17 may 2014, narendra begin

I spent most of my final undergraduate year studying india's crucial period of 1919-31, enjoying almost alone the splendours of the indian institute reading room, which I have just now googled to find closed some years ago. Despite that gifting me a lifelong interest and appreciation of all things india, I have not yet managed to visit, my mid-twenties six-months-in-israel, six-months-in-india plan getting waylaid some years on its first leg. There are many political parallels between the two, not least the dominance of the centre left independence party for decades (anc anyone ?), which after a false start in the 1990s looks finally to have come to an end in india with the triumphant victory of narendra modi and the bjp after history's largest ever democratic vote. It reminds me of nothing so much as menachem begin similarly recasting israeli politics in 1977, with his likud victory over the previously dominant labour. Like modi, begin had a deeply chequered past, having been an outright terrorist in the war for independence, masterminding the bombing of british headquarters in jerusalem, and the hanging of 2 british sergeants. Yet, he went on to head the opposition centre-right in israel, becoming prime minister, and it was he that signed the country's first peace deal in 1978 with what was its arch enemy, egypt. All subsequent peace talks originate from that epoch-making camp david source, an "only the right can take on rightist opposition to peace" template that was later echoed in ariel sharon's evacuation of the gaza strip. The indian parallel is of course pakistan, which like israel and palestine, were ethnically-separated twins born violently from the same country in the same year of 1947, and which have fought a series of wars since. Whilst the conflict has for some time been cold not warm, and various initiatives have not failed, there is not yet a proper peace between these two nuclear-armed neighbours, across probably the most volatile border in the world. Modi's basic election promise was economic development, which he must know requires a significantly warmer relationship with india's dangerous neighbour. From india's side at least, he may just be the man capable of delivering it, which would certainly outshine all else as the history of his tenure starts to be written.