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Salaam Riyadh….Modi arrives in Saudi Arabia

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Riyadh governor receives Modi at the airport

Governor of Riyadh received Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at airport. The prime minister arrives in the Islamic kingdom for his maiden visit….writes COT Azeez

Riyadh governor receives Modi at the airport
Riyadh governor receives Modi at the airport

“Salaam Riyadh,” Vikas Swarup, the foreign ministry spokesman tweeted when Modi arrives at the airport. “PM @narendramodi arrives in Saudi Arabia to a ceremonial welcome, received by the Governor of Riyadh.”

The kingdom is waiting for one of the most popular leaders in Asia. There are many issues on agenda. Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia gathers diplomatic salience for a number of reasons. Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, the key source for India’s energy needs and is host to three million Indians.

Several thousand Indians visit the two holy mosques in Mecca for Hajj every year. Besides, India is also looking for Saudi investments in its infrastructure development and the PM’s “Make in India” programme.

Since he became Prime Minister in May 2014,  Modi has gone out of his way to seek out and engage with members of the Indian Diaspora during his foreign travels. But most of them have been from the well-to-do Indian community. The Prime Minister has often been criticized for ignoring the humble Indian workers who through their remittance each year—amounting to over $ 60 billion—has significantly contributed in taking care of a substantial part of the Indian oil bill. Besides, the money sent back home by them have also helped in running several million families back home.

Nearly eight million Indians live and work in the Middle East and over three million of them are in Saudi Arabia, majority of who are blue-collared workers. Largest number of Indian passport holders lives in the Kingdom.

AJit Dovel with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
AJit Dovel with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Modi’s engagement with Gulf countries —strategically an extremely important region for India—began last year when he visited United Arab Emirates. In UAE, which has about 1.8 million Indians, Modi addressed several thousands of them at the Dubai stadium. In Saudi Arabia and he will have to address around 400 invited guests at a luxury hotel in Riyadh where he can interact with members of the Indian community.

Prime minister may visit a labor camp of Indian workers of L&T, the Indian company engaged in construction of Riyadh metro system.

Modi is also scheduled to visit a Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) Centre in Riyadh where large number of Saudi women are being trained on Information Technology and related issues of computer science. The TCS Centre had less than a hundred women enrolling there when it opened a few months back. But now it has several thousands of them and is one of the most popular training institutes in the country.

During modern period, Indo-Saudi began with Nehru’s visit to the Kingdom.

It was in 1956. Prime Minister Nehru was accorded a warm and enthusiastic welcome when he flew into Riyadh in an Indian Air Force Viscount plane on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia on the evening of September 24. Crown Prince Amir Faisal, Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, received the Indian leader who was given a great ovation by a huge gathering present at the airport.

Thousands of people gathered at the airport lustily cheered and clapped happily as Mr. Nehru stepped out of the plane and shouts of “Welcome, O! Prophet of Peace,” rent the air. Ministers of the Saudi Arabian Government, diplomats and high civil and military officials were present at the airport. Similar scenes were witnessed when the Prime Minister touched the Saudi Arabian soil at Dehran airport an hour earlier. Tens of hundreds of people collected at the airport shouted: “Marhaba Nehru Rassoul Al Salam” (meaning, Welcome Nehru, O! Prophet of Peace).

Modi and King Salman  in Turkey G20  (file)
Modi and King Salman in Turkey G20 (file)

For the first time in the history of this Arab kingdom, a large number of Arab women in strict purdah came to Dahran airport, and again at Riyadh airport an hour later, to welcome a high dignitary of a foreign country. Sitting in curtained trucks and shining Cadillacs, these women had a glimpse of Mr. Nehru from behind their veils as he came down the steps. Acknowledging the greetings, Mr. Nehru declared: “I have come as a pilgrim of peace to your famous land.”

Then in 1982, prime minister Indira Gandhi visited the Kingdom. It was a historic event. She inaugurated the Indian Embassy School, first of its kind. Presented an Elephant to the hosts.

Six years ago, prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the country. The turning point in the relationship was King Abdullah’s visit to India in January 2006, when he was the guest of honour on Republic Day. The Saudi Kingdom, too, has embarked on its own “Look East Policy”. Saudi Arabia needs to secure long-term customers for its hydrocarbons, especially as the United States does not require them any longer, thanks to its shale oil and gas. India and China are exactly what Saudi Arabia craves: fast-developing economies with a huge population and soaring energy needs.