By Special Correspondent
Colombo, March 11 (www.southasianmonitor.com): The stunning victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the pugnacious Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the just concluded Uttar Pradesh State Assembly elections is of critical importance to India’s foreign policy.
Wedded to aggressive Hindu assertion through its Hindutva ideology; a barely concealed anti-Muslim orientation; and a penchant for aggressive posturing patented by Donald Trump’s America and Israel, the BJP government in New Delhi may be expected to get tougher on Pakistan and go ahead with the on-going plan to cultivate closer defense and security oriented ties with Israel.
Having swept the polls without the support of Muslims, though Muslims form a substantial chunk of the population in UP, the BJP government in New Delhi does not have to be soft on Pakistan or be shy about cultivating Israel for fear of losing Muslim votes.
The BJP’s victory is bad news for India-Pakistan relations which is at a new low now. While India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border terrorism, the Pakistanis accuse India of sponsoring anti-Pakistan militants based in Afghanistan, besides committing gross human rights violations in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
But the victory is good news for relations with Israel, which has benefitted whenever a BJP-led government has been in New Delhi.
It is clear that when Modi comes to Tel Aviv in mid July, he will be serenaded and welcomed with open arms by the Israeli establishment. It
will be a stand-alone visit, meaning he will not be visiting any Arab country or Palestine during this trip. The visit will gain considerable media attention also because it will be the high watermark in the celebrations to mark the 25th. anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Modi’s visit assumes significance because it is the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. While Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had visited India, no Indian PM has so far visited Israel.
India had recognized Israel way back in 1950, but had not exchanged Ambassadors till 1992 because of the pro-Arab, pro-Palestine policies of the Centre-Left parties which ruled India in the 1950s ,60s, 70s and the 80s, and the first part of the 1990s. But the non-doctrinaire and pragmatic Congress Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao changed it all with the help of the then opposition stalwart and BJP leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee. In 1992, India under Rao, established full diplomatic relations with Israel. Since then, relations between the two countries have grown from strength to strength.
But in view of the political sensibilities inherited from the Congress-Leftist era, the relationship was low profile. Secrecy was necessitated also because the ties were, and still are, largely defense and security oriented. In fact, while civilian trade between the two countries is just US$ 4.5 billion, the secret defense trade is two to three times more than that. Defense deals are set to be worth well above US$ 10 billion. And that is set to grow, given India’s position as the word’s single biggest arms importer, and Israel being among the world’s ten top arms exporters.
In a significant development in 2014, which was a pointer to what was to come, India abstained from voting in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on a resolution condemning Israel for the killing of 2000 Palestinians in Gaza. New Delhi justified its abstention saying it could not support the call for the issue to be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has not recognized.
Modi is no stranger to Israel as he had visited that country as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2008 and Gujarat has had very close connections with Israel through the diamond trade. From 50 to 71 percent of India-Sri Lanka bilateral trade is accounted for by diamonds and the trade is between Gujarat and Israel rather than between India and Israel. India imports diamonds from, and exports diamonds to, Israel. India is using Israeli technology to evaluate cut diamonds. In fact, India, Israel and Russia are involved in the world diamond trade in a big way. While India is the largest importer of diamonds, Russia is the largest exporter in the world.
However, Modi did not show any haste in visiting Israel after coming to power as Prime Minister in May 2014. The globetrotting Indian Prime Minister had visited Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar, but skirted Israel. However, he had a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York in 2014 when Netanyahu suggested that Israel could help beef up India’s internal and external security apparatus.
Following this, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited in India in 2015, the first by an Israeli Defense Minister since 1992. Seven Israeli service chiefs and seven Israeli National Security Advisors have visited India since 2001 so far, underscoring the importance of defense and security in the relationship. This year, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Israel and met Prime Minister Netanyahu.
India purchased Phalcon AWACS for US$ 1.1 billion. It also bought UAVs, Aerostat surveillance radars; Galil sniper rifles; Barak anti-missile defense systems mounted on frontline ships; and under water surveillance systems. India and Israel are jointly developing a long-range surface to air missile for the Indian Navy; medium range missiles for the Indian air force; and are jointly marketing the Dhruv advanced light helicopter.
According to defense commentator, Ajai Shukla, India’s purchases are sustaining Israeli defense industries. He cites the development of the ELTA defense electronic system by Israel as a case in point. And Israel’s dependence on the Indian military market has increased with the human rights conscious European Union putting curbs on some Israeli exports in the context of its killing of Palestinians in Gaza.
For Israel, India is but a minor investment destination, the total investment in India being just US$ 55.32 million. But Israelis are advising on border security and electronic surveillance, cyber security, desalinization, waste water management, agriculture, irrigation, food processing and food preservation. India loses 21 million tons of food every year because of a lack of preservation facilities. The IDE, an Israeli desalinization company has a plant in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Mekorot has a plant in Mumbai. Rajasthan has an Israeli waste water re-cycling plant.
Indians and Indian companies have also been investing in Israel. Jain Industries have invested in drip irrigation. Sun Pharma has taken over Taro Pharmaceuticals. Triveni Engineering has acquired the waste water company Aqwise. Indian IT giants like Infosys, Wipro, and Tech Mahindra have all set up units in Israel.
(The featured picture at the top shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)