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India and GCC set to cement bonds riding on growing people-to-people connect

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh in this October 2019 photo (All images courtesy: PIB)

India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) block are set to expand people network as the two aim to recast their economic and trade ties. For India, its growing diaspora, which has played a crucial “supporting” role in building the economic and physical landscape in several of the GCC countries is proving to be an asset in building people to people connect.

After India and the UAE signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, negotiations of which were completed in a record time of just 88 days, New Delhi is now keen to ink the proposed free trade agreement at the earliest with the GCC. Besides connectivity is another area that has come to the fore.

“People to people connect is the biggest asset that can be used as a diplomacy tool and India must wisely use this asset to deepen ties,” said a senior analyst at an industry body. Take the example of Saudi Arabia. The country has now looking to introduce yoga in its universities.

More than eight million Indians currently live in the GCC countries. Indians comprise the largest expatriate group in the region. Sources said that number could only rise in the coming years.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the Indian diaspora as the brand ambassadors of the country.

“Your role as India’s brand ambassador is diverse. You all are ‘Rashtradoots’. You are a brand ambassador of Make in India, yoga and Ayurveda, Indian cottage industries and handicraft, millets,” he said at the inauguration of the 17th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention in Madhya Pradesh.

Shared interest and cooperation between the two are key for maintaining security and stability – both political and economic amid the rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics especially in South Asia. With political and security threats rising in Pakistan and Afghanistan, India needs to safeguard its domestic interests.

Indian workers are often known for being peaceable, tolerant, and willing to work hard under harsh conditions, a blog published by Brookings noted. It also said that in the Middle East, one of India’s most distinct soft power assets is the diaspora.

While the majority of the Indian workforce comprises the semi skilled category, the demand for skilled or the educated and highly trained is rapidly increasing as bilateral economic cooperation and investments rise.

The GCC bloc, headquartered in Riyadh, is made up of six countries – UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia with the aim of achieving Arab regional unity. The GCC, especially Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia is also a critical import source for India’s energy requirements.

Also read: Saudi’s reluctance to offer help to Pakistan, a wake up call, signals new geopolitical contours