Beyond #ModiInIsrael lies challenge of partnership on the ground

Beyond #ModiInIsrael lies challenge of partnership on the ground

Kanchan Gupta | 09 Jul 2017 08:09 AM

PM Narendra Modi and PM Netanyahu attended a reception for the Indian community in Israel. PIC/@IsraeliPM (Twitter)

Jerusalem: History, it is often said, is written in stone and remains unchanged. That is, till history is challenged and revised to make it truth-compliant. Or the course of history is changed by deeds that seek to correct errors of the past that forcibly determined the path it would follow.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did precisely that this past week during his historic visit to Israel. Witnessing his arrival and stepping on Israeli soil to a grand welcome by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was by itself witnessing the making of history -- or undoing the errors of history, if you will.
From a time when Indian passports were valid for all countries except South Africa and Israel, to a summer day when the Indian Prime Minister broke with the past to forge a new future by going on an official visit to Israel, it has indeed been a long journey. Netanyahu in his effusively warm welcome speech said Israel had been waiting for this day. He added, Israel had been waiting for 70 years.

But for the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru's rejection of any relations whatsoever with Israel and his obsequious pandering to 'Arab nationalism', the ideational forerunner of what we now refer to as Islamism, the wait need not have been this long. The much-celebrated 'Nehruvian Consensus', which in reality was one man's bull-headed ideological posturing to validate his preachy running commentary on morality that was touted as foreign policy, has been finally put to rest.

With Modi's visit to Israel, what little remained of the Nehruvian Consensus, moth-eaten and gnawed from within, has been discarded into the dustbin of history. Nehru believed nations have no interests but they have permanent foes and friends. That touchingly naive belief drove India's foreign policy at the expense of India's national interest.

For close to half a century nobody ever dared call Nehru out for that for fear of being crucified by the Left-lib intelligentsia whose leading lights were willing handmaidens of the Establishment. The Establishment, of course, was the Congress. The founder of the First Family of the Congress, of course, could have done no wrong.

It took the advent of PV Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister to begin unyoking India from the Nehruvian Consensus. Along with economic reforms came changes in foreign policy unthinkable till then. To him goes the credit for ending the decades of estrangement and opening India's doors to Israel.

The establishment of diplomatic relations a quarter century ago marked the first milestone of a journey that was delayed for far too long. Modi's visit 25 years later marks the end of the journey. From this point, India and Israel will travel together not merely as allies in quest of a better tomorrow but as strategic partners mindful of each other's national interest.
Pragmatic realism has replaced vacuous Lutyens morality; a nation's popular choice of who deserves love, respect and honour for being India's friend in need has been accorded primacy over an individual's insistence on placing his alliance with Nasser and Soviet cronyism over allies that India needed and still needs. Israel was not alone to be shamed and shunned by Nehru and the post-Nehru Establishment.

The first challenge that Modi faced was to overcome the barriers that still stood despite 25 years of active bilateral relations. For the Establishment, intimacy with Israel by way of defence supplies and homeland security cooperation was to be kept in purdah. To lift the purdah and come out in open was never easy. It needed three years of efforts to get around to doing what Modi did.

Now that the purdah has been removed, Modi faces a different challenge: How to keep enthusiasm levels high in New Delhi's labyrinthine bureaucracy and get the many collaborative projects, especially in the realm of space technology and the twin areas of agriculture and water management, off the ground. India's obdurate babus can be tiresomely lethargic. In contrast, both the public and private sectors in Israel move at great speed.
A case in point is the long-overdue renaming of Teen Murti Chowk in Lutyens's Delhi. Given the poor sense of history that afflicts Indians it is not surprising that few in India, and perhaps fewer in Delhi, associate the column at Teen Murti Chowk with events that unfolded more than 4,000 km away in 1918. In popular perception, Teen Murti is about Gandhi's three monkeys, erected across Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru's residence and now his memorial.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Teen Murti column commemorates the heroic valour of Indian cavalry regiments from Hyderabad, Mysore and Hyderabad which fought the Ottoman forces to liberate Haifa, off Tel Aviv. They were not dragooned into fighting for the British Army, but did so voluntarily. The three figures on the Teen Murti column represent the three Indian regiments.

That victory, like any military campaign, did not come without a price. Forty-four Indian soldiers died, many more were wounded. The dead were buried in the Haifa cemetery. Independent India forgot to honour them, not so Israel. In Haifa, school children are taught of the campaign. Haifa Day is observed every year and the fallen soldiers are remembered for their sacrifice on foreign soil.
Modi undid the folly of India overlooking this bit of its history by visiting Haifa and honouring the Indian soldiers. Meanwhile, back home in New Delhi, the chairman of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation has let it be known that the move to rename Teen Murti Chowk, initiated in April, is now being 'reconsidered'. Why should the world respect a nation and its people when such callousness rules?

This is the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration that was impetuously, contemptuously and furiously rejected by Nehru in 1917, though it had nothing to do with India or its struggle for freedom. Underlying that rejection, which became the fountain head of Nehru's subsequent pro-Arab, anti-Israel activism as policy, was his attempt to link what transpired abroad with the sentiments of Muslims at home, much as MK Gandhi's promotion of the 'Khilafat movement' was. Over the decades this has become common practice of the Congress and the Left-liberal ecosystem it has nurtured, along with its political allies.

By visiting the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the idea of modern day Israel, Modi has made amends, once again correcting Nehru's folly. He need not have done so, nor was it listed on the official programme of his visit. Netanyahu suggested, he agreed. Even if it was choreographed, the substance of the gesture is noteworthy.

Yet another departure from the past has been the dehyphenation of Israel and Palestine. It does not mean abandoning Palestinians; it means not linking India's relations with Israel to Ramallah's twisted politics that aims to perpetuate conflict, not seek a solution. Yes, India wants a peaceful resolution, so does Israel, and this is echoed in the joint statement issued in Jerusalem.

But beyond that India has no role, more so in determining the outcome of any dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians, nor is it for India to prod either side into negotiating a deal. Israel is clear that any peace process or political dialogue with the Palestinians is a strictly bilateral affair and mediators are not welcome. India, as a senior Israeli official pointed out, would appreciate this position. The appreciation shows in the joint statement.

With a common agenda anchored in bilateral cooperation and whose mainstay is cutting edge Israeli technology, it is now for India and Israel to put behind them the wasted decades. Technology is a great disruptor, it can also be a great healer. Provided wisdom takes precedence over ideology and the future is not held captive to the past. Therein lies the challenge for Modi, and also for Netanyahu.

(Kanchan Gupta is Commissioning Editor & Commentator, ABP News. Columnist. Blogger. He tweets @KanchanGupta)

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