Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to UAE, which started yesterday, is special not only because it is the first ever Indian Prime Minister’s visit, in over 34 years, but also because it boosts the morale of 2.6 million Indians residing in UAE.
It is unfortunate that India’s top leadership had largely neglected visiting the Arabian Gulf countries on a regular basis.
“Indians in the UAE account for roughly US$15 billon (Dh55bn) in annual remittances to India”, if we go by Prime Minister Modi’s words to the UAE media , ahead of his visit.
And according to government figures, quoted by the same newspaper, bilateral trade between the two countries in 2014-15 stood at roughly $60bn, even though it was down from a record high of $75.5bn in 2012-13.
Last year alone, UAE imported nearly $33bn in Indian merchandise. And, therefore, UAE-India relations, and the NRI (Non Resident Indian) relations should not be taken lightly.
I recall an interesting interaction I had had with Mr Modi in January this year on the side-lines of ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2014’ which means ‘The Day of the Overseas Indians’ that is commemorated on 9 January every year.
In this annual event of the Indian government, marking the contribution of Overseas Indian community to the development of India, awards are given to people from the Indian diaspora.
As one of the former recipients of Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest civilian award given to overseas Indians, I was privileged to be a part of a small luncheon meeting that the new Prime Minister had had with a few former awardees .
During the event, I asked Mr. Modi to visit the Arabian Gulf just like he had been visiting several other countries since his election.
He joked saying, “You must give me some more time, because already people are making fun of my travels, calling me a ‘Pravasi Prime Minister’ (Overseas Prime Minister)!
He had visited over 25 countries since his election in May 2014, including USA, Australia, Brazil , Russia, Singapore and Japan but this is his first trip to the Arab world. The foreign investments in India, and the business joint ventures and mega projects that followed his visits, are truly remarkable.
On an earlier occasion too, I had met him when he was the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Gujarat, and was amazed at his progressive outlook during the talks.
Among Mr Modi’s top priorities now in UAE, we are told, will be to seek investment from the UAE, whose sovereign wealth fund reserves are estimated to be roughly $800bn.
Investment and Security are top on the visit-agenda. Investments not only from Arabs, but from the rich Indians of UAE, can give a new impetus to India’s economy.
When you consider the fact that USA, Saudi Arabia and UAE are the top three countries whose migrant workers send remittances to their home countries; and also, when you consider that India is the number-one country receiving the highest remittances that any country receives from abroad, you can understand the huge importance we must attach to this visit.
Also, as it is largely believed that some of the Indian mafia, with connections to terrorists, often use the cities in the Arab world to escape to, the security issue must be a priority too.
I will be in Dubai listening to Modi, this evening , and am looking forward to a great time.
But, most importantly, the world is listening to the rising voice of this great Indian leader who, obviously, does not believe in resting on his laurels.