The outset of 2018 is proving to be significant in reorienting India’s relations with countries in West Asia. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on his four-day visit to Palestine, UAE and Oman, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was attending the Janadriyah festival in Saudi Arabia as the guest of honour.
Last month, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu visited India and now Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is all set to visit the country at the end of this week. With a shift in India’s approach from non-alignment to multi-alignment, India has been making attempts to strengthen relationship with the Arab world. Ahead of his visit, PM Modi emphasised the importance of this region and called it a “key priority in our external engagement”.
I will be undertaking bilateral visits to Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Oman from 9th to 12th February. The Gulf and West Asian region is a key priority in our external engagement. We enjoy vibrant multi-dimensional ties with the countries there.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 8, 2018
The first stop of the four-day visit was Jordan where PM Modi was received by the Jordan PM Hani Al-Mulki in Amman and then met King Abdullah II of Jordan who facilitated his transit to Palestine.
The Palestinian Presidency, in a pre-arrival welcome statement, described Modi’s upcoming visit as “historic and significant”. When he reached Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestine Authority, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Palestine. PM Modi’s visit to Ramallah was seen as an attempt to de-hyphenate India’s foreign policy in relation with Israel and Palestine. In fact, this trip to Palestine comes within a month of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India where the two leaders hailed each other as strategic partners.
In Ramallah, PM Modi assured Palestine of India’s support and said “I have assured President Abbas that India is bound by a promise to take care of Palestinian people’s interests.” Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas said that Palestinians relied on India’s role as an international force to bring peace in the region. Moreover, the two sides signed six memorandums of understanding (MoUs) for the development of Palestine during the short visit.
An MoU was signed for setting up of an India-Palestine super-speciality hospital at Beit Sahour in Bethelhem governorate at a cost of $30 million. Another MoU for India-Palestine centre for empowering women called “Turathi” at a cost of $5 million. India will also help with setting up of a new National Printing Press at Ramallah at a cost of $5 million.
B Bala Bhaskar, joint secretary (West Asia and North Africa) in the external affairs ministry, said India had contributed immensely to Palestine’s nation-building efforts, including infrastructure development and capacity building. PM Modi was also conferred The Grand Collar of the State of Palestine, the highest Palestinian honour for foreign dignitaries, by Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a significant gesture, President Abbas conferred PM @narendramodi with Grand Collar Honour, which is Palestine's highest honour, in recognition of PM's wise leadership. PM termed the award as an honour for the people of India. pic.twitter.com/OV9KZiCqjl
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) February 10, 2018
“In a special recognition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s contribution to relations between India and Palestine, President Abbas conferred the Grand Collar of the State of Palestine on him after the conclusion of their bilateral meeting,” the Prime Minister’s office tweeted.
United Arab Emirates
The second leg of PM Modi began upon his arrival at Abu Dhabi where he held talks with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
This was Modi’s second visit to the UAE, after the first one in 2015. PM Modi also witnessed the foundation stone laying ceremony of a temple in the UAE via video-conferencing. According to India’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Navdeep Suri, this first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi will come up on 55,000 sq m of land and construction will be completed by 2020.
Five MoUs were signed between the two countries on the areas of energy, railways and employment. To cooperate in the field of manpower, the two sides signed an MoU that aims to institutionalise the collaborative administration of contractual employment of Indian workers in UAE. Under this MoU, both sides will work to integrate their labour-related e-platforms for ending the existing malpractices, combat trafficking and organise collaborative programmes for education and awareness of contractual workers, reported IANS. Modi met Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) corporate leaders and spoke about the changes that raised India’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index.
He was addressing business leaders to boost India’s trade and investment relations with the Gulf nations. On Sunday, while addressing the Indian community at Dubai Opera House, PM Modi said, “I assure you that we will work together to bring to reality the dreams you see, here and in India”. He also thanked the Gulf countries, where nearly 3.3 million Indian diaspora resides, for providing them “a home away from home”.
During the last leg of his four-day tour, PM Modi landed in Oman on Sunday evening and led delegation-level talks yesterday with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.
After the talks, the two leaders signed eight agreements, which included mutual visa exemption for holders of diplomatic, special, service and official passports. They also signed an MoU on cooperation in the field of health, tourism and peaceful uses of outer space. Another MoU was signed on military cooperation. PM Modi addressing the Indian diaspora at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat, Oman’s capital, said that India-Oman ties have always remained strong despite the ups and downs in the political environment in both the countries.
Thousands of Indian expats travelled from different parts of Oman to listen to PM Modi. Indian Social Club (ISC) Sohar executive committee member and general secretary M Rajesh told IANS that the excitement among the diaspora in Salalah, Sohar and Sur was palpable. Over 1,000 people were coming down from Sohar alone, he said, adding that ISC Sohar has arranged for two buses to ferry people to and from Muscat for the event at a nominal sum, reported IANS. He used this opportunity to promote the new National Health Protection Scheme called Ayushman Bharat which Modi said was labelled as ‘Modicare’ by the Indian media.
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) February 11, 2018
Sultan of Oman Qaboos Bin Said Al Said appreciated the contribution of “honest and hardworking” expatriate Indians in country’s development during a meeting. Over 800,000 expatriate Indians reside in the Gulf nation. With Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit lined up for later this year, Jordan’s King Abdullah II’s visit in February end, Iranian President Housani’s visit at the end of this week, Israeli PM’s visit to India in January, External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Saudi Arabia and PM Modi’s three-nation tour of Palestine, UAE and Oman shows how India has shifted its stance towards multi-alignment and reoriented its foreign policy to “Look West”.