India, Israel, Modi, and bending the history of non-alignment
While the attempt to upgrade the theory of non-alignment to the forces of globalization and the rise of the BRICs predates the rise of Prime Minister Modi, he has ostensibly put the theory of “Non-Alignment 2.0” into action, which has effectively ended the post-colonial hangover Indians had been suffering since independence.
In hosting the US President Obama for the first time at India’s 65th Republic Day (January 26th, 2015) and aligning openly with the Western powers – including a hug-fest with his counterparts in the US, Australia, Canada, and France – Modi has commenced a new chapter in the history of India’s openness to the world.
PM Modi‘s absence at the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference (April 24th, 2015), clearly suggested to many experts and observers, the center of his policy was moving in a different orbit.
The growing alliance between India and the US was on display during the recent trip by the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to New Delhi (June 3, 2015). “India now holds more annual military exercises with the United States than any other country, cumulative defense sales have grown from virtually zero to more than $8 billion and high-level exchanges on defense issues have increased substantially,” according to a report by CSIS.
Finally, the recent announcement that PM Modi will be the first Indian head of state to visit Netanyahu’s Israel has further added to the evidence that he is taking India in a new direction of openness with the West. As PM Modi repeatedly said during his campaign, he is the product of the post-independence Indian mind.
The Indo-Israeli defense relationship is likely to grow stronger with the Likud party in power. Netanyahu’s comments after meeting Modi in New York during the UN General Assembly meetings in September 2014 suggest that the “sky is the limit” between the two allies. They recently signed the long-awaited $144 million deal for India to buy Barak-I missiles.
In November 2014, before President Obama’s historic visit in January, New Delhi and Jerusalem tested the Barak-8 anti-missile system. New Delhi has acquired almost $700 million dollar worth of Israeli arms since Modi took power.
Historically, Indo-Israeli ties are much warmer when Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is in power. The Modi government’s anti-terrorism and pro-business stance is compatible with deeper defense and economic relations with Jerusalem.
When India’s Congress Party is in power, the pendulum often swings the other way. This has been the case as far back as the 1955 Bandung Conference when Pandit Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, briefly considered but decided against inviting Israel to the meeting of non-aligned nations. He was trying to appease the Arab states in the Middle East by openly siding with the Palestinian cause. This set in motion India’s foreign policy for the next half-century.
However, despite this trend, Israel was India’s steadfast ally during the 1962, 1965, and 1971 wars.
Now that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty seems to be searching for new leadership, the ‘secret love affair’ between India and Israel has come out in the open. After all, both nations were founded in the heydays of post-colonialism. Despite their public posturing, both nations stand to gain from the new alignment taking shape in the Asian Pacific region.
As China and Russia seem to be aligning with Pakistan, Israel and the U.S. may lean towards India.
According to Bruce Riedel at Brookings, a long time South Asia expert, “This past January, when President Barack Obama traveled to India to watch the Republic Day parade in New Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, the country’s strong man, was in China meeting his counterparts. The geopolitics of Asia was on vivid display. The region’s dual axes and their evolving relationships — India and America on the one hand, and Pakistan and China on the other — will be central to the global order in our times.”
The emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Vietnam, are also calling for greater action by India in the South China Sea.
The veteran diplomat, humanist and social thinker, Dr. Karan Singh, disclosed in a recent interview, he was “impressed by PM Modi’s foreign diplomacy thus far.” He seems to have covered the globe with alacrity without any faux pas. Yet, Modi’s attempt to lay all blame at the doorstep of the Congress Party for India’s international decline under the previous government’s second term, according to Dr. Singh, is “unnecessarily partisan and divisive.”
Another critic and well-known political psychologist, Ashis Nandy, said in a recent interview, PM Modi “has not done much harm in maintaining the status quo” and has been surprisingly well-received on the global stage. Nandy added, “the long term effects of Modi’s actions are hard to predict within a year.”
While the well-known veteran columnist and BJP insider, Arun Shourie, has been criticizing the Modi government for the lack of a cohesive policy and vision, there is no doubt that PM Modi has opened a new path to the West and his openness towards Israel has relegated India’s old posture of non-alignment to the dustbin of history.
Dinesh Sharma is associate research professor at Binghamton University’s Institute for Global Cultural Studies in Binghamton, N.Y. He is the editor of “The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century,” published by Routledge Press. His previous book, “Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President,” was rated as the Top Ten Black History Book for 2012.
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