A Royal Visit that Revitalized Relations

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s visit to India last week was literally historic. The economic and socio-political outcome of the visit was significant.

For me, at a very personal level, there was a positive emotional outcome too; it was a sense of pride and satisfaction, of watching the many meetings between the top leaders of Bahrain and India.

In 1981, fresh in my journalistic career, I had had the privilege of accompanying the delegation of the late HH Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the then Amir of Bahrain on his first state visit to India.

Indira Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest woman-leaders was the Prime Minister of India then, and had even given me an exclusive interview.

In 2014, I now had the special privilege of watching the illustrious son of the late Amir, on his first state visit to India, when Dr Manmohan Singh, one of the world’s greatest economists is serving as Prime Minister .

Actually, three days earlier to the king’s visit, on the invitation of Royal Court, I went to New Delhi with its delegation headed by the Follow-up Minister at the Royal Court Shaikh Ahmad Bin Ateyatallah Al Khalifa .

His Majesty arrived on Tuesday 18 February, from the New Delhi airport to the Presidential Suite of ITC Maurya, with India’s Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed with him.

On seeing me at the entrance of ITC Maurya, His Majesty asked me if my family had also come to India from Bahrain. I had to say no, but I really wished I had brought them along.

Because, that evening’s dinner which the king hosted was one of those extremely rare occasions when about 200 Bahraini and Indian business people and officials were able to actually meet and talk to the king.

With his three sons, HH Shaikh Abdulla, HH Shaikh Nasser and HH Shaikh Khalid, with the senior Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, with eight government ministers, and scores of business leaders, this was one of the largest delegations that the king had ever taken anywhere.

Next day was a packed schedule for His Majesty.

Early in the morning, assembled in the majestic splendour of India’s huge Presidential Residence, the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan, we were amazed at the beautiful and impressive guard of honour which the King inspected.

Complete with a 21 gun salute, it was an honour, as some would say, fit for a king.

He visited Raj Ghat after that, and laid a wreath at the tomb of Gandhi, whom the nation calls Mahatma. His three sons also sprinkled rose petals on the tomb at a serene and solemn ceremony.

There was then the meeting at the Hyderabad House with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with three MoUs signed with Shaikh Nasser, Foriegn Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid.

In the background the Indian parliament, with all its leaders, was debating the burning issue of the possibility of new Telangana State, but I was happy to note that the Indian leadership did not let that come into the forefront of the meetings scheduled with Bahrain’s leaders.

Even in the beautiful official banquet that the President of India Pranab Mukherjee had hosted in honour of our king, they made sure that there was no stress.
Both, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the head of Congress Party which leads the ruling coalition UPA, Sonia Gandhi attended the Banquet.

The following day, His Majesty left for Agra to see the Taj Mahal, one of the new seven wonders of the world and one of the greatest monuments of love created on earth.

I left for Mumbai during that time, accompanying the business delegation for the Bahrain-India Business Forum held under the leadership of Bahrain’s Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Hassan Fakhro, and Bahrain’s Transportation Minister, and Acting Chief Executive of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board(EDB), Kamal Ahmed. Both business meetings in Delhi and Mumbai were very well attended, and multi-million dinar deals were signed.

It was a proud moment for me when I saw that my book, Shukran Bahrain, which I published in 2007 was distributed to all participants in the two venues. The Royal Court had printed 1000 copies especially for the distribution to all participants during these meetings.

For more than 400,000 Indians living in Bahrain, this historic visit was a dream come true.

I should attribute the success of this visit to many who have been working tirelessly for several weeks. But at least four of them need a special mention .
Indian Ambassador to Bahrain Dr Mohan Kumar and the Follow-up Minister at the Royal Court Shaikh Ahmad Bin Ateyatallah Al Khalifa for meticulously planning the entire itinerary.

Also, ministers Dr. Hassan Fakhro and Kamal Ahmed for successfully coordinating the Bahrain India Business Forum of Delhi and Mumbai.

Talking to the Indian media, Shaikh Ahmed said that Bahrain-India relations are a “true love story”.

And I hope that this love will blossom into full growth, spreading the fragrance of mutual respect and understanding along with economic well-being of both nations.