Israel anticipates warm ties with new Indian PM

Netanyahu calls to congratulate Narendra Modi on his win; big business delegation due here next week

Supporters shower flower petals on opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi as he arrives at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (Photo credit: AP)
Supporters shower flower petals on opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and India's next prime minister Narendra Modi as he arrives at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (Photo credit: AP)

With the sweep to power of Narendra Modi as India’s new prime minister, Israel anticipates even warmer ties with its South Asian ally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a congratulatory phone call to Modi following his victory in India’s national elections on Friday.

During the call, Netanyahu expressed his admiration for Indian democracy and the two leaders agreed to deepen cooperation between the two countries, according to a Reuters report.

Modi, who heads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “has long courted political and trade links with the state of Israel,” according to the International Business Times.

Modi had previously visited Israel as chief minister of Gurajat province, a position he held since 2001. During the trip, he suggested that, “as the possible next prime minister, he could make history by journeying to the Jewish state,” the report read.

“Modi’s ties to Israel, which BJP officials strongly endorse, has turned into a financial bonanza for the western Indian province of Gujarat, where he has served as chief minister for the past 13 years,” the report went on.

Israel had reportedly poured billions into the province for projects in the fields of industrial research and development, agriculture, solar and thermal power, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, water recycling and water desalination plants.

In late 2013, an agreement was signed with the Israeli company Tower Semiconductor Ltd., and a few non-Israeli ones, to build two semiconductor fabrication plants for a total cost of some $10.4 billion.

In comments on Indian TV, picked up by Israel National News, Israel’s consul general in Mumbai, Jonathan Miller, said that Israel sought to establish an industrial development fund with Gujarat and that a free-trade agreement with India may be in the works.

“Gujarat is a business-oriented state and this [memorandum of understanding] will help both Israeli and Gujarat-based companies in developing and strengthening the industrial relationship. Our focus is on increasing research ties with Gujarat. Israel is keen to increase research and development (R&D) and cultural ties with Gujarat,” Miller said during the TV appearance.

Next week, one of the largest tech business delegations from India to ever arrive in Israel is scheduled to arrive. Some 30 Indian companies, large and small, plan to have booths at the India Pavilion at the Tel Aviv MIXiii 2014 conference, the largest tech event to be held in Israel this year.

Those companies represent the leading edge of Indian tech business interest in Israel, according to Vani Rao, deputy chief of mission in the Embassy of India. “Israel and India already do a lot of business in several areas, including agriculture and diamonds, with the latter accounting for about half the current $5 billion in trade between our countries,” Rao said in an interview. “Interest in Israel from the information technology sector has been increasing in recent years as well, with Indian companies seeking to partner with Israeli start-up and veteran companies on development projects.”

Not included in that $5 billion figure is defense trade between Israel and India, Rao noted.

On Saturday, thousands of people welcomed India’s next prime minister in the capital on Saturday after he led his party to a resounding election victory, with Modi flashing a victory sign to his cheering supporters and telling them that the win “created a new confidence among people.”

Results announced Friday from the weeks-long polls showed that Modi and the BJP had won the most decisive election victory India has seen in three decades, sweeping the long-dominant Congress party from power.

On Saturday, Modi was greeted by roaring crowds outside the BJP’s headquarters in the heart of New Delhi, where he met with the party’s leadership to discuss forming a new government.

In a country where elections usually result in cacophony rather than a single roar, Modi pulled off a mandate of staggering proportions, leaving him unfettered to pursue the agenda of economic revival and development that propelled him to victory.

What remains to be seen is how quickly Modi, who has ruled Gujarat since 2001, can match the enormous expectations he has created in an electorate that is hungry for change.

For most of the past two years, Modi, 63, has worked relentlessly to market himself as the one leader capable of waking this nation of 1.2 billion from its economic slumber, while trying to shake off allegations that he looked the other way amid communal riots in his home state in 2002 that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

On Saturday, as thousands of people cheered and danced in the streets to welcome him to the capital, it was clear that Modi had managed to win the confidence of a large number of Indians.

For voters, the priorities in this election were no longer bound by old traditional religious and caste allegiances. Instead, jobs and development were their main priority, and after having promised them that, Modi’s real challenge lies ahead.

Modi himself looked forward, confidently promising to start work on his agenda quickly and thanking voters for giving him a clear mandate.

Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday and gave him his resignation

US President Barack Obama called Singh Saturday to express his gratitude for the outgoing prime minister’s “critical role in transforming and deepening the US-India strategic partnership and our cooperation on global challenges, according to a statement released by the White House. Obama also told Singh that he “looked forward to further expanding the strong relationship between the United States and India” with Modi.

David Shamah contributed to this report.

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