Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a visit to the UAE and Bahrain over the weekend. This was his third visit to the UAE in four years and the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister to Bahrain. The visits underline India’s growing proximity with the Arabian Gulf countries. In the UAE, the Prime Minister met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and discussed important bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. He also received the “Order of Zayed”, the highest civilian award of the UAE which had been conferred on him in April 2019 in recognition Mr. Modi’s contribution in strengthening the bilateral ties between India and the UAE and for his distinguished leadership.
The Indian Prime Minister also launched the RuPay card in the UAE, which became the first country in West Asia and the third, after Singapore and Bhutan, to accept payments from the indigenous Indian card. A MoU on acceptance of the RuPay card was signed between the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and Mercury Payments Services of the UAE “to establish a technology interface between the payment platforms” in the two countries in the presence of Prime Minister Modi, who then launched the card by making a special purchase of offering (“Prasad”) at the Shreenathji Temple in Bahrain.
In Bahrain, the Indian Prime Minister was received warmly and was awarded the King Hamad Order of the Renaissance, the highest civilian award of Bahrain. In his acceptance speech Prime Minister Modi underlined the significance of the award as recognition of the “thousands of years” old “close and friendly relations” between India and Bahrain. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa hosted a banquet dinner in the honour of Mr. Modi. The Prime Minister held bilateral talks with his Bahraini counterpart, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa and discussed a gamut of bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Prime Minister Modi also met with Deputy King and Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and exchanged views on the way forward for strengthening the bilateral ties. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi addressed a group of 15,000 Indians at the Bahrain National Stadium and appreciated their role in economic development of the Kingdom and in promoting bilateral ties between India and Bahrain. The Kingdom has a strong presence of 350,000 Indians which is the largest expatriate community in Bahrain. The Indian community is respected for its hard work and contribution to the Bahraini economy.
In Manama (capital of Bahrain), Prime Minister Modi visited and prayed at the 200-year-old Shreenathji (Shree Krishna) Temple, the oldest temple in the Gulf and also launched the renovation project of the temple to be completed at a cost of US$ 4.2 million. The temple is a symbol of the pluralistic and accommodative culture of Bahrain and this was appreciated by the Prime Minister. The three-day visit of the Indian Prime Minister to the Gulf acquires significance because of India’s growing bilateral relations with the regional countries as well as given the tense geo-political situation in the region. India favours a negotiated solution to all the regional disputes and has been closely watching the developments in the Gulf due to rising tensions between the US and Iran and some disruptions to flow of shipping in the Gulf waters. Any major disturbance in the Gulf will directly impact India’s energy security as well as the 8.5 million strong Indian expatriates in the region. Hence, India has urged all sides to exercise restraint.
Further, the visit acquires importance because of the recent developments in South Asia. New Delhi’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and change its administration into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh has been criticised by Islamabad despite it being an internal matter of India. However, India has received wide support from its important Gulf Arab partners, including the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The visit of the Prime Minister Modi will go a long way in further strengthening political, economic and security ties between India and the Gulf, especially with the UAE which has emerged as New Delhi’s foremost partner in West Asia in the last five years.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst On West Asia