Just after the policy changes in Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that India’s outreach to the Gulf at a political level has been unprecedented….An exclusive interview by IANS Editor-in-Chief Sandeep Bamzai
When Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, he was not given too much of a chance as far as diplomacy was concerned, more so with the Gulf nations, supporters of Pakistan for decades. But PM Modi assiduously worked towards reaching out to the nations perceived to be proponents and propagators of Wahhabi Salafism – a more virulent strain of radical political Islam that believes in ethnocentrism.
Five years later, PM Modi’s outreach in the Muslim world cutting across the Sunni-Shia divide has been nothing short of spectacular. Among his friends are the powerful Prince Mohd. Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Makhtoum and Sheikh Nayan of the UAE. Equally, India’s diplomatic relationship with Iran is based on implicit trust. Today, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are right behind India and have begun to accept that Pakistan is a rogue and toxic state and this is due to PM Modi’s constant engagement with them.
I asked the PM on this strategic encirclement of Pakistan’s erstwhile votaries and how he brought them to his side? Currently it may not be wrong to say that India’s relations with Gulf countries are the best now in the last seven decades. The PM was forthright in his response: “I feel that there are two aspects to this. First, a certain section of people believed that my government — and I personally — would fail on the foreign policy front not just in the Gulf region, but also in the wider context. The reality is that my government’s successful track record on foreign policy across the world is there for everyone to see. In fact, after assuming office in 2014, the very first Foreign Minister my government received on an official visit was that of the Sultanate of Oman. So, what others thought of me, and what the reality turned out to be, is for them to introspect.”
Why then this urgency to bring the Gulf into our fold? Again the PM was clear as daylight in his answer. He said, “I want to focus on the second aspect instead — the importance of the Gulf region to India. This is a region that has deep-rooted historical and cultural ties with India. It is home to almost nine million Indians whose remittances are a significant contributor to our economy and they have also contributed immensely to prosperity in the region. I have always found that leaders of the Gulf countries value the enriching presence of the Indian diaspora and care for their well-being like a guardian.”
Highlighting long standing ties, PM Modi in one of his biggest interviews outlined the importance of his outreach — “This region is also our major partner in ensuring our energy security. We have gone beyond a buyer-seller relationship with them. UAE has participated in our strategic petroleum reserve programme, and both UAE and Saudi Arabia are to invest in the world’s largest oil refinery project in India. For the first time, Indian companies have secured rights in offshore oil fields in the Gulf region.”
Continuing in the same vein given that he doesn’t get too much credit for this development, he averted — “I have made a special effort to focus our foreign policy on enhancing our ties with all countries in the region. Our outreach to the region has been unprecedented, right from the official level to the political level. I have myself visited the region many times, and we have also hosted many leaders from the region in India. Some of my closest and warmest interactions anywhere in the world are with leaders in the Gulf region. We are regularly in touch.
“And, I think our policy has succeeded to a large extent because of this outreach, this constant engagement. We have not allowed any miscommunication, any doubts to play spoilsport. We have been very open with all the countries, and they have also reciprocated with warmth and friendship. I firmly believe that India and the Gulf countries have only begun to explore the true potential of a partnership which will go far beyond mutual benefits and can anchor peace, progress and prosperity not only in our common and extended neighbourhood but also in the larger world.”