When India’s prime minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United Arab Emirates on July 15, an impressive welcome awaited him. The tallest skyscraper in the world, Burj Khalifa, was emblazoned with the Tiranga (tricolor) national flag of India.
The massive, iconic building showed his photo, blown up a million times in size, with the message, “Welcome Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi” leaping up the tower as a part of the dazzling son et lumière (sound and light) show.
But all of this came later. As soon as he landed on the tarmac none other than Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, was there in person to receive him. Modi, in his customary style, tweeted soon after, “Grateful to Crown Prince … for welcoming me at the airport today.”
UAE has always been on the top of Modi’s Middle East agenda, this being his fifth visit since he assumed office in 2014 more, for instance, than to United Kingdom, India’s erstwhile colonial master.
The India-UAE relationship was already elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2017 during the visit of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to India.
Few countries or areas in the world have been of greater importance to Modi than UAE and the Arab world. It would not be an exaggeration to assert that Modi has tried to permanently shift India’s relationship with this powerful and resource-rich bloc.
If Modi carefully planned his UAE stopover on his return from France, on his earlier state visit to the United States, he stopped over in Egypt. To return to Modi’s UAE visit, the two countries share many common interests including investments and trade, food and energy security, science and technology, not to forget strategic and defence ties.
But what is perhaps most important is the huge Indian diaspora of over 3.5 million, among the largest anywhere in the world, residing in UAE.
Furthermore, a section of this diaspora has attained the highest levels of prosperity, prestige, respect, and, more gradually, also recognition and power as important stakeholders in rise of the UAE as a significant world power.
No wonder, this visit was marked by the signing of landmark trade agreements including the approval of cross-border transactions in local currencies and the opening of a new Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi campus in UAE.
The latter is a matter of special pride and joy to me because I taught at IIT-Delhi for nearly six years, some of the most productive and memorable in my teaching career. Especially when it comes to the quality of students I trained, some of whom are famous entrepreneurs, managers, professors and yes, even writers.
India also offered its full support to UAE’s UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP28) presidency. The conference, scheduled from November 10-December 12 is expected to attract over 70,000 participants, including “several heads of state, government officials, industry leaders, academics, and representatives from civil society organisations,” besides negotiators, observers, NGOs, media representatives, and so on, from nearly 200 countries.
Modi tweeted, “Had a very productive meeting with Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, the President-designate of @COP28_UAE. Our discussions focused on ways to further sustainable development. Highlighted India’s contribution in this direction, in particular our emphasis on Mission LiFE.”
Deepening India-UAE Relations
The joint communique issued by the two countries after the meeting observed: “UAE-India relations have witnessed tremendous progress on all fronts. India-UAE trade rose to US$85 billion in 2022, making the UAE India’s third-largest trading partner for the year 2022-23 and India’s second-largest export destination. India is the UAE’s second largest trading partner. In February 2022, India became the first country with which the UAE signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Bilateral trade has increased by approximately 15 per cent since the entry into force of the CEPA on 1 May 2022.”
This underscores the importance of the Modi’s visit and the relationship between India and UAE.
The two leaders also “reaffirmed their joint commitment to the fight against extremism and terrorism, including cross-border terrorism, in all forms, at both the regional and international levels.” They also emphasised the “importance of multilateralism and called for collective action to promote a just, rules-based global order.”
Both countries having served recently on the UN Security Council matters as non-permanent member, Modi “commended the UAE’s achievements … as an elected member of the Security Council” and the UAE “reiterated its endorsement of India’s bid for permanent membership of the reformed UNSC.”
Those reading the communique carefully would also notice the accent on “promoting the values of peace, moderation, coexistence, and tolerance among peoples.” UAE has been at the forefront of moderation and reform in religious matters, as also instrumental in signing the Abrahamic accords.
India also recently hosted Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Karim al-Issa, the Secretary General of Muslim World League on July 15. Secretary General al-Issa was not only received by the President of India, Draupadi Murmu and PM Modi, but also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and leading Indian Muslim clerics.
There is no doubt that both India, with is massive Muslim population of over 200 million, and UAE, with its forward-looking leadership, will play a crucial role in religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the years to come. On his return to India, Modi tweeted, “India, UAE will keep working closely to further global good….”
That just about sums up the salience of his visit.