The pragmatic and visionary leadership of the UAE has always been an exemplar for nations not only in the Arabian Gulf region and the Middle East, but for the wider world as well. When UAE, the hosts of the meeting, extended an invitation to India to be present at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) foreign ministers’ conclave in Abu Dhabi last week as a guest of honour, it was yet another indicator of the UAE leadership’s farsightedness and indepth understanding of geopolitical paradigms and its appreciation for socio-cultural realities that stretch far beyond what copybook diplomacy and foreign policy nuances would prescribe.
Since its emergence as a nation in 1971, the UAE has always shared a very special relationship with India. Starting from the times of the UAE’s founding father, late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and until this present day, UAE-India bilateral ties have stood the test of time, spanning more than two generations now and going from strength to strength, with the leadership of the two nations calling on each other almost at regular intervals. The visits to India by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; the presence in New Delhi of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as the chief guest on the occasion of India’s Republic Day; and the visits to UAE by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the last few years bear testimony to the special relationship shared by the two nations and their people. As the UAE is today respected the world over for being a major hub for global trade and commerce and a shining beacon of tolerance, so has India evolved over the last seven decades since its independence to be a powerhouse in terms of its depth of wealth in human capital and as a responsible nuclear power with its proven commitments to peaceful coexistence in its immediate neighbourhood in South Asia and beyond.
For a 1.3 billion-strong nation that is today the fifth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in terms of purchasing power parity, with a thriving and functioning democracy that is the largest on earth, India’s population offers a unique case in point to nations the world over in terms of its variety, diversity and cultural pluralism. In this context, the fact that India is home to the second-largest Muslim population in the world, despite it not being an Islamic state, speaks volumes about the way the world’s second-most populous nation has stayed its course in upholding its secular ethos. Quite naturally, when such a nation — that is home to 172 million Muslims, making up 14.2 per cent of its population — is invited to the second-largest congregation of countries after the United Nations, it is not only a fitting tribute to India’s centuries-old commitment to unity in diversity, but also a strong statement of acknowledgement of what India as a nation means to the world in general and what significance it comes to bear on humanity.
From information technology (aggregated revenues of $160 billion or Dh588.48 billion in 2017) to agriculture (394.6 million acres of agrarian land, as of 2011 — second-highest after the United States), from space research (one of only four nations to have successfully sent a Mars probe) to entertainment (Bollywood accounted for $2.28 billion of business in 2014), the knowledge-sharing pool that India can offer is something the OIC can and should tap into. As the world and the region grapple with the spectre of terrorism, India’s role as a key ally of the UAE in counter-terror cooperation further establishes the point.
And this is precisely why the invitation extended to Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, is as much an acknowledgement of a key geopolitical reality as it is a visionary outreach to a nation that indeed can bring a lot to the 57-member bloc despite it not being an Islamic state by definition. It is this depth of understanding of present-day socio-political, cultural and economic dynamics that sets the UAE leadership apart. It is this ability to see the reality not through the monochromatic lens of dogma or any rigid code but through the prism of an ever-evolving mindscape that never shies away from going off the beaten track to explore greater truths that indeed gives UAE the edge in the league of nations.
As Swaraj rightly stated in her address in Abu Dhabi, that India’s fight is against terrorism and not against any religion, granting New Delhi a louder voice through its inclusion in a bloc that accounts for a collective population of 1.9 billion is perhaps an imperative and not a dispensable alternative.
You can follow Sanjib Kumar Das on Twitter: @moumiayush.