IN-DEPTH: India’s Ban on Pro-Palestinian Protests an ‘Uncompromising’ Counterterrorism Stance, Expert Says

India’s action against the protests is a stance against terrorism, ‘which by default ends up being a pro-Israel stance,’ says international relations expert.
IN-DEPTH: India’s Ban on Pro-Palestinian Protests an ‘Uncompromising’ Counterterrorism Stance, Expert Says
Kashmiri Muslims hold placards as they chant slogans against Israel and the United States during a protest against Israel's military operations against Gaza, in Kashmir, India, on Oct. 13, 2023. (Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)
Venus Upadhayaya

NEW DELHI—A war of stances and narratives has broken out in the global media after India’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests. Some reports say the ban represents a foreign policy shift in an attempt to protect India’s relationship with Israel, one of its largest defense partners.

These reports are countered by others, primarily in the Indian media, who say the protests have been banned to maintain law and order.

A report in The Associated Press focused on the situation in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where Indian authorities have barred Palestinian solidarity marches and asked Muslim preachers to refrain from mentioning the conflict in their sermons. The report said India has barred solidarity marches because it fears the protests will jeopardize its rule in what the AP terms a “disputed region.” India has legally claimed Kashmir as its own since the partition of colonial India into India and Pakistan.

However, a leading Indian geopolitical analyst told The Epoch Times that India’s act of banning pro-Palestinian protests is primarily a counterterrorism measure.

“This is a very, very strong, robust, uncompromising counterterrorism stance, which by default ends up being a pro-Israel stance,” Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, senior research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, told The Epoch Times. He says that India’s counterterrorism stance means showing “exactly zero support for terror.”

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared two messages on X, formerly known as Twitter. The first message came immediately after the attack.

“Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families,” Mr. Modi said. “We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.”

The Indian prime minister didn’t mention the Palestinians at all in his public message. Mr. Iyer-Mitra described the post as a “huge departure” from the way India had communicated previously on the Israeli–Palestinian issue.

“Before this, there was always equivocation of some form or the other. The MEA [Ministry of External Affairs] tried to water it down by restating the two-state solution, but that is not really watering down because that is also the official Israeli position, that there needs to be a two-state solution,” he said.

The Indian prime minister’s second message on X came on Oct. 18 after the attack on Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza:

“Deeply shocked at the tragic loss of lives at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, and prayers for speedy recovery of those injured,” he said.

“Civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern. Those involved should be held responsible.”

A few days later, India announced its first humanitarian aid convoy of 20 trucks including medical and other relief supplies for the besieged Gaza Strip.

Mr. Iyer-Mitra said that in his messages, Mr. Modi “refused” to mention or speculate about who was behind the attack. In fact, the strike on the hospital was found to have been caused by a Hamas rocket. Mr. Iyer-Mitra said the “generic” message was seen by some as a “dilution.”

“Now, what has happened is since then, we’ve had the U.S.–India 2+2 dialogue, which concluded just yesterday [Nov. 10] and the official statement does not even ask for a ceasefire.”

The 2+2 annual meetings between India and the United States have been held since 2018 to discuss common issues of concern, with the goal of bolstering ties between the two countries. This year’s meetings highlighted “shared global agendas.”
A  joint statement after the meetings expressed “support for humanitarian pauses” in the Gaza war. The two countries “committed to continue close diplomatic coordination, including with key partners in the region, to prevent the conflict from spreading, preserve stability in the Middle East, and work toward a political solution and durable peace.”

Mr. Iyer-Mitra said that the two countries discussed humanitarian pauses and noted that the statement makes no mention of a ceasefire.

It’s a “totally pro-Israel statement, which is a pro-counterterrorism statement,” he said.

India’s counterterrorism messaging comes from the context it faces at home. The world’s most populated democracy is one of the 10 countries most affected by terrorism. The number of terrorist attacks in India has steadily declined since 2015, and the country has the lowest number of deaths among those 10 countries. However, it continues to face a complex array of terrorism scenarios.

The Asian giant accounts for 77.9 percent of the total economic effect of violence in the region. That is 5 percent of its GDP, or $991.2 billion, in 2019, according to a paper entitled “Economic Implications of Global Terrorism,“ by Nagpur University economics professor Aparna Samudra, published last year.
A protestor draws a placard in support of the Palestinians, in Bengaluru, India, on Oct. 16, 2023. (Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)
A protestor draws a placard in support of the Palestinians, in Bengaluru, India, on Oct. 16, 2023. (Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

Protests, Marches, and Politics

Since Oct. 7, India has witnessed various kinds of pro-Palestinian protests, prompting police intervention.

In one incident reported from the southern Indian state of Kerala, the former head of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, virtually addressed a pro-Palestinian rally. While Mr. Meshaal’s speech highlighted only the Palestinian cause, local organizers used the tagline, “Uproot Bulldozer Hindutva and Apartheid Zionism.”

“Hindutva” refers to a political idealogy based on Hindu nationalism. Thus the rally used the platform and cause of the Palestinians for its domestic political stance.

Official actions against the protests have ranged from invoking legal provisions against people sharing pro-Palestinian messages on social media to denying permission for protests in public places and actions against those breaking these restrictions. Reports of anti-protest measures have come from various states and cities.

Ironically, Hamas isn’t banned in India. Mr. Iyer-Mitra ascribed this to a “long tradition” in which India doesn’t take on Israel’s “enemy” and Israel doesn’t take on India’s. Thus, Israel hasn’t yet banned the terrorist organizations operating in India and India hasn’t banned those operating in Israel.

“Similarly, Hamas doesn’t operate in India, so there’s no reason to ban it in India. Will it be considered? Possibly, yes! I don’t know if they’re working on it,” Mr. Iyer-Mitra said.

“But that is the reason we don’t designate Hamas. For the same reason, Israel doesn’t designate Lashkar-e-Toiba, etc. Because once you designate you’re literally painting a target on yourself and saying ’aa bail mujhe maar.'" The popular Hindi idiom means “asking for trouble.” Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist and militant group that seeks to merge Kashmir with Pakistan.

The international relations expert said he believes that pro-Palestinian protests don’t threaten India’s national security “immediately,” but he expressed apprehension that the protests could morph into something more threatening.

“Remember there is this whole praxis of intersectionality in the West, where the way of getting rid of white supremacy is to get rid of Jewish supremacy, which is to be pro-Palestine ... We really don’t know how that morphs out here,” he said.

The Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7, including the burning of babies, were so brutal that Mr. Iyer-Mitra said he believes that allowing pro-Palestinian protests would be “validating” the terrorist acts. He expressed dismay and shock at the story of an 8-year-old girl whose limbs were hacked off while her father’s eyes were gouged out.

“In the long term, any support for this kind of nonsense is very much a clear and present threat to [Indian] security. When it would actually morph into an actual threat in being, as opposed to a sort of amorphous threat and ideological threat, is hard to see,” he said.

The threat isn’t unique to India’s national security, Mr. Iyer-Mitra said, because terrorist movements around the world take ideological inspiration from each other.

“And with international jihad, there is a huge nexus of state support; a similar means of financing, etc., etc., which all of them tap into.”

Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.