When King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (popularly known as Ibn Saud) united the tribes and city-states of Arabia to constitute the Third Saudi State, proclaiming the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, India was one of the first nations to recognise it in the early 1930s. And with India’s independence from Britain in 1947, diplomatic relations between Riyadh and New Delhi were swiftly formalised.
Links between the Arabian peninsula and the Indian subcontinent, however, go back ages. The two-and-fro established by Arab traders sailing to India and Muslims from the subcontinent making pilgrimages to Makkah and Madinah were cemented with generous donations for the upkeep of the two holy mosques from Indian Muslim potentates, notably the ultra-wealthy Nizams of Hyderabad. That connection, perhaps, is the reason for the preponderance of Hyderabadis that one finds among the more than three million Indians residing in Saudi Arabia today — the largest foreign presence in the kingdom.
Cultural and historical links aside, relations between Saudi Arabia and India have primarily been seen through the commercial prism. Two-way trade totalled a whopping $27.5 billion (Dh101.14 billion) in 2018. But increasingly, both countries are also coming closer on the counter-terrorism front, given that both have been victims of the scourge on multiple occasions. The Saudi Crown Prince didn’t mince words on this subject when he said: “I want to state that we are ready to cooperate with India in every way, including through intelligence sharing.” [India and all] “neighbouring countries must work together”.
India’s approach to foreign policy is based on the so-called ‘Five Principles’: Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and cooperation for mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence. These dictums of foreign policy are very attractive to many developing nations, including Saudi Arabia, especially when it comes to strategic cooperation. Also, India features prominently in the ‘Rising Asia’ theory, and for Gulf states increasingly looking to deepen ties with big non-western powers, New Delhi is an obvious first-choice.