistan is - even though Gandhi was opposed to the idea.