NEW DELHI: The synagogues in Israel may be caught in cross-firing, but those in India are going to be spruced up soon, courtesy the Modi-led BJP government. The files started moving with speed within the Culture Ministry when the Palestine issue got worse — signifying the BJP government’s political stance in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Though the move to protect the synagogues was initiated during the UPA rule, the Manmohan Singh government developed cold feet later as Israel and Palestine has always been a volatile subject in our country. “Our team had visited the synagogues in Kolkata and had even finalised the sketches way back in 2010. But the project did not go beyond that, as there was some terse communication to go slow,” said an ASI source.
The Archaeological Survey of India is busy moving the files and renovation is expected to start soon. Sources admit that the renovation of synagogues is a political decision. “Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj are planning to visit Israel towards the year end and there are enough reasons to believe the renovation is closely connected to the visits,’’ said a government source.
There are around 35 synagogues in India—most of them in Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. “The synagogues in our country represent a rich cultural and religious tradition. The ASI is actively thinking of renovating the synagogues across the country. Most of them have been encroached upon by private parties and some, even by governments,’’ said a source in the Ministry of Culture.
The source added that the renovation work will start initially in Kochi's Thekkumbhagam Synagogue and the Beth El Synagogue and the Maghen David Synagogue in Kolkata. The government is also planning to start a “Jewish tourism circuit” connecting all synagogues in the country, the source added. Though the government gave in following pressure and even vouched its support to the ‘‘Palestinian cause’’, it is an open secret that many BJP leaders, including PM Modi, have a close affiliation with Israel. Modi visited Tel Aviv as the CM of Gujarat, a state which has old diamond trade ties with Israel.
Transport and rural development minister Nitin Gadkari, too, visited Israel three years ago when he was the BJP chief while Sushma Swaraj is a self-declared “fan” of Israel. She, as the chief of India-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Forum in the past, visited Israel last year.
“Both countries are victims of the growing religious fundamentalism and it is natural that they grow closer. It also helps that both share unique ethnic and religious aspects,’’ said a Culture Ministry official, who is part of the renovation project.