Israel-India ties warm up with election of Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi wins Indian elections for PM

With the deterioration of Israel-US ties under the Obama Administration,  against the background of nasty smears and insinuations against Israel of espionage (with more Israel-bashing emanated over the weekend from special envoy Martin Indyk) and accusations against Israel’s settlement-building policy of undermining the US peace plans for the Middle East, it is heartening to know that Israel has gained another very important and powerful friend in India with the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP):

Modi had previously visited Israel as chief minister of Gurajat province, a position he held since 2001. During the trip, he suggested that, “as the possible next prime minister, he could make history by journeying to the Jewish state,” the report read.

“Modi’s ties to Israel, which BJP officials strongly endorse, has turned into a financial bonanza for the western Indian province of Gujarat, where he has served as chief minister for the past 13 years,” the report went on.

Israel had reportedly poured billions into the province for projects in the fields of industrial research and development, agriculture, solar and thermal power, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, water recycling and water desalination plants.

In late 2013, an agreement was signed with the Israeli company Tower Semiconductor Ltd., and a few non-Israeli ones, to build two semiconductor fabrication plants for a total cost of some $10.4 billion.

In comments on Indian TV, picked up by Israel National News, Israel’s consul general in Mumbai, Jonathan Miller, said that Israel sought to establish an industrial development fund with Gujarat and that a free-trade agreement with India may be in the works.

“Gujarat is a business-oriented state and this [memorandum of understanding] will help both Israeli and Gujarat-based companies in developing and strengthening the industrial relationship. Our focus is on increasing research ties with Gujarat. Israel is keen to increase research and development (R&D) and cultural ties with Gujarat,” Miller said during the TV appearance.

Next week, one of the largest tech business delegations from India to ever arrive in Israel is scheduled to arrive. Some 30 Indian companies, large and small, plan to have booths at the India Pavilion at the Tel Aviv MIXiii 2014 conference, the largest tech event to be held in Israel this year.

[…]

Results announced Friday from the weeks-long polls showed that Modi and the BJP had won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power.

On Saturday, Modi was greeted by roaring crowds outside the BJP’s headquarters in the heart of New Delhi, where he met with the party’s leadership to discuss forming a new government.

In a country where elections usually result in cacophony rather than a single roar, Modi pulled off a mandate of staggering proportions, leaving him unfettered to pursue the agenda of economic revival and development that propelled him to victory.

What remains to be seen is how quickly Modi, who has ruled Gujarat since 2001, can match the enormous expectations he has created in an electorate that is hungry for change.

[…]

On Saturday, as thousands of people cheered and danced in the streets to welcome him to the capital, it was clear that Modi had managed to win the confidence of a large number of Indians.

For voters, the priorities in this election were no longer bound by old traditional religious and caste allegiances. Instead, jobs and development were their main priority, and after having promised them that, Modi’s real challenge lies ahead.

Modi himself looked forward, confidently promising to start work on his agenda quickly and thanking voters for giving him a clear mandate.

From the report in the International Business Times, not everyone is so happy with Narendra Modi’s election or his warm relations with Israel:

As for Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat was long treated as a pariah by Western Europe and the U.S. for his alleged involvement in communal riots in his state in 2002 between Hindus and Muslims, which killed at least 1,200 people. Although he was absolved of any complicity in those massacres by a panel of India’s Supreme Court in 2012, Modi remains an extremely polarizing figure. Alas, during his years in the wilderness, Modi was forced to look elsewhere for trade deals — namely the affluent and powerful non-western democracies of Japan and Israel. Indeed, in January 2013, Modi personally hosted the Israeli ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz in Gujarat to discuss deepening trade ties.

[…]

Indeed, the BJP’s hostile rhetoric against Pakistan, and the Islamic world as a whole, has been music to Israel’s ears. In 2003, following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in a speech before the American Jewish Community in Washington, D.C., Brajesh Mishra, then India’s national security adviser under the BJP government, called for a trilateral alliance comprising India, Israel and the U.S. to “jointly face the same ugly face of modern-day terrorism,” adding that such an alliance would “have the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocation.” Later that year, in a historic event, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to India. (Sharon’s visit, it must be pointed out, as protested by Muslims and leftists in India.)

But long before Modi appeared on the scene, right-wing and Hindu nationalist figures have praised and supported Israel. Several prominent Hindu figures, including Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, among others, have explicitly condemned anti-Semitism and endorsed the formation of Israel. India recognized Israel as long ago as 1950 — but the relationship has complicated India’s links with the Arab and Muslim world. As a result, India has taken a delicate stance with Israel, rarely ever making any provocative statements regarding the endless intrigues in the Middle East. Indeed, India is dependent on oil from Iran and Saudi Arabia and has sent millions of migrants to work in the Middle East since the 1970s oil boom (providing India with much-needed cash remittances).

Thus, India must be circumspect in how she deals with Israel; in fact, New Delhi typically votes against Israel in the United Nations. But that hasn’t stopped the two countries from entering into numerous big-money agreements in the areas of defense, security, energy, aerospace engineering and agriculture. Defense trade between Israel and India amounts to some $10 billion alone, according to reports (thereby making Israel the number one arms supplier to India, supplanting Russia).

But there have been many bumps along the way. In the 1920s, when Indian nationalists agitated for independence from Great Britain, they allied themselves with the Palestinians and strongly opposed Western/Zionist plans to form a Jewish state. Interestingly, the two most famous Indians of the 20th century differed on their views of Israel. Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to the creation of Israel since he did not think a country should be based on religion (paralleling his opposition to the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan). However, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru strongly supported the creation of Israel and was close to several prominent Israelis, including David Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister.

[…]

…India has had many good reasons to side against Israel: It had to appease its huge Muslim minority; the country feared that the Arab nations would favor Muslim Pakistan over India in various geo-political affairs (particularly the territorial rights to Kashmir); and, perhaps most importantly, its heavy dependence on Arab/Iranian oil and gas.

Behind the scenes, however, other arrangements, many of them secret, were established between New Delhi and Jerusalem over the decades. Reportedly, as long ago as the early 1960s, Israel offered India military and intelligence assistance with respect to India’s various conflicts against Pakistan and China. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan apparently even made a secret visit to India in the mid or late 1970s to formalize military cooperation projects.

Now, the BJP is especially warm to Israel, partly due to the BJP’s intransigent hostility toward Pakistan and Islam in general. BJP has praised Israel repeatedly as a bulwark against Islamic terrorism.

Despite the negative attitudes of the anti-Israel sectors it is obvious that warmer India-Israel ties are to the great benefit of both countries, economically, diplomatically and politically. May these ties grow ever stronger.

We congratulate Mr. Modi on his election and wish him much success in his new position.

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4 Responses to Israel-India ties warm up with election of Narendra Modi

  1. Tony Deakin says:

    This is stupendously good news, must check if the NYT even reports it. Obambi won’t like it!

    • anneinpt says:

      I’m sure the NYT will report it. The question is what kind of angle they’ll give it: as a neutral report on a foreign country’s election, or as a dire warning of a Hindu nationalist extremist having won the election.

  2. Pingback: Off Topic: Modi and Begin |

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