Several decades ago, it was difficult for Emiratis to travel abroad. They used to travel to India by sea for trade, tourism, treatment and education. This was many decades before the establishment of the UAE and before the rule of the founding father, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Emiratis’ love for travel to India continues to this day. Now as many as 1,068 flights operate between the UAE and India every week.
The relations between the Gulf region and India are not new. According to Dr Hamad Bin Sarrai, Professor of Ancient History at the UAE University, the bond goes back nearly 1, 500 years. The political, diplomatic and economic relations started since the dawn of the UAE’s advancement, and witnessed periods of peak and rapid growth. The last three years can be seen as a golden era for Emirati-Indian relations.
It all began decades ago. Shaikh Zayed visited Mumbai [then Bombay] in the 1930s, and then travelled to India accompanied by his brother Shaikh Hazza for treatment. Shaikh Zayed’s first official visit took place in 1974.
The UAE and India enjoy strong bonds of friendship, based on age-old cultural, political and economic ties. Recently, UAE-India relations received fresh impetus with the exchange of regular high-level visits from both sides. The visit by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to India in 2015, marked a new phase in the Emirati-Indian relations.
This was followed by the historical visit by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in February 2016. Among the 18 agreements signed included promotion and protection of investment, avoidance of double taxation and aviation deals. During the visit, the two countries agreed to cooperate in security, defence, space, renewable energy, information technology, military and automotive industries.
The turning point in UAE-India relations came in January 2017, when Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed was the guest of honour at the Indian Republic Day celebrations. This highlighted the UAE’s high status and also the strong personality of Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, as India usually invites distinguished leaders to be its guests of honour on Republic Day.
The UAE has strategic investments in India through local bodies and companies like Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Adnoc, DP World, etisalat, Emaar and the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa). The total volume of foreign trade between the UAE and India has reached $57 billion (Dh209.2 billion), while the non-oil foreign trade is valued at nearly $38 billion. Diamonds, gold, jewellery and wires are among the most exported or re-exported items between the two countries.
Today, India stands as the UAE’s largest trading partner, and the UAE is India’s third largest trading partner after the United States and China. The two sides are developing their relations through three platforms: The UAE-India Joint Commission, UAE-India High Level Joint Task Force on Investments and Strategic dialogue committee.
These committees have added an impetus to the strong relations between the UAE and India. India’s GDP is now around $2.5 trillion, and India has a plan to bring up its GDP to $10 trillion by 2025. This comes in parallel with the UAE’s ambition, in particular the UAE vision 2021, UAE Centennial 2071 and the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision (2030).
Needless to say, boosting bilateral relations has become essential for both nations, and current and future needs make it even more pressing. A word of thanks here goes to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who contributed to enhancing his country’s relations with the UAE.
It is no surprise that the visit of Rahul Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, who is vying for the premiership in the coming general elections, further highlights the significant UAE-India relations. It is the responsibility of both sides to work on developing such a positive relationship between the two countries, which have always been known for being a home to science, progress, tolerance and peace. We have achieved some shared prospects for the future, and we have a lot in common that makes our political relations stronger than ever.
Emiratis and Indians have strong social bonds, and the Indian community lives and coexists in harmony with the Emirati society where they contribute to the country’s development. Such historical ties give impetus to the UAE and India to make great strides to an exciting future.
— Al Khaleej
Habib Al Sayegh is a prominent Emirati writer and the Secretary General of Arab Writers Union (AWU).