After India gained independence in 1947, its foreign policy centered on efforts to create and lead a bloc of “non-aligned nations” consisting mostly of former European colonies. Animus toward Israel inevitably resulted from this orientation, which was in practice anti-American and pro-Arab. Not until 1992 did the two countries established formal diplomatic ties. The breakthrough, which paved the way for what is now a warm relationship, came after over a decade of behind-the-scene efforts by the Australian Jewish businessman and community leader, Isi Leibler. Suzanne Rutland tells the story:
During a business trip in December 1981, Leibler managed to meet with Indira [Gandhi]. After a five-minute presentation, in which he spoke about Jewish concerns, she responded: “You are politically on dangerous ground here in India. I am under enormous pressure. It is not only Pakistan. I have a potential catastrophe with [Indian] Muslims.”
She then said: “Tell me why the American Jewish-dominated press hates me . . . [and why] Jews concentrate their spite on me as if I were their worst enemy.” She ended by saying that she felt that Israel “hated” her and stressed that she liked Jews. . . .
In November 1991, at the request of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Leibler visited India in the hope of meeting with its prime minister, Narasimha Rao, who had been elected in June 1990. . . . They met on November 21, the first such meeting at this level with a Jewish leader and an Indian prime minister for many years. . . . Rao was much more positive than his predecessors.
After a second meeting a few months later, India announced that it was establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel.