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His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi on 10 February 2018 (File) Image Credit: WAM

The edifice of India and UAE relationship is strong and on an upward swing. Both countries have made these relations their top priorities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the country for the fourth time during the first week of January 2022.

Talking to Gulf News in August this year, India’s Foreign minister S. Jaishankar put the India-UAE relationship in perspective, “India and UAE share a fast growing relationship. UAE is central to India’s extended neighbourhood.”

“We see UAE on the crossroads of the international trade. As Singapore is to the East, UAE is to the West,” Jaishankar told Gulf News.

Modi’s first visit to UAE in 2015 was significant because for more than 30 years no Indian prime minister had visited the country (since Indira Gandhi in 1981). Finally, the Indian establishment was looking at Gulf in terms of its strategic importance and this development was noticed across the Indian Ocean.

The 2015 visit of Modi to the UAE proved a turning point in the bilateral history. From that time to his upcoming trip in 2022, a lot has happened in the relationship and in the region.

A churn of sorts

America has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan. India has been able to decouple its relationship with Gulf region from the issues concerning its immediate neighbourhood. US president Donald Trump has exited into oblivion. The Abraham Accord has been signed. The Quad has taken a firm shape. India-UAE military-level visits have taken place.

High level visits to India by top UAE leadership have also taken place in the interim, including His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces as the chief guest for the 26 January Republic day celebration in 2017.

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Recently, UAE has inked an agreement to invest in Jammu and Kashmir. Once India-UAE Free Trade Agreement is finalised, things are expected to move faster. More importantly, the uncertainties among superpowers has created the kind of urgency for the nations to bank on friends in international affairs.

As a team member executing the PM Modi’s visit puts it aptly, “In uncertain times the importance of the stable relationship increases. India-UAE is one such relationship we can count on. There is no doubt it’s a relationship on the move. The real challenge is to take the achievements to new heights.”

Dr C Raja Mohan, India’s topmost analyst on strategic issues, asserts that Narendra Modi and S. Jaishankar have certainly put energy in cementing India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and UAE. “India-UAE bilateral relationship has been moving in right direction since 2014,” he told Gulf News.

When asked how the PM’s visit can take the bilateral relationship to the next level, Dr Raja Mohan explained, “With the UAE, many possibilities are waiting. Many important reforms are taking place in UAE — from the 4.5 days a week to changing of domestic labour laws and making the country attractive to foreign professional talent. India is well placed to benefit from the openness of UAE."

Investment in India

New Delhi needs massive capital and the UAE has plenty of it. UAE has been ready to invest in India in a big way. 

"There are huge technological synergies waiting to be tapped. UAE has been eager to produce advanced weapons in India, expand cooperation with India’s space programme, jointly build digital innovation hubs, and promote research in new energy sources. The ball is really in New Delhi’s court," he added.

There are many who strongly support UAE’s investments in India’s future trajectories. Recently, Mansukh Mandavia, India’s health minister, Piyush Goel, Commerce and Industry minister and Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of State for Skill development and Entrepreneurship were in the UAE.

Mandavia sees tremendous potential in a range of partnership options between two countries in the health sector. UAE can invest in India's health infrastructure in a big way.

During his recent visit — the idea whether Indian health sector’s flagship project Ayushman Bharat (that provides free and cashless medical treatment up to Rs5 lakhs in some 15000 plus hospitals and for 1500 plus medical procedures) can be extended to the NRIs in UAE was broached.

NRIs can contribute a prefixed annual amount as premium while working in the UAE and after retirement (when they go back to India), they can avail of the Ayushman Bharat services.

Potential for India and UAE

Rajeev Chandrasekhar told Gulf News, “My recent visit and meetings with UAE government and entrepreneurs clearly reinforce the potential for India and UAE to partner.”

Chandrasekhar elaborated, “India can be the skill hub for the world — contributing to white collar and blue collar talent requirements for world’s economies. The future of technology will be driven by collaborations between nations that share a common vision in skill development and technology development, both. India and UAE can create a new partnership that will benefit the region and the world.”

Surely, there is growing understanding that there are huge opportunities for the UAE and India to invest jointly to help create cutting edge innovations. It’s a way forward to see the long term bilateral relation “beyond oil trade.”

Speaking recently at India Global Forum, Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India in Dubai, said that the UAE and India will work together to co-create innovation for the world and the next-generation unicorns.

Indians have created 42 unicorns in 2021, becoming the second largest creator of unicorns after the US. Indian government has showcased few of them at Expo 2020.

The upcoming visit by Modi will become a milestone if both countries join hands in future endeavours. Stakeholders hope that by 2025, bilateral trade will reach $100 billion.

With UAE hosting the single largest Indian community of 3.3 million, India is looking forward to a quantum jump in bilateral relationship.