By Robinder Nath Sachdev
In addition to the historically deep and diverse relations between India and the UAE, in recent years the two countries have seen a sharp upswing in bilateral ties. The two countries are developing an increasingly unprecedented comprehensive strategic relationship, plus an entirely new game on the economic front.
For example, last year, the UAE set a target to invest $75 billion in infrastructure development across India.
The UAE is a unique country with an even more unique relationship with India. The Indian Diaspora in the UAE is the largest ethnic group, far outnumbering even UAE citizens. Out of a total population of about 10 million, the UAE citizens number only 20 per cent, while the rest of the population is made up of expatriate workers from across the world. The Indian diaspora in the UAE is estimated to be the largest population group in the UAE, at around 30 per cent of the country’s total population. Indians are today the largest population in the UAE.
Another noteworthy point regarding the Indian Diaspora in the UAE is that it tops in sending dollar remittances to India. In 2018, global NRIs sent a total of about $81 billion to India. Of this total, the NRIs from the UAE accounted for about 30 per cent. The next highest was the Indian diaspora in the US who sent around $18 billion to India in 2018.
Thus, a country that is host to the largest number of Indians on its soil as a percentage of its total population, and a country which empowers them with economic activity whereby they can send $21 billion remittances annually to India is indeed a worthy friend.
The UAE is a special country for another reason. Let us recognize that even though the local citizens number only 20 per cent and the rest are from a variety of countries and religions, yet the country has been a model of communal harmony. The credit for laying the foundations of economic growth and peaceful co-existence among all goes to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who passed away in 2004.
That is what brings us to the values and legacy of Sheikh Zayed. He was the founding President of the UAE – at a time when the seven emirates were no more than desert vastlands.
Putting diversity as the centre-piece of his policy, Sheikh Zayed laid strong foundations of peaceful co-existence among the diverse communities and cultural backgrounds, and guided the growth of the UAE into a society that has become, and is known, as the magnet for professionals from all over the world and has made the UAE into an economic powerhouse.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has visited the United Arab Emirates and held a range of talks on bilateral, regional and global issues, was conferred the prestigious “Order of Zayed” – the highest civilian decoration of the UAE — at a glittering ceremony at Abu Dhabi.
By issuing a commemorative stamp in honour of Sheikh Zayed, India will pay homage to the values that he espoused — celebrating respect of diversity and economic growth. At same time, such a step by India shall also signal the affection and highest regard that India and our Indian diaspora in the UAE hold for Sheikh Zayed, and his legacy as exemplified and carried forward by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
During the Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Modi jointly released a stamp to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
It happens to be a fortunate coincidence that the years 2018-19 are being celebrated in both countries in fond memory of their respective founding fathers. The UAE celebrated 2018 as the Year of Zayed, to mark 100 years of his birth anniversary, while India is celebrating 2019 to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mohamed Kamil Al Muaini, the widely respected Chairman of the International Institute of Cultural Diplomacy, Dubai, is fond of saying: “Cultural beautification brings the fruits and flowers of prosperity.” There can be no better testament to this aphorism than the relationship between the UAE and India. The UAE and India are two countries that have a strong commonality of respect and celebration of diversity, coupled with a dynamism in pursuit of economic development. The UAE and India must together look forward to cultural beautification and prosperity in the 21st century.
In diplomacy and friendly relations, gracious reciprocity is priceless. Thus, it is suggested that India must issue a stamp in honour of Sheikh Zayed during the next visit of the Crown Prince to India.
(Robinder Nath Sachdev is President, The Imagindia Institute. The views expressed are personal.)