Following Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman’s state visit to India just after the G20 summit, New Delhi is now planning to hold a track 1.5 dialogue with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries later this year. Notably the talks are likely to be held in Kerala’s Kochi instead of the major metros.
The decision to host the conclave in Kochi is in tune with the G-20 spirit, which encourages the staging of international events outside New Delhi to broaden popular engagement.
Sources said that the idea is also to connect with the diaspora. While 9 million Indians live in the GCC countries, the majority are from Kerala.
“Organising these crucial talks in Kerala therefore makes sense and this would showcase India as a whole with the states get more visibility,” a person familiar with the development told India Narrative.
“The Middle East has always been a thrust area for India’s foreign policy but the Modi government has shifted gears with India-GCC ties now reaching a new level,” the person said. India is a major player now in the middle east, Foreign Policy magazine noted.
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. Indians comprise the largest expatriate group in the region. The number is expected to rise in the coming years.
“A key success of Modi’s foreign policy has been the ability to navigate relationships with the Arab-Gulf countries across binaries,” Tariq Mansoor, Former Vice-Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University wrote in an article published by Outlook magazine. Modi vigorously cultivated relations with countries like Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and others, while at the same time assuring them that India’s quest for taking ties with Israel to the next level will not be at their cost, Mansoor added.
India, a multicultural nation, needs the support of the moderate Gulf. Dubai-based real estate developer Emaar has already announced developing a mega mall in Jammu and Kashmir. The announcement marked the real estate major as first foreign company to come forth with investment plans in the state after the abrogation of Article 370.
India’s economic ties with the Gulf region
The GCC countries, which are key suppliers of crude oil to India, are now looking at expanding economic relations along with connectivity. India could play a big role in supporting the digital infrastructure of the region. Food security is another area.
Last year, India signed a free trade agreement with the UAE. Earlier, India and the UAE signed an agreement to boost rupee-dirham trade. Currently talks are on for a similar trade pact with the GCC bloc. Saudi Arabia is also looking to invest $100 billion in India.
Besides India and the GCC countries have pressed the pedal on strengthening connectivity. Sources said that the stakeholders and senior government officials are expected to finalise the financing details along with the implementation roadmap for the multimodal India-Middle East-Europe Corridor. In another major breakthrough Thailand based shipping line Regional Container Lines (RCL) has decided to upgrade its service connecting major hubs in the region which include Vietnam, the starting point, Malaysia, India’s Nhava Sheva, Jebel Ali just off Dubai, Sohar in Oman and Saudi Arabia’ King Abdulaziz Port.