Nontraditional approach needed in India-Israel partnership

Netanyahu’s congratulatory phone call and friendly exchange with Modi, after his good friend’s grand victory, in which he said, “You don’t need a coalition, I do."

June 22, 2019 22:39
INDIA’S PRIME Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

INDIA’S PRIME Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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India and Israel both represent mature and vibrant democratic environments where, irrespective of the size and scale, the patterns of voting and the formation of pre- and the post-election coalitions have a lot of similarities. In the 2019 elections, people of both countries have given a mandate for the continuation of the trajectory of reforms-led growth, and presented an example that in a democracy it is the conscience of the common people which matters the most. But on one hand, while India’s historic mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is creating headlines across the world, on the other hand, in Israel, post-election happenings finally forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to vote for dissolving the parliament just one month after the poll, a move which will lead Israel to a second election in September. Whatever will be the outcomes of this new electoral crisis, one thing is certain: Israel will continue to need a strong, experienced and non-conventional approach to defend its interests globally.

Netanyahu’s congratulatory phone call and friendly exchange with Modi, after his good friend’s grand victory, in which he said, “You don’t need a coalition, I do,” made good headlines and brought smiles on both sides. For the health of the India-Israel partnership, the continuation of Modi-Netanyahu era is crucial. A lot of creative ventures that both leaders have coined or initiated in their previous juncture are expected to gain momentum in the upcoming leg of this journey.

A long phase of traditional and monotonous exchanges between both countries ended in the year 2017, with Modi’s historic visit to Israel, which can also be seen as the beginning of the Modi-Netanyahu era, the most promising phase of the India-Israel partnership. This new era started on a high pitch and generated this synergy that this combination is exceptional, and in certain domains, both countries’ young and creative minds have the potential to introduce a different kind of trend in the global market. But careful observation of the last five years of transforming India, particularly from the end of 2014 to mid-2018, reveals that both sides have missed leveraging the potential of this partnership as per the expectations set by their leadership.

It seems that there was a gap in the picture which both leaders were carrying in their minds about the future of this partnership and the perceptions which their teams were carrying with them. The message which Modi and Netanyahu have delivered through their exchanges and gestures was completely free from the baggage of the past, or we can say that it was a non-conventional approach of both leaders, which needed a similar non-conventional mindset to carry on. But somehow the teams were not able to translate those aspirations in their acts as fast as expected, and a couple of precious years went in confusion and unnecessary hustle.

India’s tremendous transformation in the last five years is the product of a nontraditional approach. Modi, who Netanyahu called a revolutionary leader, is known for carving out new paths rather than following traditional routes, whether it’s economy, diplomacy, security or social transformation, which some people termed as Modi doctrine or Modi model of governance. Modi’s thumping victory in the 2019 elections is a testimony to the success of the creative disruption which he introduced in a country of 1.3 billion people. Modi’s win is magnificent in many ways: India is a country with some 900 million registered voters, out of which more than 600 million have exercised their voting rights in the world’s largest electoral process through more than one million polling stations spanning across 29 states and seven union territories. Through his sheer hard work, a tremendous report card and Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, collective efforts, inclusive growth kind of principles, Modi won the trust of 1.3 billion people again, something which is now a case study for many nations in the world.

ON THE other hand, Netanyahu, who received a mandate but could not succeed in finding common ground with his coalition partners to form a new government for the consecutive fourth term, is now on the radar of some political analysts all over the world. But those who are discussing this electoral crisis of Israel are ignoring the fact that the way in which Netanyahu has sustained a strong political position even in his fourth consecutive term (and overall a fifth term) is itself a big achievement in the democratic world. It also demonstrates that irrespective of his bold and nonconventional approach in economic and foreign policy matters, the trust and hopes of a majority of Israeli people are still with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s reciprocal visit to India in January 2018 and its overwhelming response created an urgency to explore nontraditional sectors of cooperation, as it was felt that the routine pace of exchanges cannot do justice to the existing potential which this partnership has, particularly at a time when the bonhomie among both leaders is on a new level. The appointment of Israel’s new ambassador to India, Dr. Ron Malka, in mid-2018, can be seen as an acknowledgment of the urgency of a nontraditional approach in this partnership. Malka, who is not a career diplomat and possesses rich and diversified experience in different domains, brought a fresh approach to India-Israel partnership. His initial acts are more aligned with the non-conventional approach of both countries’ leadership.

As soon as he started his stint officially, he led the signing of an MoU between Israel Chemicals Ltd and Indian Potash Ltd, which can be seen as an improvisation. He is exploring the possibilities of collaboration in some untapped sectors, i.e., oil and gas, renewable energy, healthcare, SME cooperation, smart cities, and pharmaceuticals, etc. He made a visit to northeast India, too, to explore the possibilities of facilitating the start-up ecosystem of India’s northeastern states, and demonstrated his desire to aligning Israel with some of the ambitious goals of India, like doubling farmers’ income, healthcare for all and others.

Such moves suggest that so far he is able to catch the right message of the leadership and bringing a flavor of non-conventional approach in the India-Israel partnership, which is a much-needed element to leverage the real potential of this remarkable combination.

After receiving a historic mandate, Modi has coined a new mantra of India’s future growth which he called NARA, where NA stands for National Ambitions and RA for Regional Aspirations. India’s next five years of growth will need a balanced combination of national ambitions and regional aspirations, both of which are going to be respected in every move of the new government.

Israel has a unique advantage of cooperating effectively in some national level ambitious goals as well as regional or state level aspirational projects. But only a fresh approach and non-conventional outlook will be able to find unique opportunities at both levels. 

The writer promotes advanced technologies, start-up ecosystems and the Indian government’s business and technology-related initiatives like Digital India, Make in India, Smart Cities, Startup India, etc.

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