Prophet comments row: Why is Gulf important for India?
Prophet comments row: Why is Gulf important for India?
New Delhi: India faced a diplomatic disaster in the last few days with as many as 15 countries including most Arab nations strongly reacting to BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's controversial remarks against Prophet Muhammad.
BJP's firefighting act to suspend Nupur and another party spokesperson hardly made a difference as the damage had already been done. India had a positive relation with the Gulf and any dent to it is perceived as a serious issue. It is important to analyse why the relations with the Gulf countries and the (GCC) are so vital for India.
India's trade relations with GCC is that of a major significance because New Delhi relies for its huge oil demand on Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Besides oil, during 2020-21, India imported goods worth $110.73 billion from the six GCC nations. Its merchandise exports stood at $44 billion to these nations. Besides trade, Gulf nations are host to a sizeable Indian population. Of about 32 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), nearly half are estimated to be working in Gulf countries through which India gains large portion of foreign exchange every year, a key factor in India’s economy sector.
Trade relations with GCC
United Arab Emirates (UAE): UAE was the third-largest trading partner of India in 2021-22. India's bilateral trade with the nation increased to $72.9 billion in 2021-22 as compared to $43.3 billion in 2020-21. Apart from this, India and the UAE signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in late February 2022 with the aim of increasing bilateral merchandise trade to $100 billion by 2030.
India has already signed a free trade agreement with the UAE and is in talks with the GCC for a wider deal and it is expected that fruitful outcomes will emerge by the end of this year. PM Modi has been been a regular visitor to UAE ever since he assumed power in 2014, manifesting the importance New Delhi attaches to Abu Dhabi. Back in 2018, PM Modi on his visit to UAE attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. Also, the highest civilian honour of the UAE the 'Order of Zayed' was conferred to PM Modi in 2019.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia was the fourth-largest trading partner last fiscal. Total bilateral trade has increased to about $43 billion in 2021-22 from $22 billion in the previous fiscal. Major commodities of export from India to Saudi Arabia include rice, meat, electrical machinery and equipment, vehicles etc. While major imports from Saudi includes Petroleum and oils obtained from bituminous minerals crude, liquified butane and propane.
The top oil exporter to India in 2020-21 was Iraq followed by Saudi Arabia, says a report by ORF. Back in 2016, the Gulf nation bestowed the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud, the highest civilian award in Saudi Arabia, on PM Modi highlighting the close bilateral relations New Delhi and Riyadh enjoys. On the defense cooperation, Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia have been carrying out joint military operations demonstrating the strong ties India enjoys with the countries in the Gulf.
Qatar: India imports 8.5 million tonnes a year of LNG from Qatar and exports products ranging from cereals to meat, fish, chemicals, and plastics. Two-way commerce between India and Qatar rose to $15 billion in 2021-22 from $9.21 billion in 2020-21. Qatar accounts for almost 41% of India's total natural gas imports and apart from this, the two nations enjoy cordial bilateral relations.
Kuwait: Kuwait was the 27th largest trading partner of India in the last fiscal. Bilateral trade jumped to $12.3 billion in 2021-22 as compared to $6.3 billion in the previous financial year. Apart from this, Indians also account for the largest expatriate community in the country.
Oman: It was the 31st largest trading partner of India in 2021-22. India's bilateral trade with the nation has increased to about $10 billion in 2021-22 as compared to $5.5 billion in 2020-21.
Bahrain: Two-way commerce with India stood at $1.65 billion in 2021-22 as against $1 billion in 2020-21. Also, PM Modi was awarded with Bahrain's top award, the King Hamad Order of the Renaissance - First Class, in 2019. Experts believe that this episode was certainly not a happy one in terms of relations with the Gulf countries, but India's relations with these countries will not get spoiled though they are likely to get a setback for a shorter term.
Talking to ETV Bharat, Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad, former envoy to Saudi, UAE and Oman said that this sudden controversy is "an alarm bell". "Alarmed by the increase in communal atmosphere prevailing in India, these Gulf countries that enjoy deep cordial relations with us and want India to do well and see us as a future partner have now through their actions demonstrated that enough is enough and that such utterances which promotes disharmony should be stopped," he said.
"If you look at the Gulf region, we are number one in the expatriate community in every country of GCC. India's stature in the region is that of a modern, liberal, secular, pluralistic and a democratic nation and we are seen as 'apolitical'," the former Ambassador said. "First concern that I have is about our values and credentials because such incidents put adverse impact on the recruitment of our people and this is my biggest worry," he said.
To a question whether this diplomatic row could put a strain on the bilateral and trade relations, he said: "Perhaps not. Because trade relations are based on mutual advantage and mutual benefit. We are large buyers of their energy resources and they are major buyers of our food ,grains, and textiles etc."
Another former envoy, Ambassador JK Tripathi, while talking to ETV Bharat, said "these developments in my opinion would not affect the bilateral relations. These are some sporadic happenings. Generally, it is the protocol that if anything happens to the Minorities from any country, then there's a diplomatic protest as it happened in this case. This is a very usual practice. OIC has always been critical to India on various issues including Kashmir because of Pakistan and few other fanatic countries."
On the safety of the Indian diaspora in the region there, Ambassador replied, “ No, Not at all. this should not be connected with the Indian diaspora there. This latest row will pass away in a day or two and it will not impact negatively on our bilateral relations with individual countries in the Gulf and in the Arab World.”
Former Ambassador Anil Trigunayat said: "There is no doubt that such irresponsible remarks have hurt the religious sensitivities of several Islamic countries. It should have never happened. Most countries are understanding the official position and are mindful of the immediate action taken against the errant spokespersons by the BJP. However the street sentiments take time to be healed. I do not see that the bilateral relations will be impacted but at the P2P level some anti-India stance can be witnessed. We must ensure that such commentary is not repeated by any one against any religion."