In the 17th Century, the city of Surat (Gujarat) was called the ‘Gate to Mecca’ due to frequent transportation and communication from Indian State (Gujarat) to Saudi Arabia the Holy City of Mecca.
By Dr Anisur Rahman
During last week of October Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was in Saudi Arabia to attend the third edition of Future Investment Initiatives (FII) summit in Riyadh. This was his second visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since he had been conferred with the highest Saudi civilian award by King Salman Bin Abdal Aziz of Saudi Arabia in 2016. The Future Investment Initiatives (FII) summit has been termed as ‘Davos in the Desert’ is a platform where he discussed trade, investment and business opportunities for the global investors in India.
In the 17th Century, the city of Surat (Gujarat) was called the ‘Gate to Mecca’ due to frequent transportation and communication from Indian State (Gujarat) to Saudi Arabia the Holy City of Mecca. It is the cornerstone of India and KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) relationships. India-Saudi relations have travelled a long route since then. It is really a matter of great satisfaction that the vision, guidance, and strategies of our leaders have created a niche which has been instrumental in elevating our relationship with Saudi Arabia. This visit was an outcome of ‘Delhi Declarations’ and Riyadh Declaration in 2006, and 2010 respectively. These two declarations provided a larger playing field for India-Saudi interactions. Nowadays, Saudi Arabia is the fourth-largest trading partner of India. Bilateral trade stood at $34 billion, which includes $10 billion for non-oil trade. Although trade is growing at a healthy rate of 24 per cent annually, there is potential to double the non-oil component to $20 billion in the next few years. To garner the investment potentials of each other, NITI Ayog of India and the Saudi Center for International Strategic of Saudi Arabia has identified forty new areas where they need to collaborate for their mutual benefits. The second visit by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia definitely boosted India’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia on a higher echelon.
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The recent visit was indeed significant for both India and Saudi Arabia, as they are expecting to link a Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) deal. After the United Kingdom, France, and China, India has become the fourth country that has formed a strategic partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, India and Saudi Arabia signed 12 MoUs in areas like energy, defence, security cooperation, digital economy and health etc.
It is an event that the strategic significance of West Asian countries, especially Saudi Arabia has always been acknowledged by Indian policymakers owing to increasing scope for co-operation in the field of trade, labour mobility, and energy as well as security issues. In this context, the relationship between India and Saudi Arabia has always been felt strong due to their historical and socio-cultural affinities for many centuries. The role of about 4 million Indian expatriate communities are considered to be very crucial in building the Saudi economy as the community contributes significantly to the Saudi economy. They, in fact, form the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia who send roughly $11 billion to India annually that plays a significant role in Indian economic development. It is important to note that India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in 2014 to manage the recruitment and social needs of the Indian workers in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To facilitate approximately three million Indian expatriate communities living there, both countries agreed to jointly work for their mutual benefits especially in the field of travel and tourism. The emergence of India’s e-Migrate portal with the Saudi e-Thawtheeq system has been completed and is further expected to facilitate the smooth movement of the workforce between the two countries.
It is further observed that India has forged historical, cultural and economic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a long time for achieving the new heights in our relations. The recent visit, infact, intensified our existing ties with Saudi Arabia, especially in the fields like security, defence, energy, investments, trade and commerce, small and medium enterprises, agriculture, civil aviation, infrastructure, housing, and tourism, etc. This visit is strategically important as nearly a dozen government-to-government agreements were signed. Indeed the outcomes of the present visit will have future ramifications in the long run. The Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) forum has geo-economic and geo-political implications ahead as energy supply; investment and security become the top priority for Indians and Saudis. Therefore, they are naturally inclined to accrue mutual benefits through various means of common acceptance and people to people contact.
Energy security was India’s core concern while engaging with Saudi Arabia but there was little discussion on $100bn Saudi investment in India promised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his February visit to India. However, it is felt that Saudi Arabia has a vital role to play as a reliable source of energy suppliers to India in the coming years. The Kingdom alone supplies 18 per cent of India’s crude oil requirements and 30 per cent of its liquefied petroleum gas needs. It is important to understand both the countries are keen to transform their buyer-seller relationship to a much broader strategic partnership based on mutual acceptance and interdependence.
There was a discussion on the peace and stability in West Asia between both leaders. As Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two major powers in the region, it is important for India to maintain a balanced relationship with both countries. India promised to play a role in reducing the on-going tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen. Saudi Arabia-India partnership in the field of counter-terrorism, security and other strategic issues were some of the important points of discussion during a bilateral talk on October 29, 2019. Though, the purpose of Prime Minister Modi visit was to deliver a keynote at Future Investment Initiative Summit but it turned out to be an official bilateral talk on economic treaties, digital transaction and friendship ties.
(Author is Professor & Director, UGC-Human Resource Development Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. Views expressed are personal.)