Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2015 > The Desert Winds

Mainstream, VOL LIII No 32 New Delhi August 1, 2015

The Desert Winds

Friday 31 July 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Against the backdrop of PM Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to Israel, the following piece by N.C. that appeared under the ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in Mainstream more than 48 years ago is being reproduced.

The military convulsion that rocked West Asia last week has left its indelible mark in New Delhi. There is no section of opinion in the Capital which has been left unaffected by this almost overpowering experience.

A significant feature of New Delhi, reactions is that barring the Dahyabhai-Madhok fringe, there was hardly anyone who could be found expressing jubilation at the Israeli victory. Even among some of the Swatantra back-benchers and a good section of the Jana Sangh there was no gloating over Arab defeat in the manner in which Sardar Patel’s son was found to be indulging in it. This was particularly noticeable among the Socialists of both brands—the SSP and the PSP—that though they were among the severest critics of the government’s West Asia policies, they are far from happy over the disaster that has overtaken the Arab world, particularly the UAR.

This is to a very large measure due to the innate anti-imperialist trait that is in the very marrow of this nation. With all the confusion and misunderstanding—sedulously spread by pro-West quarters against the Arab world and the UAR in particular—Nasser in the Indian mind has come to represent the spirit of national self-respect, unbending to Western pressure. That was why one could notice in New Delhi in the last few days a deep sense of hurt that such a leadership has had to suffer humiliation at the hands of those who were backed by the West.

It is a measure of the robust patriotism of this nation that few would applaud a pro-West triumph. Despite the considerable erosion in national self-respect in the last two years—thanks to men like Sri Ashoka Mehta, Sri Subra-maniam and Sri S.K. Patil—the spirit of 1956 (when Nehru’s call in defence of Egypt roused the entire country) has not been totally lost. And this could be felt even in the absence of any organised nationwide campaign to rouse it.

In New Delhi circles, it is recognised that the Israelis must have fought as a determined people with all the thoroughness and discipline born of Jewish fortitude. And yet there is hardly any applause in the Capital for Israel’s lightning military exploits. This is mainly because of the awareness that Israel in this contest was really playing somebody else’s game. It is important to note that to the common man in the Capital, despite all the animosity towards Pakistan, President Ayub has never seemed to be such a complete marionette of the West as Moshe Dayan is today.

This impression has been reinforced by reports current in New Delhi—as yet unconfirmed by official sources—that only a little over a week before the flare-up, Israel had received as many as 500 aircraft from the Western powers thereby more than doubling her Air Force strength. There is no shortage of personnel to man such a fleet of planes since it appears that for every aircraft, Israel has at least five trained pilots. The Syrian charge in the Security Council about Israel having been supplied with photographs of strategic installa-tions taken by U-2 flights has been noted in New Delhi, particulary Mr Goldberg’s eloquent silence on the point. The liberal use of napalm bombs by Israel, publicised even in Britain’s Tory press, has created the impression here that Israel has played practically the same proxy role for the Pentagon as Franco had played for Hitler’s General Staff thirty years ago. Added to this has been the German-style training of many of the Israelis in the art of warfare which accounts for the chhota blitzkrieg in the Sinai desert, recalling one of the spectacular Nazi advances which could be held only at Stalingrad in the last World War.

Despite the studious avoidance of any reference to US complicity in New Delhi’s official pronouncements so far—a weakness which has not gone unnoticed in Left-wing circles—there is little doubt even among senior Foreign Office experts in the South Block about the Anglo-American hand in the advance preparations for the Israeli attack. This appraisal has considerable significance for the next step in crisis diplomacy, since few in New Delhi believe that Mr Eshkol’s extravagant claims today can at all stand without Mr Johnson’s—and Mr Wilson’s—uninhibited backing. Whatever illusions there were on the day the Israeli attack was mounted about Tel Aviv’s independent role in precipitating the crisis have to a large measure evaporated, thanks to the US attitude in the Security Council. For, Israel has been treated by Mr Goldberg more as a client state than as a young ally of Washington.

The widespread regret in New Delhi at the Arab reverses in the battlefield is accompanied by a certain groping as to why the UAR could not put up a better show. The element of surprise which Israel could cash in in the very first hour of the war crippling the UAR Air Force by an attack from the west is accounted for here by the poor intelligence service of Cairo. It is understandable that this aspect of the West Asian conflict should be noted in New Delhi; one has only to recall the disastrous performance of India’s intelligence via-a-vis the Chinese troop concentrations in Nefa in the autumn of 1962, which to a very large measure must share the blame for our debacle all the way from Tawang to Tezpur. What has come as a surprise is that this should have happened is that this should have happened in the UAR which is supposed to be politically more vigilant against imperialist designs than this country.

A fairly loud whisper campaign is now on in New Delhi questioning the efficacy of the Soviet arms which provided the bulk of the UAR’s defence strength; the pro-American circles here are trying to make out a case that the Israeli success has shown the superiority of American arms. This view hardly finds support among the specialists in the line here. They ascribe the UAR’s military reverses to the advantage of initial lightning strike by the Israeli forces as also to the fault in training rather than to faulty arms at the disposal of the Egyptian forces.

One of the political byproducts of the West Asian war as seen from New Delhi is the opening it has provided for sniping at the role of the Soviet Union. The confusion surrounding the most complicated diplomacy of the crisis did give room for misunderstanding, parti-cularly when such a diplomacy has to be at a highly secret level, leaving very little scope for public elucidation. The very natural desire of the Arab patriot to expect the rushing in of largescale aid—even if such a thing was neither practical nor effective at such a stage—is by itself an index of the tremendous faith that the anti-imperialist forces in the Afro-Asian world repose in Moscow despite all the calumny that is hurled at it from Peking. What is intriguing is that when the leaders of the Socialist world did take a common stand the Chinese paper thunderers did not consider it necessary to announce their solidarity with it, more busy they are spotting the ideological untouchables. A common front extending from Prague to Peking would have been the biggest succour for the Arabs in distress than all the revolutionary jargons from Mao’s shop.

In New Delhi, one cannot but notice the overtime activity of the American Lobby shedding crocodile tears over the supposed Soviet let-down. It is the same tribe which was at pains to “prove” in 1962 that Moscow could not be relied upon to help in India’s defence against China—a fairy tale which has been disproved by history itself to the discomfiture of these political astrologers. And it has not escaped the notice of careful observers in the Capital that it is the same Lobby that has today taken upon itself the mission of enlightening the public about the undependability of the Soviet support: through demoralising public opinion their game is to sell the American umbrella in this country when the Arab world itself is livid with rage against Washington.

The new element in the situation is that a section of Left Communists have unwittingly joined this chorus; though it is to be noted that the more responsible among their leadership would not like to pronounce hasty judgements or say anything that may be exploited by the American Lobby.

The more cautious among New Delhi’s foreign-policy experts emphasise that only the first round of the West Asian conflict is just over; the battle is yet to unfold itself, and it is therefore too early to evaluate the Soviet or for the matter of that, American diplomacy in its totality: Washington’s opening century may not add up to very much when the final score is known. DeGaulle seems to have gained most out of this crisis and this may be reflected in the oil politics of tomorrow.

The overwelming demand for Israel vacating her aggression has not gone unnoticed in New Delhi. The US veto for such a demand in the Security Council can be negated by a preponde-rating support for it in the UN General Assembly; the composition of that world body has vastly changed from the days of the Korean war as the frontiers of freedom have extended to the remotest corners of the globe.

The American Lobby here finds difficult to oppose it since vacation of aggression has become a national demand vis-a-vis China and Pakistan.

It is this realisation of the isolation of the imperialist powers, despite all the spectacular advance of Dayan’s forces in the unpopulated desert terrain, that has sustained New Delhi in its present line of firm support to Nasser. In the bargain, the Prime Minister has been able to win back to a considerable measure the understanding and confidence of the Socialist world, no matter whatever nasty diplomatic outrages Peking may commit.

Return to Nehruism promises to provide sustenance for Nehru’s daughter.

(‘New Delhi Skyline’, Mainstream, June 17, 1967)

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted