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Business News/ Politics / News/  India-Israel relations: The change from Morarji Desai's Janata Dal to Narendra Modi's Bhartiya Janata Party

India-Israel relations: The change from Morarji Desai's Janata Dal to Narendra Modi's Bhartiya Janata Party

Israel-Hamas War: India's support for Israel has evolved over the years, from initially opposing the creation of an Israeli state to establishing diplomatic ties in 1992. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the relationship has grown further, with India becoming Israel's largest arms buyer.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Community Reception Programme in Tel Aviv (PTI)Premium
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Community Reception Programme in Tel Aviv (PTI)

Israel-Hamas War: On 7 October, when Hamas fighters from Gaza attacked Israel, in a surprise multi-pronged attack, killing at least 1,400 people, Indian's Prime Minister and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi was one of the first to have tweeted solidarity and condolences to Israel. Narendra Modi condemned the “terrorist attacks" and said India “stands in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour".

Twenty days later, India abstained from voting on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution seeking a “humanitarian truce" in Gaza, as Israel pound's Palestine's Gaza killing over 8,500 Palestinians. 

While Israel considered the abstention as a ‘support’ and unequivocal backing from Indian to Israel, domestically the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)'s decision was not received warmly. Speaking to reporters in Delhi last week, Israel’s ambassador, Naor Gilon, thanked the country for “100% support".

However, the diplomatic and defence ties between India and Israel had for decades remained a rather covert aspect until 2014, when PM Modi and a bare-footed walk on Al Haifa beach in Tel Aviv marked a distinct digression from past foreign policies for India. 

Here's taking a look 

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi had opposed the creation of an Israeli state, fearing it would disfranchise Palestinians, and India voted against it at the UN.

1977: Pro-Palestine Commemorative stamp

India had become the first non-Arab country to give recognition to Palestine as an independent state. Under the Prime Ministerial leadership of Janata Dal leader Morarji Desai, India saw Palestinian cause and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as an important part of this third world policy orientation.

The stamp featured the Palestinian flag and a map of the region. The text read "Solidarity with the Palestinian People". It was issued shortly after the Palestinian Liberation Organization was recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the Arab League in 1974.

Releasing the stamp in 1977 was likely intended by the Desai government to signal its ideological departure from the previous Congress government's perceived tilt towards the US and Israel.

However, the Janata government stopped short of fully severing ties with Israel, and continued India's balanced approach of maintaining relations with both Israel and Palestine.

1992: India establishes diplomatic ties with Israel

It was only after PLO began a dialogue with Israel, and as US pressure began to build, that India finally established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992.

1999: The turning point

A turning point came in 1999 when India went to war with Pakistan and Israel proved willing to provide arms and ammunition. It was the beginning of a defence relationship that has grown exponentially. India buys about $2bn-worth of arms from Israel every year – its largest arms supplier after Russia – and accounts for 46% of Israel’s overall weapons exports.

2017: Modi and Netanyahu's public bonhomie

The immediacy of Modi’s comments and the UN resolution vote symbolises just how significantly the India-Israel relationship has shifted since he came to power in 2014, notably demonstrated by the public bonhomie between the two countries’ prime ministers.

In 2017 Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel, which was reciprocated months later when Netanyahu travelled to Delhi.

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At this point it seemed PM Modi's government had different policies when it came to publicising its relationship with Israel, which the previous governments were tight lipped about fearing the wrath of India's sizeable Muslim population, and India' other allies. 

While Modi was also the first Indian prime minister to visit Ramallah in Palestine, much of the focus of his government has been on strengthening ties with Israel, be it through defence, culture, agriculture and even film-making. This year, Gautam Adani, the Indian billionaire businessman, paid $1.2bn to acquire the strategic Israeli port of Haifa.

2023: The anti-Muslim scare

Right after PM Modi's 7 October tweet, state minister from BJP warned in a tweet that India “may face the situation that Israel is confronting today if we don’t stand up against politically motivated radicalism".

A tone of ‘we both are victims of Islamic terror’ also flooded social media. 

Factchecker AltNews observed a flood of disinformation targeting Palestine pushed out by Indian social media accounts, which included fake stories about atrocities committed by Palestinians and Hamas that were shared sometimes millions of times, and often using the conflict to push the same Islamophobic narrative that has been used regularly to demonise India’s Muslim population since 2014.

Right wing fundamentalist Facebook groups began to push the message that Hamas represented the same Muslim threat facing India in the troubled, majority-Muslim region of Kashmir and Palestinians were sweepingly branded as jihadis, according to a report by Guardian. 

The report adds, messages were widely forwarded on WhatsApp urging Hindus to arm themselves and boycott Muslims, reading, “In the future, India could also face conspiracies and attacks like Israel. The possibility of Hindu women facing cruelty cannot be ruled out."

Last week, groups gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Delhi, offering their services to fight Hamas.


While it seems like India would not want to bitter its ties with the West Asian countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, considering the recently established India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, which aims to economically benefits all nations involved.  

Qatar has been mediating between Hamas fighters and Israel on the hostage situation. 

Therefore it is likely that India would quieten its pro-Israeli stance to prevent friction with its valuable Gulf partners.

(With agency inputs)

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Sayantani is a Chief Content Producer with Livemint. Her interests are politics, war, and conflict. Off-duty, she explores cultural history and the 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
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Published: 01 Nov 2023, 12:12 PM IST
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