India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the UAE and his community engagements reflect the strength in bilateral relations and the contributions of the Indian diaspora. Gandhi is the second leader to address expatriates at a public event in Dubai after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the UAE in August 2015, when he addressed a packed crowd. On Friday, Gandhi too was greeted by tens of thousands of expatriates who gathered at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Opposition leaders from India addressing expatriates at public events is not a routine affair in the UAE. Permissions are granted at various levels of the government after due deliberations and considerations, including the robustness of the ties between the two countries.
Modi’s visit in 2015 was followed by another one in 2018. Both were high-profile state visits aimed at improving government-to-government relations. Important deals were signed and substantial progress was made on several issues, including UAE investments in the sub-continent. The ties between the two governments have since gained in momentum.
The UAE’s decision to host Gandhi, who has emerged as Modi’s main challenger for the 2019 general elections, demonstrates the country’s eagerness to engage with India at various levels and not restrict itself to government-to-government or people-to-people ties. That was evident in Gandhi’s meeting with His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, where they stressed the importance of preserving the historic ties by setting up new lines of communication.
The UAE’s founding father Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s trips to India in 1975, 1983 and 1992 highlighted the cooperation between the two countries. But the ties hit a stagnant stretch since former prime minister Indira Gandhi called on Shaikh Zayed in 1981. However, Modi’s visit in 2015 changed all that. The rejuvenation in ties was more apparent when His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was honoured as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2017. Gandhi’s visit is an extension of that renewed warmth in ties. To ensure continuity in relations with India, the UAE’s move to engage at all levels of this democratic nation is not just pragmatic, but also shows the farsightedness of the leadership.