The past fortnight has been taken up by a preoccupation with the post-election turbulence in Iran.
I have visited Iran only once, in 1999. My visit was confined to Teheran. However, I fell in love with the country instantly. Behind the fierce graffiti that overpowered the streets and the wooden officials who seemed to be in charge of public life, there was a pulsating vibrancy which overpowers any visitor. Iran, it seemed to me a decade ago, was a modern society that was struggling to find expression.
Of course, I met only the middle classes, university professors and some professional women. These encounters, coupled with earlier experiences with Iranian students in Britain in the late-1970s--all fiercely anti-Shah--have etched a particular image of Iran in my mind.
I concede that it is a partial view and doesn't take into account the poorer and more conservative sections, those who make up President Ahmadinejad's vote bank. Indeed, the Western media appears to have seriously underestimated the support base of the present regime and the theocracy.
This may well be true but there is a substantial section of Iranian society, particularly educated women, who are totally exasperated by the petty tyrannies of a theocratic state. This election began as a faction fight among the religious establishment and a proxy war between the Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khameini and Hosseyn Rafsanjani. But after the blatant rigging (without the manipulation there would have been a run-off between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in the second round), it is quickly escalating into a challenge to the whole Islamic Republic.
I don't think the modernists have the necessary social clout as yet to force a regime change. But their chances of securing modest democratic gains have been ruined by the open support from the US and EU countries.
If the West supports any social movement it automatically tars it with the brush of anti-nationalism. The West doesn't really despise theocracy in Iran--they support more repressive Wahabi regimes elsewhere in West Asia. The West opposes Iran's aspirations of emerging as a regional power.
The real challenge that faces Indian diplomacy is to balance support for democratisation of Iran with a distance from the West's opposition of Iranian nationalism. India hasn't officially commented on Iran's internal developments--which is healthy. But our civil society and media hasn't done anything to distinguish us from the West's spurious indignation. I am, in fact, very surprised that our media hasn't arranged for independent coverage of Iran. We are still too dependant on western news feeds.
If India wants to be taken seriously in the world, it must make its presence felt more meaningfully. Our strategic thinkers have to be told that there is a world outside Pakistan and the US.
I have elaborated some of these points in an article in the Telegraph.