India and Israel is the bilateral relationship that dare not speak its name. If one were to go by New Delhi's official rhetoric, nothing has changed between the two countries. India continues to casually denounce Israel on the Palestinian issue, keeps mum when Iran or others promise to destroy the Jewish State, and still tends to vote against Israel in the United Nations or other multilateral fora. If one were to go by substance - security, trade and technology - there are few bilateral relations to match it in the world. Israel can be counted on to be the first or second largest provider of arms to India every year. Bilateral trade and investment runs into several billions of dollars on the civilian side. Israel, one of the great tech hubs of the world, is a close partner of India in software, pharmaceuticals and renewable energy. It says something about the trust that exists between the two countries that their closest links are in the most sensitive of areas: intelligence, counterterrorism, defence technology and even nuclear weaponry.
Bringing the public and private relationship with Israel in sync has been a particularly tortuous business with the UPA government. The government's first term was hostage to the ideological demands of the leftwing parties - the political formation most hostile to Israel. Half of its second term had to pass before New Delhi sent the foreign minister on a State visit. A prime ministerial or presidential visit, in either direction, continues to be the stuff of dreams - and solely because New Delhi has political nightmares at the thought. This is unbecoming of India: a constant and running act of hypocrisy by a country that sees itself as deserving of global influence and emulation. Israel has repeatedly stepped up to the plate when India is under threat, most notably during the Kargil crisis.
Some will shrug that this is the reality of India. But the evidence says this 'reality' is actually a bouquet of illusions. The most common claim is that a more public relationship will cause an eruption among the Muslim population. The truth is that an Indian Muslim is as pragmatic as the next one and has better things to worry about than the historical conflicts of the Levant. When politicians have raised the Israel-Palestine issue, they have come up empty-handed. The other claim is that India will lose standing with the Arab world. The opposite has proven to be the case: countries like Saudi Arabia sought to strengthen relations with India in part because the latter normalised relations with Israel. India's relations with Israel are spreading into other areas of existential importance to the country. Israel is a key partner in agriculture, and being the world's most-efficient liquid recycler, in water as well. If Israel becomes a major natural gas exporter in a few years, there will almost no missing links in the relationship. And the present official stance will lose any semblance of pragmatism and be merely a veil of the absurd.