During this year’s Republic Day, India’s 68th, the Chief Guest was His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This was also the first time that a leader of UAE was honoured with the invitation to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade. His presence marks the beginning of a new chapter in India-UAE relations, with ties getting stronger and closer. Here is the NRI Achievers’ report …
To date, 58 foreign heads of states have had the previlege of attending India’s Republic Day celebrations as guests of honour. Previous instances of dignitaries from the Gulf region invited as chief guests at India’s Republic Day celebrations include past Iranian president Mohammed Khatami in 2003. Last year, it was the French President, Francoise Hollande, who was the guest of honour, and the year before that, it was President Barack Obama of the USA. This year, in what is considered an unprecedented gesture of warmth by the Indian government, this 68th Republic Day parade at Delhi’s majestic ‘Rajpath’ was led by a contingent of 179 UAE soldiers, which albeit was not really for the first time – that distinction however goes to the French, whose contingent marched along the Rajpath last year as part of the parade. One point though – while the UAE contingent was not the first in that context, the difference this year was that they were actually leading the parade.
Widening India-UAE ties are a good augury of the gradually morphing Indian focus and approach towards regions closer to its shores. And of late Delhi has oft utilised it’s Republic Day gala to send out signals of its impending foreign policy shifts – with the key partner invited to grace the occasion telling a story every time, since PM Modi took up the reins of government. Vis-a-vis the UAE, India has also invested significant diplomatic capital towards strengthening its ties – with the conclusion of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two entities, this relationship is today poised to take a quantum jump.
The UAE Crown Prince was accompanied by a high-level delegation this year which included Ministers, many senior officials and captains of industry. Sheikh Mohamed during this visit, his second since February 2016, held fruitful discussions with PM Modi – on bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest to both nations.
This new vigour and elan in India-UAE partnership got a new impetus with PM Modi’s recent to the Emirates in 2015, the first by an Indian Prime Minister after a long 34 year haitus – then PM Indira Gandhi’s 1981 visit was the last by an Indian leader to the Emirates. Modi’s refresh of India’s focus on the region thus marked a fresh beginning to a ‘new, comprehensive and strategic partnership,’ which was ably followed up by a whole bevy of senior Indian ministers, handling external affairs, finance, road transport & shipping, small-scale & micro industries, commerce, petroleum among others – who made a beeline to UAE the past two years to kickstart the process.
The UAE is considered India’s gateway to West Asia in general, and the Gulf region in particular. The Gulf nation is also among the top investors into India in terms of FDI, and was the 5th largest supplier of crude to India in 2015-16. On the diaspora front – Indians form the largest expatriate group in the UAE, at 2.6 million. India is the largest importer of goods from the UAE, buying approximately 15% of all its exports and about 10% of all its re-exports. Total UAE investments in India currently amount to US$ 8 billion, including US$ 2.89 billion in the form of direct foreign investments, with these concentrated in construction (16%), energy (14%), metallurgy (10%), the services sector (10%), and computer software/hardware (5%). By 2020, the total value of trade exchanges between the two countries UAE is expected to touch US$ 100 billion.
The Gulf media too acknowledges this trend, averring that UAE’s participation reflects deep-rooted Emirati-Indian relations. “India’s Republic Day is an example of positive values propelling nations into greatness and the UAE’s participation in it reflects deep-rooted Emirati-Indian relations”, the Gulf News quoted Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan as saying. Ergo, it is safe to assume that Indo-UAE relations are primed for a meteoric rise under Modi’s helm, as it is assuredly an “economics and plus” principle for him – which sums it all well enough.