India-Arab relations on a new high

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
There have been close relations between India and the Arab world for the last several centuries. Scholars, people connected with business and trade and also diplomats from both the geographical regions were used to moving to each other’s areas and the routes linking India to the Middle East thus exchanging vast items of merchandise and also sharing knowledge. Traditionally, Arabs called India as Al-Hind and an Indian as Hindi or Hindu. The Arabs were quick to learn a lot from the ancient Indian civilization, be it mathematics, medicine, art of governance, philosophy, astronomy or uses of spices and herbs etc in daily life. As on date, India enjoys a very warm relationship with most of the nations of the Arab peninsula. The credit for a new high in this regard definitely goes to the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
During the discussion on peace initiatives in Gaza in the United Nations recently, when a resolution in this regard was vetoed by the P5 nations, Saudi Arabia came out openly in support of India’s stand for a reform in the United Nations. A number of other Arab nations also followed suit. India, which is considered as the strongest voice of the global south, has a solid backing of the African and South American nations on the issue of reform in the UN. With the support of the Arab world to the cause, the issue gains more weight and meaning in the current geo-political scenario. Brazil, Japan and Germany are also very vocal on this issue and aspire to be included among the permanent members in the Security Council besides India.
Things are not happening as a knee-jerk reaction or as an outcome of a spontaneous response. These have a very strong background. We have observed that the Prime Minister of India was honoured by a number of nations over the last one decade. But the first nation, among all which honoured PM Modi, was none other than Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the Special Class, the highest honour of Saudi Arabia awarded to non-Muslim dignitaries called, Order of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, was given away by the Saudi King Salman to PM Modi in an exclusive special function held in honour of the visiting dignitary from India to Saudi Arabia.
This was followed by the highest civilian awards given to him by the State of Palestine in 2018, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain in 2019 and Egypt in 2023. These awards though were given to and received by the PM Narendra Modi, but they resonated the sounds of closer ties between the two nations. Besides that, this kind of recognition was there actually in response to the warmth of relations between the involved parties, understanding of importance of the bilateral relations, common view on vital issues of geo-political spectrum and also garnering the future course of global and bilateral action. In line with this, some other nations also conferred their highest awards to PM Modi which included two Muslim nations as well, Afghanistan and Maldives.
Here it needs to be emphasized that the Arabian nations have been in the lead of the Muslim nations so far as their geo-political issues are concerned. In OIC also, Arabs have a very strong voice and control on its functioning and outlook. A number of Muslim nations, including Pakistan, look towards these Arab nations for help, assistance and loans consistently. The relationship between India and Arab nations are fundamentally in the current scenario governed by reciprocity of relations and understanding of each other’s concerns. Arab nations constitute more than seven millions of Indian Diaspora in nations like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and also Egypt.
India has hugely invested in these countries and 60% of its fuel and gas expectations are fulfilled by the Arab countries. Indians working in these countries in different fields of activity and life are a very important strategic asset of India. They are hugely and directly connected with the development and advancement of the Arabian nations. PM Modi has been able to convince a number of Arabian nations to make investments in India and the Indian market and some encouraging results have also emerged as well. The Saudi Prince has expressed his desire to invest in IPL too. During the G20 Summit meetings last year, India gave a warm welcome to all heads of governments but India hosted the Arab dignitaries in a special way. The declaration of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor was a very ambitious project that caught the imagination of the world at large. It has also the potential to bring Arabs and Israel together for which the ground level work was already in progress.
PM Modi and the heads of the Governments in each Arab nation have heavily invested in their personal relations for all these long ten years as well. They have taken the ties to greater heights bilaterally between their nations beyond politics and economics. What is significant to note is that these ties have been given the shape of cultural and humanitarian bondings which have created a warm and mutually acceptable relationship at both levels. During the pandemic period, India supplied large consignments of medicines, vaccines, medical equipments and other allied material to the Arabs unilaterally in consequence of the deep relationship with them
There has also been a reform process going on Independently in the religio-socio-cultural scenario in the Arab nations. UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken drastic steps in this direction in their territories. A number of civilian rights have been granted to the women in these countries and cultural and entertainment festivals have also been granted permission which are attracting large crowds. Governments get involved directly in the organisation of these programmes in which national and international artists take part. Education and sports sectors have also been slowly and steadily opened up.
There used to be a small Hindu temple and also a Gurudwra in UAE. But due to the bold initiative taken by PM Modi, UAE granted 27 acres of land to the BAPS to construct a big Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. This wonderful temple, the first of its kind in the gulf region, was inaugurated on 14th February 2024 by PM Narendra Modi who profusely thanked the UAE for the gesture. During his tenure, PM Modi visited UAE seven times by now and was always given a red carpet welcome by the UAE leadership. The recent tour of the Ministry of Minority affairs headed by the Minister Smriti Irani along with her team to Madina in Saudi Arabia was a new chapter in the relationship between SA and India. Their team visited all those places and facilities in Saudi where the pilgrims of Hajj from India are expected to stay during their pilgrimage.
The release of eight Indian Naval officers by the kingdom of Qatar who were sentenced to death by the Court of law therein, and their safe passage to their motherland is a great diplomatic victory of India. This all fructified due to the bondings of the heads of the governments at both levels, the kind of diplomatic relations that the foreign affairs ministry under Dr. S.Jaishanker have nurtured and the impact that the Indian Diaspora has left in this country. Here it needs to be noted that it was the late Sushma Swaraj, who played a key role as the External Affairs Minister to build relationships with the Arab world. It was due to her efforts that the Indians caught up in the Kuwait crisis were brought safely to India in 2016 onwards. Besides addressing the OIC session in 2020 in Abu Dhabi as the guest of honour, a historic first, Sushma Swaraj laid the foundation of a new chapter of Indo-Arab bonhomie.
What we see today in the context of the celebration of the significant relations between India and Arabs has a deep rooted base which the current governments in India and also in the Arabian nations nurtured with all necessary ingredients. We have also been observing that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President, UAE and Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia do enjoy a common vision of relationship with PM Modi. This has surely impacted India’s relationship with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Egypt and Palestine. Traditionally, India has been a supporter of the Palestine cause but it has developed its ties with Israel as well and has also convinced its immediate friends in this regard, who in turn have also made measured advancements in this regard.
India has a deep commitment and an expressed intent against all sorts of terrorism in the world. It has been the votary of defining terrorism at a global level without any sort of ideological mindset. The UAE and Saudi have echoed their concern openly. In the case of 7th October 2023 terror happenings in Israel, when India unilaterally condemned Hamas for its heinous crimes in Gaza, UAE also opposed it and didn’t support Hamas. Simultaneously, Saudis also didn’t endorse the Hamas action though it supported the people of Palestine.
Almost all the Arab nations have very stringent laws to deal with terrorism and extremist ideology. MBS in a recently held and well-attended programme in Saudi, in reply to a question on the dias said that they won’t hesitate to take all necessary measures to counter extremism. “We will not waste thirty years of our lives in dealing with any extremist ideas, we will destroy them today, immediately”, he said openly in the televised programme and was lustily cheered by the audience, fifty percent of which were Arabians. The UAE has similar views and has also been expressing them vividly. This also makes a common ground with India. The isolation of Hamas is an outcome of this new modern and progressive approach of the Arab world.
The continuity of India’s relationship with the Arab world will have a deep impact on the Asian continent in the future course of time. The 2024 general elections in India are being closely watched by the whole world and everyone is keen to know whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be in the saddle again to guide the future. India is surely very close to enforcing the desired reform in the UN and Modi is considered the key statesman to realise it. While the world authorities, P5 nations and the global south know it, the Arabs know it better, more intimately and with a purpose…..!
(The author is a senior BJP & KP leader)