Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel is nothing short of historic. This year marks a quarter-century of official relations between the countries, though military and technological cooperation stretches back much farther. Yet this is the first time an Indian prime minister will make an official visit to the Jewish state.
The trip is exceedingly important for a number of reasons. Depending on which demographer you ask, India is either the world’s most populous country, or second-most, after China. And demographic trends seem to indicate that India will soon surpass China, no matter who you ask.
This huge population also generates a huge annual nominal GDP. According to Indian statisticians, annual GDP is $2.45 trillion. They also claim that annual growth is around 7%, though many analysts are skeptical about the figures in recent years.
Admittedly, India is overall a very poor, highly bureaucratic state that is difficult for foreigners to penetrate. The country is split into 29 separate states, each with its own regulatory standards and rules, making India a headache for Israeli exporters and a difficult country to run for Mr. Modi, particularly fiscally. It is no wonder, therefore, that exports to India presently make up just 2% of total Israeli exports.
Yet, India offers tremendous potential. Israel has much to offer the developing country in the fields of water, security and agriculture. Israeli companies dominate the Indian drip-irrigation market and will be instrumental helping India’s “Clean Ganga” project transform the polluted Ganges River into a source of potable water.
When Modi arrives Tuesday, he will be accompanied by the heads of 15 of India’s largest companies – including Wipro, Reliance, Adani, Tata, Jain, Infosys and Mahindra.
Just last week, the government ratified dozens of new economic initiatives with India worth NIS 280 million. Many of these initiatives, which that involve 11 ministries, are aimed at overcoming barriers to doing business with India. These include the appointment of advisers to aid Israeli exporters break into the Indian market, export insurance to protect their investments, among other measures.
But the centerpiece government decision is the creation of a $40 million Innovation Fund that will encourage cooperation in hi-tech between the two countries.
And Israel has already worked with India on a number of military technology projects, many based on Modi’s “Make in India” campaign, which encourages foreign firms to use Indian workforce and resources. Israel Aerospace Industries recently announced it would join forces with India’s Dynamic Technologies Ltd. to develop unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for the Indian market. Israeli arms industries have also signed huge deals to provide India with medium-range missiles and missile defense systems. And Israeli innovators used India’s space technology – world renowned for its low cost and high quality – to launch a nanosatellite.
The increased cooperation comes against a backdrop of broader political changes taking place inside India. The rise to power of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has resulted in the assertion of Hindutva or “Hindu-ness,” an unapologetic approach to India’s Hindu majority religion and culture. If India’s leftists viewed Israel as a “neo-imperialist proxy of America,” BJP supporters – and Hindus in general – tend to see Israel as a plucky democracy with a strong, non-Muslim religious identity standing up to nihilistic Islamist terrorists – not unlike the Indians themselves.
Many parallels can be drawn between BJP and our Likudled government. Both seek to strengthen what they see as a more authentic national identity – Hindutva in India, Judaism in Israel – while maintaining a robust democracy.
The political transformation that has taken place within India has also had an impact on its foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel. During Operation Protective Edge, India refrained from criticizing Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. In July 2014, India abstained in the vote on the UN report condemning Israel for Operation Protective Edge. And Modi has not felt compelled during his present visit to stop in with the Palestinian Authority to make a show of India’s evenhandedness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We welcome Prime Minister Modi, join him in celebrating 25 years of diplomatic ties and look forward to a new era of cooperation and innovation in the ties between our countries.