Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday left on a three-day visit to Oman and Qatar, his first visit to the energy-rich Gulf region as head of government, for talks on investment, trade and energy.
With the Lok Sabha elections barely a few months away, the visit to two influential Gulf Cooperation Council countries has political overtones and is likely to be projected as a sign of India's commitment to deepening relations with the Islamic world.
"The Gulf region is an area of vital importance for India's security and prosperity. We have always enjoyed a very special relationship with countries of the region," Singh had stated in his pre-departure statement on Friday evening.
The visit may also feature talks on leveraging surplus-funds in the region for combating the financial crisis.
"The current international economic and financial situation provides a unique opportunity for India to leverage the vast surplus funds in the Gulf for development needs, and to accelerate trade and investment flows," he said on the eve of his visit.
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Minister for Overseas Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed, and National Security Adviser M K Narayanan will accompany Singh, while Petroleum Minister Murli Deora will join the high-level delegation at Doha on Monday.
The Prime Minister is also accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur.
The Gulf region employs about 4.5 million Indians, who remit a little less than USD 9 billion every year, and their safety and welfare will figure in the talks.
On his first stop at Muscat, the Prime Minister would hold detailed discussions on the bilateral relations with Omanese Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd Mahmoud Al Said this evening and meet Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said on Sunday.
In Doha, he will have an audience with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani and will hold discussions with his counterpart Sheikh Hamad bin Jassam bin Jabor al Thani.
"Given the complementaries that exist between us, I am confident that we can build a mutually beneficial strategic partnership in this sector," Singh said on Friday.
For India, the region is not only important because of number of expats living and working in India, but as a market and source of energy.