The joint statement issued on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India gives a sinking feeling. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to his old ways of treating foreign policy as a private affair, to project himself among sections of the Indian opinion. Such personal diplomacy, so far has not brought any real substantive dividends for India’s growth and development agenda or job creation.
Alas, Netanyahu’s visit failed to produce a single concrete result. A routine South Block brief on the ties appears to have been cut and posted as the joint statement. The only plus Modi brought into the relationship so far has been the Adani Group’s entry into India’s defence sector through a joint venture with an Israeli company that makes drones for the Indian armed forces. In the final analysis, India’s relationship with Israel narrows down to arms deals. Yet, it is not as if Israel gifts weaponry to India or sells at concessional price. The deals are struck directly, dispensing with global tenders. India is a great customer because it makes down payments.
Indeed, the public feels short-changed and cannot help asking, “Where is the beef? Why such hoopla over Netanyahu’s visit?” For Netanyahu, the big budgetary support out of the income from sales of weapons to the world’s largest market becomes a top priority. But, Modi’s motivations are complex. They need some explaining. Looking back, there has been bipartisan consensus between the Congress and the BJP regarding the imperative of a transactional relationship with Israel to meet India’s security needs. Where they differed was on account of the ideological affinity that the proponents of Hindu nationalism expressed toward Zionism.
The Hindu Mahasabha leader V.D. Savarkar voiced outright support for the creation of Israel—diametrically opposite to Gandhiji’s views—and RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar unabashedly admired Jewish nationalism. Modi brought out of the attic these archaic notions in a self-serving attempt. Plainly put, what bring the Modi and Netanyahu governments together is the affinities in terms of their Hindutva and Zionist pedigree and the ‘Islamophobia’ characteristic of the two ideologies. Modi has done a masterly job to cement the relationship with Israel with the mortar of Hindutva. The Israelis read Modi’s mind, which came out in Netanyahu’s startling remark in Delhi last week, calling the relationship with India a “marriage made in heaven.”
Neither Netanyahu nor Modi loses sleep over alienating the ‘Muslim opinion’ in their respective countries. Their right-wing constituencies take vicarious pleasure in humiliating Muslim feelings. Possibly, South Block estimates that Modi’s Israeli enterprise is risk-free, given the schisms within the Muslim Middle East. Thus, the pace of the Modi-Netanyahu bromance perceptively quickened during the past one year, since Donald Trump entered the White House. Modi felt constrained through the first two years of his term as prime minister, during the Obama presidency.
Both India and Israel are around 70, and it is impractical to change at such advanced age. They were strangers for most of their adulthood, with vastly different lifestyle and ethos, and struck a relationship only in the past quarter century. The facts of life they encountered were specific in character. Yet, the joint statement testifies that Netanyahu has brilliantly succeeded in getting Modi on board his line on the Palestine issue. However, make no mistake, Palestine issue won’t fade away and will outlive Netanyahu and Modi. And, it is unwise to get entrapped in Netanyahu’s “marriage made in heaven.” That eventuality can hurt the interests of the Indian community in that region, which is in the cusp of change, battered by the forces of history. The zen of marriage in that volatile region must be kept in mind.
Bhadrakumar is a retired diplomat.