New Delhi, 23 June-2014, Anand K. Sahay/Asian Age: Representatives of West Asian governments here note a bitter irony that while India desperately seeks Arab help to bring back the remaining 39 Indians held hostage by suspected Sunni insurgents in Iraq, India’s latest foreign policy enunciation makes no mention of this country’s ties with the Arab world.
Arabs notice their absence from President’s speech
Pointing to the President’s address to the joint session of the two Houses of Parliament earlier this month, delivered to mark the inauguration of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, a key Arab ambassador here said he was flabbergasted by the omission, given the significance of the relationship.
The bulk of India’s oil and gas needs are met from the Arab world, primarily the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, very much part of India’s extended periphery. The overwhelming bulk of Indians abroad live in these Gulf countries mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also others. According to World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief released recently, their remittances in 2013 was nearly $30 billion, while the total remittances from Indians living abroad in all countries was $70 billion in the same year.
Ignoring the Arab connection implies looking askance at those who send remittances on such an impressive scale that help shore up this country’s balance of payments equation. Mostly these Indians are from the working class, unlike, say, the Indians living in North America.
Besides the traditional “civilisational” ties between India and the Arab world, to which India has customarily drawn attention, India looks to the Gulf Arabs for support in the security sector. Not long ago, Saudi Arabia handed over to India top-level Pakistan-trained terrorists hiding in that country on Pakistani passports.
Trade volumes between India and the Gulf states are of a very high order. Incidentally, the bulk of Indian gold imports are from the UAE. For some years, India has looked upon the Gulf Arabs as a rich source of petrodollar investment, although it is yet to work adequately on that prospect.
Arab sources suggest that a reference to West Asia has never before been omitted from the President’s address. Since the Modi government had just taken over, the traditional address which is a signpost of government policy was followed with special keenness by the international community.
Not finding any mention to themselves in it has caused dismay among Arab diplomats and in the capitals they represent. A leading source said they would seek to enquire from the new government here if India’s policy landscape with regard to West Asia is about to undergo any changes.