Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

India's relationship with the Gulf Countries

~ By Aarush J on 6/13/2022

India's relationship with the Gulf Countries

A statement made by Nupur Sharma, former national spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party created a furore among India's partners in the Gulf. The Government of India responded promptly to the requests of the Gulf nations by respecting their religious sentiments—in order to maintain the historical bonds which the Arabs and Indians have enjoyed.

The controversy was exploited by certain sections, or propagandists to damage India's reputation and international status, using the most conventional form of warfare which is the fifth-generation warfare Social media witnessed a barrage of opinion makers from all over the world, engaged in a game of Chinese whispers, that India could be daunted upon by the bully, to damage the country's reputation and therefore, the economy.

Tweets reading #boycottindia# began their rounds across all forms of media. However, it is not a cat and mouse game, to straight away boycott India, especially when the two regions hold historical, cultural, religious, and strategic ties.


India shares historical ties with the Arab nations which go back in time to more than 5,000 years to trading between the two ancient civilisations. Arab merchants, traders and religious men would traverse through the gigantic oceans to reach the coasts of India to enjoy the business-friendly markets, culturally rich atmosphere, and welcoming society.

The early companions of Prophet Muhammad landed in Ghogha, a port in Gujarat which has been active since the 5th century CE. Prophet Muhammad and his companions built the Barwada mosque there, whose Qibla direction is Jerusalem.

During the British era, the English imperial interests in the Gulf region were administered by the Bombay Presidency. Until the 1960s, the Indian rupee was a legal tender in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the Trucial Sheikhdoms.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on the region from the beginning of his term in 2014. He made a series of visits to all the GCC capitals from 2015 to 2016 and encouraged the Arab monarchs to visit India. These visits included Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

August 2015 marked the first visit of Narendra Modi to the United Arab Emirates, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the UAE after 34 years. The two nations inked deals in various sectors. UAE planned investments into India’s infrastructure development, spanning ports, airports, highways and construction, and petrochemical projects as well. There is booming trade between the two countries which currently stands at $72.88 billion (2021-2022) and is expected to touch $100 billion. The UAE is not just India's third-largest trading partner but also a key supplier of crude oil.

In February 2019, Modi broke the protocol to receive the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman—popularly known as MBS. Saudi Arabia’s smart leader called Modi his “elder brother”, and said, “I am his younger brother, I admire him”.

Upon the passing away of Kuwait's most revered leader, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah in September 2020, the Government of India declared a day’s state mourning throughout the country. The gesture was observed very positively in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti government appreciated it.

Upon the demise of UAE's president Sheikh Khalifah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in May 2022, the Indian government observed a day’s mourning. Again, a gesture appreciated by the UAE royals and citizens.

India and the Gulf nations share a huge chunk of mutual economic dependencies which include food security, renewable and nuclear energy, education and skill development, the defence industry and counterterrorism, biotechnology, space, electronics, and information technology, which includes artificial intelligence and machine learning (AIML), cyber security, Cloud-based solutions, and more.

There are over 8.5-9 million Indian expatriates throughout the region, whose skill-sets benefit the Gulf, while their impressive annual remittances benefit India—which is about 65 per cent of the nation’s total remittances.

According to a report by the Business Standard, UAE was also India’s second-largest export and import market in 2021-22. Likewise, Saudi Arabia was India’s fourth-largest trading and import partner in the last fiscal year. In February 2022, India and UAE signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)—the trade pact was implemented last month. Meanwhile, India and Oman have agreed to undertake a joint feasibility study, before they could sign a preferential trade deal on limited goods.

During 2019-20, India’s hydrocarbon trade with the Gulf region was worth $62 billion—which is 36% of the total hydrocarbon trade. Gulf countries account for almost 15 per cent of India’s global trade.


Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE share defence and intelligence ties with India. The ties in this sector have improved remarkably in the recent past. Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed—who worked as the ambassador from April 2019 till March 2022 in the Kingdom, extensively worked on various political, economic, consular and cultural issues, besides Hajj management. During his tenure, India and Saudi Arabia witnessed a great deal of cooperation in the areas which were unexplored before.

In March 2021, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Modi were connected via teleconference. Then in September, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan visited India.

The first bilateral Naval exercise “Al Mohed-Al Hindi” was conducted in August 2021 on the Eastern Coast of Jubail in Saudi Arabia.

In February 2022, Saudi land forces commander Lt. Gen. Fahd Bin Abdullah made a historic visit to India and held extensive talks with former Indian Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane.

During the 2019 US-Iran escalations in the Gulf waters, Iran seized and attacked the UAE oil-tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, in response to that India deployed its naval ships to contain the Iranian aggression, and to guard the Arab oil-tankers.

Back in June 2012, India’s most-wanted terrorist Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal—the handler of the ten terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He was deported from Saudi Arabia and was arrested upon arrival at the Delhi airport.


If the diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Riyadh ever reach a standstill, there would be no embassy functioning inside Saudi Arabia, and there would be no diplomatic missions inside the Kingdom to lend support to the Indian pilgrims who desire to perform the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia, having a moderate Islamic leadership would not take such a step to ban Indian Muslims from performing their rituals, for the sake of a political spat.


India-Gulf relations have witnessed a great reset in the post-pandemic period. Former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmed noted in 2021, about the Gulf’s investments in the agriculture industry of India.

He wrote for the Observer Research Foundation that India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat annually, worth $8.3 billion, due to inadequate storage and distribution facilities. Also, India loses about 21 million tonnes of vegetables and 12 million tonnes of fruits annually due to the absence of requisite cold storage amenities. UAE invested in India’s farm-related logistics sector and this cooperation could boost domestic stocks for India, and partly meet the needs of the UAE as well.

Moreover, in May 2022, India promised to export wheat to Saudi Arabia and UAE, despite the grain ban it announced for the rest of the world. In the field of electric automobiles, Saudi Arabia’s leading automobile company Abdul Latif Jameel, famous for Toyota cars, committed an investment of up to $220 million in India’s Greaves Electric Mobility, which is one of India’s leading two-to-three-wheeler mobility players.

India and the Gulf nations have always been a very strong unit, irrespective of their reservations and disagreements, reserving any outstanding issue without any unpleasant outcome.

A couple of media outlets are trying to stir a sense of anxiety that India may face a heavy backlash from the Gulf nations for the recent controversy. But it’s never been the case.

Those who used unpleasant language for the Prophet were brought to book immediately, while India displayed a sense of maturity to bring the relations back on track. A fallout in the relations between India and the Gulf states will hardly be a topic to worry about for both the parties.

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