Imagine it was 2012. Imagine that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to visit Israel because some of his strategic advisers saw a master ploy in openly courting a controversial nation. Imagine Manmohan Singh taking a walk in Olga Beach with his Israeli counterpart. Imagine India was at the same time threatened by China because it objected to Beijing’s incursions into Bhutan. What would you think politicians in the Opposition and the media would have been saying about a PM ‘taking a stroll’ in faraway West Asia while the dragon was spitting fire? I guess that would be unimaginable.
Let’s stop imagining. The reality of 2017 is that the Indian PM is openly courting Israel. India had maintained secret ties with Israel for several decades before formally establishing diplomatic relations with it. Even the Arab world was aware of India’s secret weapons/spares purchase from Israel despite publically showing disapproval to Israel for not respecting the rights of Palestinians and giving it a walkover in the finals of the Davis Cup.
But why did we do that? Were all the governments before Narendra Modi’s running hypocritical regimes? One could say so if one were naïve on diplomatic nuances and niceties. India wanted to show its solidarity with the Arab world which felt good that there was a strong voice that disapproved of Israel publically. In return, the Arabs not only looked the other way at our defence purchases from Israeli companies but also offered immense job opportunities for Indians of all strata of society.
They could have easily got their skilled and unskilled labour from so many other nations like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines etc. Yet the largest percentage of expatriate employees in the Persian Gulf hails from India. This has helped India to pay her petroleum import bills easily even when the rates shot through the roof. It has helped every nouveau riche to buy swanky and opulent vehicles to drive through narrow roads of many parts of our country without being overcharged for the diesel those vehicles consumed.
The Arab world is threatened by the Islamic State and the Shia Sunni divide. Qatar has been isolated by a few fellow Arab nations for alleged support to groups that threatened dynastic rules in those nations. Several Arab nations maintain secret ties with Israel too. But are all these sufficient for India to openly pose as the greatest friend of Israel?
I am not sure that a career diplomat in India would have approved of such a policy. But if there is one thing that’s striking about the Modi regime, it is its determination of rushing in where angels dare tread. Demonetisation and hurried implementation of GST are recent examples. Rushing in and out of Pakistan with shawls to Nawaz Sharif to be followed by surgical strikes is an older example.
Let’s hope that the Arab world that has bigger headaches will not take India’s open courtship with Israel as a snub and reduce the warmth of its friendship with India. Unlike what an average Gau Rakshak chasing a dairy farmer may infer, maintaining warm ties with the Arab world is something that has benefitted India immensely. It has nothing to do with the Muslim voter or his ‘appeasement’.
Nitish’s Revolving Door
You may be wondering what trick the Janata Dal (United) is up to. One day its leader breaks ties with the NDA, on the eve of returning to power at the Centre, because Narendra Modi was projected as the coalition’s PM candidate. No love has been lost between the two since then: Kumar has taken pot-shots at Modi and the latter has returned the compliment in kind.
Then what happened suddenly for Kumar to see merit in the demonetisation drive when every Opposition leader criticised the NDA Government roundly? He followed this confusing signal by meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi after a few months and suggested that she should take the initiative to pick an Opposition candidate to contest the Presidential election. Though such a candidate had no chance of winning, the idea was to demonstrate Opposition strength in unity.
By the time the Opposition was deliberating on the ideal candidate, Kumar found merit in Narendra Modi’s candidate Ram Nath Kovind. Some political commentators said that this was Kumar’s way of keeping coalition partner and political rival Lalu Prasad in check. Others said that Kumar wanted the Opposition to project him as the PM candidate for 2019 and was playing hardball. Kumar said Kovind was a nice man and the Congress had dilly-dallied with his suggestion to put up Gopal Krishna Gandhi as Opposition’s candidate.
The Opposition was actually trying to explore if there was a possibility of having a strong candidate who could sway NDA votes its way. The name that was discussed was that of NCP President Sharad Pawar. He himself was in the process of trying to see whether he could persuade fence-sitters in the NDA to vote for him. With very little chance of even giving a close fight, Pawar was reluctant but there was another Sharad that was willing to become the Opposition candidate. That was Kumar’s senior colleague Sharad Yadav. Kumar felt that this would make Yadav a bigger leader in his party and his suggestion of Gopal Gandhi was an attempt to scuttle Yadav’s chances of contesting. When he discovered that the Opposition was likely to announce Yadav’s candidature, Kumar decided to quickly support Kovind.
However, an enraged Congress was not willing to take the insult lying down and was willing to pull out of the JD(U) coalition in Bihar. Kumar, who has no intention of going back to the NDA and lead the miserable life of a junior partner under the Modi regime, like a Chandrababu Naidu or a Ram Vilas Paswan, realised that his game of trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds would not work. Hence he smoked the peace pipe. Unlike what political commentators have predicted, he is unlikely to go to the NDA so soon.
Spin masters of the NDA Government have tried to discredit the ‘Not In My Name’ protest by questioning their motive. One worthy asked why such protests were not held when Muslims were killed in Muzaffarnagar riots. He conveniently ignored who created those riots.
Another spin master turned MP wrote in his column that lynching of a J&K police officer should have been included in the protest. He didn’t know that the 'ignorant' protesters saw a big difference in things happening despite those in power trying to prevent it and things happening because of those in power.
( firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 10th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 28)