The Indian government was locked in a crisis over its alleged assassination of a Canadian citizen when a war between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip broke out that threatens to upend the global order. As the liberal international system begins to fray under these pressures, Indian author and journalist Pankaj Mishra joins host Murtaza Hussain on this week’s Intercepted to discuss how the war in the Middle East is reshaping global politics, the evolution of India’s foreign policy, and its crisis with Canada over an alleged assassination.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
Murtaza Hussain: Welcome to Intercepted. I’m Murtaza Hussein.
In the weeks before the outbreak of renewed war in the Gaza Strip in Israel, a dark story emerged about the alleged involvement of agents of the Indian government in the assassination of a Canadian citizen near the city of Vancouver. The alleged assassination targeted Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a leader in the separatist Khalistan movement that seeks to create a separate state for followers of the Sikh religion in India.
The United States has also been involved, reportedly sharing intelligence information with Canada that helped point the finger at Indian involvement in the killing. The episode has shed light on an increasingly murky and dangerous world now emerging, as rising powers seek to assert themselves globally.
The increasingly ultranationalist Indian government — led by Narendra Modi — looks to be a major player in this new order. As the United States seeks to maintain support for conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, it’s also courting India as a bulwark in its growing confrontation with China. But it is also dealing with a country that is transforming into a far more belligerent, aggressive and, some would say, dangerous power than it has been in the past.
To help us understand this new world order, we’re now joined by Pankaj Mishra. He’s a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and author, most recently of the novel, “Run and Hide.”
Welcome to Intercepted, Pankaj.
Pankaj Mishra: A pleasure.
MH: Pankaj, the Canadian government’s recent accusation of Indian involvement in the killing of one of its citizens has generated a very intense and, you could say, bellicose reaction from the pro-government media, and some elements of civil society in India. You wrote recently that the incident points to an extremely volatile factor in geopolitics today, Narendra Modi’s India.
Can you tell us a bit about the changes in India that have animated this reaction, and what people should know about the developments in India under Modi?
PM: Very simply speaking, it’s the arrival of India as a modern nation state, as an aspiring superpower. Perhaps no longer aspiring, perhaps thinking — at least that’s the thinking right now — that we’ve already arrived, and that we should now enjoy certain privileges that Western powers have enjoyed for a very long time. And that includes going after critics and dissenters in different parts of the world.
So, there’s a massive shift in Indian mentalities and worldviews over the last 20, 25 years; I have to say this process started well before the present government of Narendra Modi assumed power, which was in 2014. This process has been going on, I think, since the late nineties, or since the opening up of India to the rest of the world.
I think looking at essentially 25 years of a consolidation of hyper nationalist consciousness, and that is coming to a lot of people outside of India as a great shock, as a great surprise. But I think if you’ve monitored, if you’ve watched or read Indian newspapers, or watched television channels, or watched the movies coming out of Bollywood, watched the TV series, watched cricket matches, and the passion, and the sort of nationalism invoked at such occasions, you will know that this has been in the making for some time.
MH: At the moment, we’re currently witnessing a broader crisis in the Middle East and, obviously, an impact in the West and beyond. And many in India have also taken interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and projected their own internal domestic and foreign conflicts onto that.
Can you talk a bit about how people in India and various parties are viewing these events, and what their responses have been?
PM: You mean in the Middle East?
MH: Yes, in reference to the Gaza conflict at the moment.
PM: You know, again, I think that a sort of new nationalism comes to the fore in such responses. Again, something not so new, something that has been in the subconscious for a very long time, this aspiration to act with impunity, and that is something that people have identified, people in India have identified with the state of Israel for a very long period.
You know, I grew up in a family of Hindu nationalists, and I remember from the time I was nine or ten hearing people around me say that Israel has “figured out how to deal with Muslims,” how to keep them under the heel of their boots, and we need to learn from them.
So there was a very commonplace sentiment among Hindu nationalists in India when I was growing up, and now it’s a much, much broader sentiment. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all.
What is, of course, different is that India now has the geopolitical clout to go with this kind of fantasy of being there, playing with the big boys, Israel and Western powers. So, the support for Israel is reflexive.
It is, of course, attended by contradictions. For instance, the fact is that the party that rules India today, the organization that party comes out of was explicitly inspired by Nazism. The founder approvingly quoted Adolf Hitler; “Mein Kampf,” as you probably know, is a great perennial bestseller in India.
So, there is this older connection to the European far-right, to the antisemitic genocidal elements in European politics. But, at the same time, a sneaking sympathy and great admiration for Israel, which shows how force or violence really is the best way to deal with political problems.
MH: Yeah. You’ve written extensively about the posture of the Modi government abroad and how it seeks to present itself to the world, and you’ve used the term “catch-up nationalism” to describe that in your writings.
Can you explain a bit of what catch-up nationalism means, and how it manifests in Indian politics?
PM: It’s both catch-up nationalism and catch-up modernization. You know, this is a process that starts in the 19th century, and I think the first countries to exemplify this attitude, consisting of great prickliness, marked by envy, insecurity, a sense of inferiority… And it comes from being forced in a way to always play catch-up with the big powers.
The first country to manifest it is Germany in the late 19th century. German nationalism was deeply insecure, was deeply prickly, wanted Germany to be recognized as a great power, and we know how all that ended in 1945. Then there was Japan. Japan’s nationalism, again, an incredibly volatile affair. [Then] there was Russia.
And these were all countries playing catch-up with the established powers, which was Britain, France, and then, at a later stage, the United States, which had, let’s say, taken a lead in everything, and modernization, and modern imperialism. They were the first ones to acquire large chunks of territory, monopolized resources around the world, and everyone else was aspiring to be like them.
Now, India — and quite a few other post-colonial countries, including China, which became sovereign, really, only in the late 40s, or starting in the late 40s — have also been playing this game. They’ve also been making claims, very ambitious claims to be recognized as great powers. And, in the case of countries like India and China and Russia, also invoking their great civilizational past. So, that’s a big aspect in this mental framework that, you know, we belong to ancient civilizations which enjoyed long periods of glory. And, in some sense, that is the greatness we are now trying to recapture today.
So, you know, catch-up modernization, catch-up nationalism is, by its very nature, a belated thing. It comes after the major, let’s say, spoils of the world have already been captured by the big powers. It’s always a very volatile and very insecure thing, and that’s something we’re seeing today in the case of not just India, but also China and Russia.
MH: You raise a very evocative comparison, also, to Japan and Germany’s experiences, being latecomers to modernity, and how that, in some sense, radicalized the nationalism that they did embrace.
In what sense do you think that this may play out internally in India, or China, and other countries? [Both] among domestic politics there, but also in how they interact with the world? Because, obviously, Japanese and German nationalism was very aggressive, militarily, and in other ways as well, too.
PM: It was very aggressive. And domestically, I think, the bleak lesson from the experiences of those countries is that democracy or democratic institutions didn’t really have a great chance to grow, to develop.
I mean, there were periods in both Japan and Germany where liberal democracy, individuals, institutions flourished briefly, but then they were overwhelmed by these very broad and deep forces of nationalism. I’m afraid this is something we’re seeing again in India, which has been — at least, formally — a democracy for much of its existence as a sovereign nation state. But I think, in the end, the institutions, the mentalities, the outlooks are being shaped — and I think quite decisively — by this very strong nationalism that’s been part of the Indian makeup, as I keep saying. But never so explicit, and never so allied with one particular religion, which is now Hinduism.
So, I think the implications for domestic politics in these countries … I mean, with China, we cannot even speak of a democratic phase, nor with Russia, really. I mean, when was Russia truly a democracy even in the last 20, 25 years? So, we find, and we find in all of these three countries now, that people fighting for civil rights, people fighting for even basic rights are under attack like never before. And ranged against them are not only their repressive states, but also substantial parts of civil society.
MH: You know, a lot of Modi’s credibility and popularity abroad — and perhaps in India as well, too — is based on this image of him also being very technocratically competent, in the sense that India’s economy has grown under his watch, and infrastructure’s been built. I even hear people almost talking about him in terms resonant of Lee Kuan Yew, this famous Singaporean leader who is credited with modernizing the country.
Does that narrative have veracity for ordinary Indians, and does it correspond to events on the ground in the way people discuss?
PM: Well, the experiences of ordinary Indians are not going to verify any of these boosterish claims made by Modi and his supporters, because the Indian economy is in a terrible state right now. I think the statistics being put out by the government and its lackeys are… First of all, many of them are inaccurate, they’re kind of highly deceptive. And even when they seem accurate, there are other stories behind them.
For instance, much as being made of the 6 percent, 7 percent growth rates. Which are unmatched right now, because economies are still recovering from pandemic. But, actually, in India’s case, this growth is from a very, very low base that was reached during the pandemic. And before the pandemic, the growth rate was actually shrinking.
Every respectable economist has written about that, including Kaushik Basu. I mean, any number of people … In fact, Modi’s own former chief economic advisor has very recently written about these statistics, and GDP, and asked very hard questions about it.
But just anecdotally, the number of people I know in India … My relatives, I have a base there, I employ people there. And I know that they are in deep economic distress right now. Savings are at an all-time low, domestic savings. There are so many other indicators which show how much people are suffering.
So, I think Modi’s great virtue is that he’s a great propagandist, he’s a great event organizer. And it’s astonishing to me and to many others who watched his career from the time he was the chief minister of an Indian state, how extraordinarily successful he has been in persuading people of his great abilities.
I mean, in many senses he’s like Netanyahu, a kind of snake oil salesperson, but an extraordinarily successful one, and a great survivor.
MH: In the United States, there’s a very, very strong desire — as well as an assumption, I would say — that India is going to be an important ally of the U.S. in the years to come, particularly as the U.S. political establishment focuses on what they see as their goal, as containing China, or competing with China, for the coming century, I would say.
So, a lot of people have expressed skepticism about India playing a solid role as an American ally or partner in such an endeavor, and you, yourself, have been among them. Can you explain a bit about why, and what the grounds of that skepticism are?
PM: There are many reasons to question this particular narrative. One is that India is not strong enough to be a stalwart ally to the United States in this. I mean, it’s militarily much, much weaker than China. I’m sure you’re aware that in the recent border clashes with China, China has prevailed, has been gobbling up Indian territory. And one reason, actually, why so much of Indian anger today is directed against Canada is because they can be angry at Canada, and seem to be punishing Canada, but they can’t really do anything about what China is doing to them.
So, it’s very clear that India militarily cannot match China. Economically, it’s far, far behind China. First of all, it doesn’t have a manufacturing base; I mean, we can’t even compare it to China’s. But even when companies are withdrawing from China and going elsewhere in Asia, they’re going mostly to Vietnam and Indonesia.
So, even at that level … Let’s also think about how much China, how much India depends on China for manufactured goods. How much India depends on Russian oil in just the last one and a half years since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Russia has become India’s biggest oil supplier.
So, with all these commitments to various adversaries of Western countries such as China and Russia, how can India be a reliable ally of Western nations? It has far too many interests of its own, and far too many needs of its own.
And there can be temporary alliances, yes, absolutely. There can be military exercises. And, you know, it flatters, of course, India a great deal to be included in those. But the reality is that the idea of India being an American ally really is a delusional fantasy, and it’s a product of an ideological worldview, essentially, in Washington, D.C., and we’re seeing the limits of that today.
I mean, the whole attempt to contain China, for instance, by putting a trade corridor from Europe to India through Israel … Where is it now? Where is it today? Is there any possibility that this project is going to be revived?
So, I think the problem is that so much of our time goes into analyzing completely fantastical and delusional projects coming from Washington, D.C. They have very little connection with reality.
MH: You mentioned something there. It’s very interesting that this vociferous response from some sectors of Indian society and the government towards Canada over this killing, I’ve been looking at it quite a bit, and it’s interesting. It’s been met with a lot of surprise and, I would say, bafflement in Canada.
They were very shocked at the allegation — which is, as yet, not totally substantiated, but seems to be made with great conviction — that Indian agents assassinated this gentleman, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. And nothing like that has really happened in Canada’s relations with India or, really, generally in Canadian history.
But it’s generated a lot of anger in India, and the anger has been targeted at Canada, which sees itself — and actually has been — a country with very close and friendly relations with India. In the Indian press, I’ve seen people talk about this killing, comparing it to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad by the U.S. Special Forces years ago, using very, very extreme imagery and terminology to say why it’s justified, and also to express their anger at Canada, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Can you explain how Indians view this particular incident? And also, very briefly, what is the Khalistan movement towards which they’re reacting? Because my impression was that this had been something that existed a few decades ago, for the most part, but has been suppressed within India.
PM: Look, I think the Khalistan movement really is not a serious entity anymore, neither in India nor abroad. I mean, it’s a product of a time warp. When it comes to Indian communities living abroad, many of them are hostage to a certain kind of fantasy of home, and one of those fantasies can be, we’ll have our own separate state.
But these are not movements that have too many followers. These are really quite sad daydreams of expatriate Indians; in this case Sikhs. In Punjab itself, where the movement flourished in the 80s and early 90s, had hardly any takers for it. This is pretty well-reported.
So, I think we have to look elsewhere for the reasons behind this very volatile, extreme, aggressive response in India. I think part of the reason is what I just explained, that Indian nationalism is flexing its muscles right now. Post-G20 Summit, after the landing on the south pole of the moon, this idea has gone around, and it’s deeply intoxicating for many Indians that we have become a major power in the world. We become a Vishvaguru; you know, a guru to the world.
And Canada is a place which really is not — for many Indians at least — an important country, it’s not a place that they think is geopolitically significant, so they can actually quite easily ventilate their anger and frustration. And, as I said, a lot of that anger and frustration is deflected anger and frustration over Chinese, successful Chinese incursions into Indian territory.
I mean, when you look at the trajectory of Japanese nationalism, when you look at the trajectory of German nationalism, you will find a lot of these kinds of events, which are not really explainable by a simple geopolitics or simple foreign affairs analysis of the kind we’re accustomed to. We require some other tools.
When I speak of deflection, I’m already straying into the realm of psychoanalysis here. So, we’re looking at a transformed psyche, in other words. And I think we need novels here, we need fictions here, we need to look at movies, we need to look at a whole range of cultural phenomena to really understand what is going on in India today. So much of what appears as analysis in the mainstream press is deeply inadequate, because it’s not tapping into these deeper resources.
MH: You mentioned that this idea of India as a node in this global connectivity program to bypass China has now been thrown into question by the conflict in Gaza that’s taking place at the moment, and who knows what other reverberations of the conflict may play out in the weeks and months to come.
Can you talk a bit about how else you think that a more authoritarian or violent regional order may also impact India domestically in its relations with other countries?
PM: Well, I think if you remember after 9/11, a whole lot of governments, essentially, while the United States was distracted in fighting its war on terror, those governments took the opportunity to crack down even harder on opposition, on political opposition in their respective countries. It’s not just Putin going harder against the Chechens while being guaranteed absolute unconditional support by Western countries; it was also India, which became much, much more aggressive in Kashmir, for instance. And, actually, there was a BJP-led government there at the time, and there was an incident in December 2001 three months after 9/11, which the then-BJP government declared to be India’s own 9/11 moment, and took, then, the opportunity to bring in a whole lot of repressive legislation. In fact, a lot of India’s most draconian laws date back to that particular period.
It’s no question that while a far-right government in Israel right now is being given a license to massacre in Gaza, no question that Modi and various other autocrats around the world will also receive similar licenses to get away with a lot of things that they could not have gotten away with in the past. So while — as you say, quite correctly — while this thing starts to ramify, this conflict right now in the Middle East, drawing in other players, a lot of very terrible things are going to happen in many other countries, including India.
We’ve already had this instance of Arundhati Roy being asked to answer a charge that was actually filed 13 years ago. I’m afraid things are going to get much, much worse for not just Roy, but for a whole lot of writers and journalists in India.
MH: Pankaj, you mentioned 9/11 and the aftermath of 9 11 and, of course, many people who were around at that time remember, of course, the unbelievable authoritarian and jingoistic atmosphere that developed, not just in the United States, but around the world. And the very profound effects on culture — both political culture and popular culture — as well as the military and economic changes that it effectuated.
How do you see this conflict potentially matching up to terms of that in scale? Is it something comparable, or could it be even worse?
PM: My feeling right now is that it’s probably going to be much, much worse, because there are far too many actors involved. Too many parts of the world are going to be hostage to what is happening in the Middle East right now, and what is going to happen there in the weeks and months to come.
Look, when you think about the post-9/11 scenario, we were then looking at a relatively simple landscape. A terrorist attack had occurred on American soil, organized by a terrorist group, and even if the United States was going to war in different countries around the world, it was not involving various other world powers. In fact, Russia was supporting the United States, the Chinese were sympathetic. Practically every country was standing in solidarity with the United States for actually much of the 2000s, as it prosecuted its various wars.
Obviously, Western power and credibility — and, specifically, American power and credibility — came to be very seriously challenged in Iraq, and then in Afghanistan. And then there were terrible long term consequences flowing out of these calamitous wars.
But now, what we are looking at … I mean, let’s not also forget the deep damage caused to the social fabric of so many societies, the Islamophobia that raged in so many European societies, also in North America. And we’ve already talked about the crackdown on civil liberties in different countries around the world, including India.
But, today, I think the problem is that this Israel-Palestine thing … First of all, Israel certainly does not enjoy universal sympathy and solidarity; look at the callous ways in which China and Russia responded to the attacks on Israel. I mean, they didn’t even say anything about the murder and kidnapping of civilians. Not an ounce of sympathy. Why?
We have to ask ourselves why, because for the last several years, they’ve been running a propaganda campaign about how hypocritical Western countries are, how imperialistic. And even though they have been quite friendly to Israel in recent years, they don’t want to show that anymore. They want to go with this older narrative which, again is very dominant, has been very dominant — you would know — in the Global South.
Support for Israel has always been divided along the so-called color line, if you remember that Du Bois formulation, a color line being something very significant in geopolitics. So, from the very beginning, most countries of the Global South were opposed to the creation of Israel. Most countries did not have diplomatic relations; most of them still don’t.
So, today, with China and Russia becoming much, much more explicitly anti-Western, aggressively wooing countries of the Global South — of course, also prosecuting a war in Ukraine — I feel that this situation in the Middle East, we’re going to see large scale interventions by these other disgruntled powers. It’s going to involve, obviously, Turkey, it’s in the region. Iran is already involved. And I think the biggest damage, I fear, is going to happen to interpersonal relations in many, many multicultural societies in Europe and America.
Because, again, the historical narratives that so many of us subscribe to, are much, much more radically divergent on this particular issue than they were, let’s say, post-9/11, when most people were agreed that this was an absolutely awful thing to have happened, and, yes, the United States should do whatever it takes; at least initially, everyone believed that.
But even at this moment, most countries around the world do not really believe in the justice of what Israel is doing, and that really opens up divisions, political divisions, social divisions, cultural divisions around the world. And it’s very hard to predict where this will take us, but we are definitely looking at a much more volatile landscape right now.
MH: I always thought about the Israel-Palestine conflict as essentially a fault line. And not just one fault line, but many civilizational, and religious, and cultural, and political fault lines, which all cross in that one point.
And, obviously, you see a reaction in India, which is very plugged into the global internet. People speak English — a language of globalization — but also, as you mentioned, in China, and Russia, and other places as well, they have divergent interests. And those interests and those divergences also cross over into other conflicts that are ongoing or nascent — like the Ukraine conflict, obviously, has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives — and many have said in the future there could be a Taiwan conflict. It seems something people have feared or prognosticated for, for many, many years.
And what you’re describing almost feels like events leading up to in the early 20th century. Rising powers and bellicose nationalism in many places, many catch-up nationalism countries, as you said it. But, also, the very great prospect of a significant broader global conflagration, another war that involves many, many people, far more than we’ve ever seen in generations. Is that something that you feel is a possibility out of these events?
PM: There is another way of thinking about this, which was, if you consider — and I certainly do — decolonization as a central historical fact of the 20th century, what does that mean? I think it means, very broadly speaking, the liberation of most of the world’s population from Western colonialism, from Western domination, and the creation of sovereign states in Asia, Africa, South America.
Now, we know that European empires fought very hard to prevent this outcome, and the United States supported, in many cases — in Vietnam and elsewhere — the efforts of those European empires to hold on to their possessions. Eventually they had to let go and allow these countries to emerge. China was under a great deal of pressure but, nevertheless, right from the time it came into being, from 1949 onwards, it emerged. Now it has become extremely powerful.
So, that is one irreversible force. Now, if you consider that, then the Israel-Palestine thing really, then, assumes centrality to this unfinished business of decolonization. Because I think the problem with the creation of Israel always was, why is decolonization being reversed in this part of the world, in what is, in many ways, the heart of the Arab world? Why are we having, essentially, a settler colonialist regime originating in Europe, while everyone else is becoming sovereign and independent and autonomous?
But, again, over the years, European countries — and, most importantly, the United States — have continued to support Israel. And has, in other words, allowed Israel to get away with a lot of things that it wouldn’t have, that no other country has been allowed to get away with.
So, the current crisis, really, in that sense is — if you boil it down to the question — are the established powers of the West ready to accommodate the aspirations of other powers as they emerge? And I’m not just thinking here of China as a great power, but I’m also thinking of the Palestinians. Are we ready to allow their emergence, and for them to have lives of dignity and stability, or not?
And I think, in the end, we are looking at an unfinished [instance] of the finished business of decolonization. In that sense, we’ve moved far away from the early 20th century. I mean, a simple historical analogy, and many people have invoked it in recent months: oh, we are at another pre-1914 moment, there are too many tinder boxes around.
But I think another way to rephrase the question is — and that was also the question, in one sense, back in 2014 —what role should Germany play in international politics? Are the established powers ready to accommodate Germany, or not? Are they going to accommodate the claims of Japan, or not?
With decolonization, many, many more countries, many, many more peoples who have been suppressed for a long time make their own claims. And then the question is, that the people who are powerful, who are dominant today — and that means the United States and Western European countries — what kind of world order do they envisage in which they are going to enjoy uninterrupted hegemony, or are they going to make place for other countries?
So, the whole anti-China consensus right now in Washington, D.C., the reason why it’s so disturbing is because it’s saying very clearly that, no, we’re going to cling on to our power and our privileges, and we’re not going to accommodate you. We are now going to try and do everything to contain you. And that we can see, very clearly, essentially sets up a conflict. And also, then, that conflict has many other dimensions, many other aspects, many other countries are drawn into that conflict, whether they like it or not.
MH: That actually brings me back to India, too, because I’m very curious how they would fit into a world which is divided in the way that you mentioned. Because, of course, Russia and China have seemingly — in their desire to court the Global South —taken a position on this divide which seems to be unsympathetic to the Israelis, even if it’s a situation where they seem to deserve general sympathy in the aftermath of these killings.
India, of course, is in a bit of a more difficult situation, because a lot of the public is sympathetic to Israel. And yet they also — Indian diplomats — very, very forthrightly love to position themselves as spokespeople of the Global South, and so forth. How would they navigate a situation where the world is still going through this prolonged process of decolonization, the very violent process, as you mentioned? And India is a quintessential post-colonial state, and yet it aspires to be, perhaps in some ways, on the other side.
PM: Well, I think there’s a whole series of contradictions that Indian policy right now is trapped in. I mean, obviously, the United States wants India to be a close ally. More importantly, it wants India to be the leader of the Global South, so that it has a very close friend and confidant planted in the camp of countries that are becoming more and more powerful.
It wants India to become a rival to China in its leadership of the Global South. The problem is that, as I said, India is not at all comparable to China when it comes to military strength, and definitely not comparable when it comes to assisting poorer countries of the Global South with infrastructure and so on. I mean, China’s earned a great deal of goodwill around the Global South.
The other problem, I think, now, with the unequivocal stand that India has taken, Modi has taken, in Israel’s support, is that most other countries of the Global South are not going to stand with Israel. I mean, South Africa very clearly said that, look, this is all essentially Israel’s problem, and Israel is to blame for this.
That’s also the attitude of countries like Indonesia, another major power of the Global South, not to mention Malaysia, even Brazil, Mexico. Again, you will find in their official statements, obviously, sympathy for what the Israelis have had to endure, but [they’re also] pretty blunt about what the root causes of the problem there are.
So, India finds itself, actually, pretty isolated in the Global South to which it aspires to be a leader, to which it aspires to lead. Not to mention that India has recently banned exports of rice and sugar and wheat, and that’s obviously contributing to a series of shortages and inflation problems in various poorer countries of the Global South.
So, I think wanting to be with the big boys, wanting to be seen with the big boys, wanting to be at the same time a leader of the Global South, wanting to rival China; these are all mutually contradictory aspirations. Indian foreign policy right now is the most incoherent that I’ve seen for a very long period.
MH: So much more I want to ask you, but I also want to be respectful of your time a little bit, too. We can’t have the listeners go for… I’d talk to you for four hours if I could.
I did want to wrap up on one point that you mentioned as well, because, obviously, these very consequential developments are taking place between India and other countries now, in the Middle East and Gaza, and the ramifications are being felt in many, many ways already throughout the world. And you mentioned something very poignant, which was the impact that you expected on interpersonal relationships with people. And I think that people are, on an individual level, called out to take a stand on these issues in societies where they live with people who are different than them, and have neighbors, and coworkers, and so forth, who see the world a different way, because they’ve been inculcated into a different narrative of the world.
What is the damage that you think may be done to that delicate social fabric, in places like India, but also in the West?
PM: Well, I think the damage inflicted by these contemporary conflicts — already, the war in Ukraine — then, of course, the situation, let’s not forget the situation of the refugees in Europe, the way in which Ukrainians have been welcomed largely in Europe. And, at the same time, walls and fences being built to keep out refugees from, sometimes, the wars that Western countries have waged in Asia and North Africa. And that obviously leaves a very bitter taste for many, many people of non-Western origin living in Europe today.
And then, I think the Israel-Palestine thing, where you can see in certain responses to it, certain extreme responses to it … For instance, in the U.K. right now, an attempt to ban the Palestinian flag altogether, which in a way is an attempt to delegitimize not just a political aspiration, but also to delegitimize a whole series of emotional investments, delegitimize ideas through which people have lived their lives, delegitimize principles that have been a guiding light for many, many peoples living in Europe today.
I’m not just talking about refugees from Palestine. I’m also talking about people who have spent their lives campaigning, agitating for the rights of Palestinians. And these are not necessarily Muslims, these are not necessarily Arab Christians; many of them are Christians, many of them are Indians, there are people from all over.
So, if you are of non-Western ancestry living in Europe and North America today, I think you are prone to very profound feelings of alienation and loneliness, because you realize that the political system, the intellectual culture, the culture of the media, is likely to have less and less space for what you believe to be right. All your ideas of justice, equality, dignity, are being challenged like never before, and I think these are feelings of profound alienation.
And I feel that these feelings may work themselves out, occasionally in eruptions of violence. Sometimes they will just stay under the surface, not be expressed at all. But I definitely think that relations between communities, between individuals, are going to be very severely strained in the weeks and months to come.
MH: Pankaj, thanks so much for joining us today.
PM: Thanks very much, Murtaza.
MH: That’s Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg Opinion columnist and author, most recently of the novel, “Run and Hide.” And that does it for this episode of Intercepted.
Intercepted is a production of The Intercept. José Olivares is the lead producer. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Roger Hodge is Editor-in-Chief of The Intercept. Legal Review by David Bralow. And this episode was transcribed by Leonardo Faierman. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
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Thank you so much for joining us. Until next time, I’m Murtaza Hussain