Indian Elections and Israel: Making new friends and keeping the old

As over 800 million of my countrymen are called to vote across India; we would be choosing between two trusted Israel-friendly political alliances. On one hand, the ruling coalition led by the Congress Party that oversaw 10 years of growth phase in India-Israel relations. On the other, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), main challenger and an outspoken supporter of Israel.

Going by the recent opinion polls, the BJP alliance led by the prime-ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi is poised to become the single largest party and make the claim to form the next government; but it is not a foregone conclusion yet and if Mr. Modi falls short of a simple majority, he would have an uphill task in getting smaller parties on board.

It would be too early to rule out the India’s Grand Old Party, the Congress Party led by Mr. Rahul Gandhi, a fourth generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In case Mr. Modi fails to secure a majority, the Congress Party with her broader appeal would be better positioned to attract smaller coalition partners.

Mr. Modi is running on the platform of clean governance and on the promise of turning around the staggered Indian economy. He is undoubtedly the most successful regional leader in the recent Indian history. He is the Chief Minister of Gujarat state, an economically robust and highly industrialized region on North-West coast of India. With a population of around 60 million, Gujarat’s per-capita GDP is much higher than nation’s average.

If Mr. Modi becomes the next prime minister, he would be India’s first premier ever to have visited Israel. Unlike the traditional Indian politicians, who are tightlipped and hushed-up about their views on Israel, Mr. Modi is an outspoken supporter of India-Israel relations. He has repeatedly praised Israel for advancements in science and technology; and called for more cooperation – and he hasn’t been paying just lip service.

Under Mr. Modi’s leadership over 2000 farmers from the state of Gujarat visit Israel annually to get trained in advance farming techniques – at their own expense. He admires Israeli expertise in agriculture, irrigation and dairy; and recently asked Israel to be the partner country at Gujarat state’s flagship Agricultural Fair (Vibrant Gujarat Agro Tech Global Fair 2014). He has called on Israeli companies to enter into water management and water recycling sector in around 50 cities of Gujarat.

Israeli private sector companies are playing an active role in Gujarat’s economy. Israel has proposed setting up of a corpus fund for promoting joint ventures between Gujarat state and Israel in fields of research and industrial development.

Regardless of the outcome of the Indian general elections, Israel can expect a friendly government in New Delhi. Both the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party have proven themselves as trustworthy partners of Israel. The veteran Congress Party leader and Prime Minister Mr. PV Narasimha Rao (1991-1996) formalized the India-Israel relations and was followed up by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) of the BJP, who was equally committed to strengthening relations with Israel. The current Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh (2004-2014) has presided over a high-growth phase in bilateral relations. India-Israel bilateral trade has risen from $200 million in 2001, to a staggering $6 billion in 2013.

It is time for Israel to reach out to new friends in India, while keeping the old ones.

About the Author
Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian journalist based in Europe. He is Contributing Editor for the Commentator and Senior Distinguished Fellow at New York-based Gatestone Institute. He graduated from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and worked for more than 10 years in international organisations, including German Foreign Office, German Minister for Economics and Technology, Goethe Institute and Humboldt Foundation.