Netanyahu made a six-day visit to India last week with a 130-member delegation and signed nine agreements in different fields – including the rolling back of cancellation of $500 missile deal – to boost trade and cooperation between the two states. This was Netanyahu’s first visit to India and second by any Israeli Prime Minister since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. During the six-day stay, Netanyahu made a trip to Taj Mahal in Agra where Yogi Adityanath received him, a symbolic visit to Chabad House in Mumbai where Israeli citizens were killed during 26/11 attacks, visited Gandhi’s Ashram and flied kites in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The rightists in India celebrated Netanyahu’s visit while the leftists and Muslims protested and burned banners of Netanyahu because of his war crimes in Palestine.
Though the state of Israel was officially recognized by India in 1950, the diplomatic relations remained ambiguous for more than four decades. Cooperation in defence and intelligence sharing between both countries started in 1960s when Israel provided weapons to India during the Sino-Indian and Indo-Pak wars. It was after the fall of communism and the end of Cold War, when formal relations between both states established by opening embassies in respective capitals in 1992. Formal relations were established during the Government of the Indian National Congress (INC), but it was Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which always tried to bring Israel closer.
BJP is a right-wing political party with ideological and organizational links to the Hindu nationalist organization of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Hindu nationalists have always been vocal about establishing closer relations with racist, fascist and nationalist elements.
BJP is a right-wing political party with ideological and organizational links to the Hindu nationalist organization of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Hindu nationalists have always been vocal about establishing closer relations with racist, fascist and nationalist elements. In past, the senior leadership of RSS had direct relations with Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany because of their shared opposition to the British empire; today the Hindu nationalists admire Donald Trump and fundamentalist Netanyahu because of their shared opposition to Muslims. This is the reason, whenever the rightists have come into power in Delhi, the high-level political visits between the two states have always taken place.
Though formal diplomatic relations were established during the reign of Congress, but not a single diplomatic visit between the two states had taken place during the 15-year rule of Congress since 1992. On other hand, more than 10 diplomatic visits have taken place between the two states in less than 10-year rule of BJP. It was BJP’s Government when the first Indian Cabinet Minister LK Advani, landed in Israel on a five-day visit in June 2000, followed by BJP’s Foreign Minister next month. Attal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, when Ariel Sharon become the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India along with 24-member business delegation.
Ties between both states have significantly expanded and the political visits increased since Modi took office in 2014. Following are the visits that have taken place in last four years.
- Indian Home MinisterRajnath Singh visited Israel in November 2014.
- Former Israeli President Shimon Peresvisited India in November 2014.
- Israeli Defence MinisterMoshe Ya’alon visited India in February 2015.
- In October 2015, Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President in history to visit Israel.
- Sushma Swaraj becomes the second Indian Foreign Minister visiting Israel in January 2016.
- Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar visited Israel in September 2016.
- Reuven Rivlin become the second Israeli President visiting India in November 2016.
- In July 2017, Narendra Modibecame the first ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.
- With the recent visit (January 2018), Netanyahu became the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.
Today Israel and India are closer than ever before. There are many similarities between the two states: Israel is known for its war crimes in Palestine, India is known for its atrocities against the Kashmiris in disputed territories. Both states ignored a number of UN resolutions related to the disputed territories, both states do not allow independent investigation teams in Palestine and Kashmir, both states are settling non-locals in disputed territories to change demographics there and most importantly, victims in both Palestine and Kashmir are Muslims. There are also several similarities between the two leaders: Netanyahu is accused of war crimes in Palestine, Modi is accused of deliberately allowing the massacre of Muslims during Gujarat Riots in 2002. Both the leaders are rightists, religious-nationalists and both of them know the art of propaganda via lobbies and social media.
BJP emerged as the largest political party by winning an outright majority in parliament in 2014 and the consequent state elections across country. Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh (most populace state of India) Yogi Adityanath, are two prominent faces of today’s BJP. Both of them are known for their anti-Muslim rhetoric and both of them are elected by the conservative Hindus on the same merit. Currently BJP has 1418 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) across the country, only four out of them are Muslims. From Gujarat (home state of Modi), no Muslim has been given ticket by BJP since 2002. In Utter Pradesh (home state of Yogi) only one Muslim out of the 4.3 crore Muslim population was given ticket in recent Assembly elections. Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar and Maharashtra are other examples where one or no Muslim was given ticket by BJP. This clearly shows that the rightist party is not ready to give any political space to Muslims, at least not from the platform of BJP.
Though India has established formal diplomatic relations and expanded bilateral trade from $200 million in 1992 to $5 billion in 2017, its stance on the Palestinian issue remained the same until now.
Though India has established formal diplomatic relations and expanded bilateral trade from $200 million in 1992 to $5 billion in 2017, its stance on the Palestinian issue remained the same until now. It is also true that the BJP Government will not hesitate to change its stance on Palestine when the right time comes. This shift became evident when Modi visited Israel last year as the first Indian Prime Minister, but avoided visiting Palestine. There is obvious understanding between the hard core nationalist Governments in India and Israel that is ostensibly why Netanyahu made the six-day visit despite India’s vote against them just a few weeks before. If the rightist Government of BJP continues to rule in Delhi, its policy toward Israel will not be guided by Nehru and Gandhi’s ideology, but by Modi and Yogi’s religious-cultural nationalism and realpolitik.
is a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. He has done MSc. and M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are politics and foreign policy of Pakistan and Afghanistan.