Israel is everything the RSS wants India to be, Modi is making it happen

The prime minister's visit to Israel is the culmination of a long-held dream.

 |  6-minute read |   05-07-2017
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become quite experienced at launching into an embrace when he meets world leaders. But not all of them always reciprocate as warmly as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was waiting at the tarmac of Tel Aviv airport as PM Modi disembarked on a historic visit, the first by an Indian premier.

It's the culmination of a long-held dream of his party, BJP, and its ideological parent, the RSS. For the RSS, Israel is much more than just another nation. Israel is everything that the RSS wants India to be.

The journey so far could be seen from the prism of the RSS’s three pracharaks — former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first prime minister to receive an Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, in 2003; Narendra Modi, the first Indian PM to go to Tel Aviv; and third, and lesser-known, Bhaurao Deoras, younger brother of third sarsanghchalak (or chief) of RSS Balasaheb Deoras, who played a vital role in establishing it.

It all started with RSS chief MS Gowalkar’s support for creation of Israel at a time when the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru famously rejected the appeal from Nobel laureate Albert Einstein seeking support for Jews and creation of Israel.

All these pracharaks believe that Israel is the anti-thesis to global Islam – or international Islamic brotherhood, which was famously propelled by Islamic scholars prior to 1947.

In 1948, when the British-led allies before leaving Arab lands divided the Ottoman Empire, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, left 1 per cent for Jews – "land of their origins". Since then, Israel has not only survived, but excelled. Although India recognised the creation of Israel in September 1950, Nehru’s line defined India’s foreign policy for the next 41 years, before Deoras impressed former PM Narasimha Rao to change it. Till then India continued with pro-Arab views and feared that ties with Israel would jeopardise the Muslim vote bank back home.

hug_070517122758.jpgIsraeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Narendra Modi upon his arrival in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel. (Credit: Reuters photo)

Rao, was looking for every possible opportunity to break out of the Nehru-Gandhi mould of politics. In January 1992, when India decided to start diplomatic relations with Israel, Deoras was the one who provided the vital links. It was the time that India was also upset by the way Pakistan used its influence on Arab countries to block India’s entry into the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC. 

Deoras saw a window, and pushed his case. Deoras was known for connecting with the Congress and Communist leaders who were closer to the RSS ideas, and was even "credited" for bringing Rajiv Gandhi towards soft Hindutva, which led to the opening of locks at the disputed structure in Ayodhya.

Deoras continued his engagements with Jews with roots in Mumbai, Kerala and other parts of the country, and pressed the idea of bridging with Israel.

In late 1991, he along with the then leader of opposition, LK Advani, met the then PM Rao, and pushed for diplomatic relations with Israel.

In fact, before Modi (and President Pranab Mukherjee in 2015), Advani, as the deputy prime minister, was the Indian politician of the highest designation to visit Israel. In 2000, he along with the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh visited Tel Aviv and formulated counter-terrorism information exchange agreement.

Till 1992, other than the RSS, only Indian intelligence agencies had links with Israel – that too because RN Kao saw Mossad as counter-measure to military links of China, Pakistan and North Korea. Mossad too was irritated with Pakistani officials training Libyans and Iranian militia against them using Chinese and Korean ammunition.

But Deoras saw much more. He was in particular impressed the way Israel was resurrecting its ancient language Hebrew. Deoras was part of a similar movement in India to revive Sanskrit, with CK Shastry (this year’s recipient of Padma Shri for his contribution to literature and education). He was also impressed with the ultra-nationalism that Israel inculcated into their citizens via military training and the way it was battling with militancy. 

All this impressed Deoras and he built a strong case in front of Rao. Initially, Rao was hesitant, citing opposition from his fellow partymen, but on Deoras’s persistence and intervention from Advani, he decided to form a group of ministers to evaluate a "possible friendship".

In early January 1992, it is said that Rao told visiting Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that it would help the cause of Palestine "if India establishes ties with Israel", and then the country would be in a better position to press for more concessions for them. During a joint press conference, Rao announced this and within 10 days, India established full ties. Old-timers in the RSS say Israel almost decided to confer the Israeli Prize — the then highest civilian award to Deoras — but he died in May. Till now no non-Jew has been conferred with this award.  

In his 2007 book, Hindu Nationalism, Christophe Jaffrelot, wrote that Hindu nationalists like VD Sarvarkar and MS Golwalkar praised the creation of Israel, and supported their right to homeland.

In his chapter explaining Sarvarkar, he cited his logic and ideas behind the praise. It was not mere opposition to Nehru’s stand. During the same time, Nehru rejected Israel as “India could not support this" and cited reasons of national interest.

In 2012, former ambassador Chinmaya R Gharekhan reasoned that perhaps Nehru was influenced by his own experience of partition. Till now, despite the strategic importance of Israel, only three foreign ministers have visited the country. This include only one tour of SM Krishna during UPA rule.

PM Modi is taking things forward. He, for the first time, is delinking Indian foreign policy from Palestine. Last year, Parliament didn’t bring any resolution — despite pressure from opposition leaders to condemn Israel’s use of "disproportionate" force in Gaza to punish Hamas.

India remained equidistant, blamed both Israel and Palestine for escalation of the situation. This time, Prime Minister Modi didn’t go to Gaza or to Palestine along with his visit to Israel. In the words of Yasser Arafat from the famous joint conference, "Foreign policies are acts of sovereignty".

RSS or no RSS, one hopes that the deepening of relations with Israel brings dividends to both nations.

Also read: Modi in Israel: I am aghast as an Indian, ashamed as a secular Jew


Anilesh S Mahajan Anilesh S Mahajan @anileshmahajan

Senior associate editor, Business Today

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