Saturday 8 July 2017

India and Modi stand up for Israel (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
The Jewish community has an affection for India and its people.
For those who have tracked the 13-year trajectory of Chief Minister Modi in Gujarat, it is safe to infer that for Narendra Modi, governance at the Central level is not a 5-year, nor even a 10-year plan, but extends to 15 years. And that Modi must have worked out in his own mind a performance milestone for each of those years. These calculations will remain with him and not get fully revealed to anyone. Although of course, milestones for the immediate next years may be shared with those he has tasked with helping actualise them. This meticulous segmenting of overall performance into time-bound stages may annoy those well-wishers of Modi who wish to see fulfilled in Year 3 what the PM has kept aside for Year 5, but such shows of impatience will not deflect Modi from following his own timetable. The good news is that when he finally delivers, the results usually will be worth the wait, as has just happened in the case of the visit to Israel. This is a country that the Prime Minister is known to admire, which is why several forecast a Modi visit much earlier than towards the second half of the third year of his current 5-year term as PM. But now that Modi has visited a country that has assisted India in every conflict that our country has been engaged in since 1962, it is clear that the structure of the visit surpassed every early expectation of its depth and impact. Before visiting Israel, Modi hosted the Chairperson of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and in this context, hopefully India will soon join those nations that have set up educational, health and other facilities in the West Bank. Such a gesture would take place despite the way in which Arab nations have, almost without exception, backed Pakistan on Kashmir out of wholly communal considerations. The Pakistan army is not interested in securing Kashmir for its own sake, but because GHQ Rawalpindi is aware that a wrenching away of this beautiful corner of India would result in a “nakba” (catastrophe) across the country that would make the events of 1947-48 seem mild in comparison.

The State of Israel has indeed expanded the 1948 boundaries given to it by the United Nations, but each time this has been caused by its victory in a war begun by the other side to try and increase the territory they themselves control. The leaders of Israel being somewhat different in mindset from those in India, they have mostly refused to lose at the peace table what the Israeli Defense Forces won on the battlefield, with the exception of Sinai, which was handed back to the Egyptians, and large parts of which have now become a refuge for Al Qaeda, especially since the (fortunately brief) period in office of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo, which was set up with the blessings of Hillary Clinton. The 1948 boundaries of Israel were practically indefensible, and but for the fact that the armies confronting Israel were adept only at shooting down their own populations and not a foreign military, Israel may have either shrunk or vanished altogether. In 1967, President Nasser thought that he could repeat his Suez Canal triumph with a takeover of Israel, but failed, as happened again in 1978 with Anwar Sadat. Since then, and partly because of Israel’s nuclear capability, the Jewish state has not seen conventional attacks on its territory, although non-conventional (terror) attacks are unceasing. Whether they be in Tel Aviv or in New York, the Jewish community has an affection for India and its people, and among the ways in which this gets reflected is the partnership between Jewish-American and Indian-American organisations in Washington. Interestingly, while the classic faiths of Greece, Egypt and Rome faded into nothingness, that of the Jewish and the Indic people survived across millennia of persecution, as did another classic faith, Zoroastrianism, although demography, combined with patriarchal and outdated rules for admission into the fold, is resulting in this fascinating faith shrinking its already tiny numbers at an accelerating pace.

In the context of Prime Minister Modi’s pathbreaking journey to Israel, BJP spokespersons, voluble about the neglect by the Congress and its allies of one of India’s most loyal friends, forget that there was little difference between the policies towards Israel of the A.B. Vajpayee government and those pursued by Manmohan Singh. Indeed, when the first India-Israel-US security conference was organised at the IIC in Delhi in 2003, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra worked hard to get it cancelled. Why? Because such a meeting would in his reckoning “confirm fears of a Christian-Jewish-Hindu alliance against Muslims”. This was among the fantasies that Mishra was apparently prey to. Failing in his bid to scrap the conference, Mishra tried to block meetings of the conference participants with key policymakers of the Vajpayee government. To their credit, several of the NDA leaders ignored such advice and went ahead with the meetings, although in their residences rather than their offices. These included Deputy PM L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and HRD Minister M.M. Joshi, although Jaswant Singh kept aloof in deference to the National Security Advisor. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam showed his mettle by going ahead with a meeting at the Rashtrapati Bhavan with key members of the three delegations. As he later explained privately, given the help Israel had given to India in the field of security, his conscience did not permit him to cancel a courtesy meeting with key India-Israel-US conference participants.

Friendship and loyalty are two-way streets. They need to be given in order to be received. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, by his visit, shown in ample measure the gratitude of the people of India towards a country and a people who have invariably come to our assistance in times of crisis, thus far without any public acknowledgement by India of the depth of the partnership. Bravo, and may there soon be an encore.

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