Until 1992, New Delhi and Jerusalem had no diplomatic relations, primarily because India’s longtime leadership role in the “Non-Aligned Bloc” (a group of loosely pro-Soviet Third World countries) translated into cooperation with the Arab states in their war against Israel. Relations thawed slowly in the following years, but Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu have worked more recently to build a true alliance. Next week, Modi will be the first head of the Indian government to visit the Jewish state. P.R. Kumaraswamy explains how India’s federal system has facilitated better relations:
Over the two decades prior to Modi’s ascent, the prolonged political chilliness in New Delhi drove the Israeli embassy in India to look for greener pastures elsewhere. This is where India’s federal political system came to Israel’s rescue. . . . [Since 1993], visits and contacts between the Indian states and Israel have become an all-party affair, with leaders from a host of national and regional parties actively engaging with Israel. Even Communists who vehemently oppose Israel on the national level do not hesitate to engage with it on the provincial level. . . .
The [national] government [must address] political issues such as the Middle East peace process, the political rights of the Palestinians, and balancing Israel with India’s engagement with the Arab world. The priority of state government, however—irrespective of the party in power—is economic development. . . . Notwithstanding [partisan] ideologies, the states are less concerned about the vagaries of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and periodic upsurges of violence than about economic benefits accruing from closer ties with Israel.
Israel has capitalized on the unique Indian arrangement and expanded its footprint in areas such as agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, water management, public health, combating desertification, waste recycling, and more. . . . The skills and human resources available to Western countries often far outweigh Israel’s, [but] they have not been able to achieve the reach Israel has achieved over 25 years.
Above all, the state-centric approach in India has brought diplomatic dividends to Israel. Indo-Israeli relations, [furthermore], have . . . a practical value in terms of improving the quality of life of ordinary Indians.