Benjamin Netanyahu at Raisina Dialogue 2018: Israeli PM sounds 2019 bugle for Narendra Modi, goes turbo-realist

New Delhi: The third edition of the Raisina Dialogue kicked off on Tuesday with a triple-whammy featuring Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The theme of this year’s iteration is “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms” and it began on something of a disruptive note.

Benjamin Netanyahu at the raisina Dialogue 2018. Twitter/ @orfonline

Benjamin Netanyahu at the Raisina Dialogue 2018. Twitter/ @orfonline

On one hand, the trio arrived 15 minutes late into its hour-long engagement and departed 10 minutes early. As Swaraj later pointed out, this was a ‘rare’ occasion that Netanyahu was on the stage and “Modi was in the crowd”. And on the other, perhaps more pertinently, it was the content of Netanyahu's speech that acted as the true disruptive element.

He took the time to underline elements of the energised and most importantly, overt India-Israel relationship — after the Modi government — while lavishing praise on how far it has come along in “3,000 years”.

Netanyahu noted that he was ‘astounded to know’ that Modi had brought India’s Ease of Doing Business ranking up 42 places in the past three years. He added, “If you want to have economic power, you must reduce and simplify taxes”. There’s a pretty thin veil covering that acknowledgment of the Modi government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout.

It would be naïve to imagine Netanyahu isn’t aware that India’s Lok Sabha elections are due in 2019. Taking to a platform such as this — crafted ostensibly to facilitate discussion about issues that affect the world — and sounding a ringing endorsement of the host country’s prime minister a year ahead of general elections could be construed as somewhat disruptive. Perhaps that was his brief: To disrupt.

It’s hard to find any other way to describe the opening statements of his short speech in which he went turbo-realist, stating, “The weak don’t survive. The strong survive. You make peace with the strong. You ally with the strong.” Coming moments after ORF chairman Sunjoy Joshi’s opening remark that extolled the virtues of the Raisina Dialogue — which brings together people from different countries to basically have a discussion, Netanyahu’s remarks seemed to go somewhat in the opposite direction.

A year ago, the central theme of Narendra Modi’s inaugural address at the 2017 avatar of the Raisina Dialogue appeared to be that of vasudev kutumbakam, as he spoke of how countries can only progress if they do so together. Tuesday’s differentiation between how the weak and strong must be treated flew completely in the face of that speech.

Elsewhere, over the course of his brief and hit-or-miss speech, Netanyahu spoke of the four types of power a country must possess in order to be strong: Military power, economic power, political power and the power of values. The most striking part of his entire little sub-section on power was the line: "I like soft power. Hard power is often better." No other line could sum up the tone of his speech as succinctly.

Perhaps that’s why Modi didn’t take the stage to speak – caught between having to contradict himself and having to contradict his host. Or perhaps he just didn’t fancy it. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what sort of rub, if any, Netanyahu’s endorsement gives Modi in 2019.


Updated Date: Jan 17, 2018 06:47 AM

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