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Modi’s UAE visit to highlight diaspora’s contributions

PM Modi’s UAE visit highlights a neglected foreign policy landscape and the disapora’s contribution to India.

editorials Updated: Aug 15, 2015 00:20 IST
PM-Modi-speaking-at-a-conference-in-New-Delhi-AFP-File-Photo
PM-Modi-speaking-at-a-conference-in-New-Delhi-AFP-File-Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates comes 34 years after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the Arab nation. Mr Modi will be meeting Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Dubai Emir Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The prime minister will also be addressing a gathering of the Indian diaspora—a unique initiative developed by Mr Modi to connect with Indians living abroad.

The visit underlines West Asia’s, and especially the UAE’s importance to India’s economic, cultural and geopolitical interests. With a bilateral trade of over $60 billion, the UAE is India’s third largest trading partner and the sixth biggest oil supplier. With more than 2.4 million Indians living in the UAE — that’s around 30% of its total population — stronger political ties are important, especially when taking into consideration the interests and well-being of small trade and the unorganised sector work force from India.

Geopolitically, strong ties with the Sunni kingdom will act as an effective counterbalance to India’s growing ties with Israel and Iran, especially since sanctions against the latter are set to be revoked. Mr Modi’s meeting with the Indian diaspora at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium will be an event to watch, mainly because it will be the first time an expat community of this size is being addressed by its PM in a West Asian country. Comparisons with his meeting at the Madison Square Garden, New York or at the Olympic Park, Sydney are inevitable, but with the majority of the Indian community in Dubai doing blue-collared jobs, it’ll be interesting to see how Mr Modi reaches out to them.

Though a lot of focus has been given to India’s ‘Look East’ policy — and rightly so — west Asia has remained out of India’s foreign policy field of view. And that has to change. Here’s a bit of number crunching to show how important west Asia is for India’s economy. According to the Pew Research Center study ‘Remittance flows worldwide 2012’, India received $69 billion from its diaspora, making it the top recipient country in the world. Of this , more than $31 billion came from West Asia and the UAE topped the list with $15.685 billion — well ahead of the $12 billion that Indians wire from the United States.