India Saudi Arabia Relations
India and Saudi Arabia have traditionally enjoyed close and friendly relations since independence, which was in continuance with the centuries old close economic and socio-cultural ties. However, bilateral ties drifted apart a little bit in the decades following 1950s, partly due to Pakistan’s machinations and partly due to India’s perceived closeness to Soviet Union in the Cold War era. Nevertheless, in recent years the relationship has blossomed once again with the historic visit of King Abdullah to India as the Chief Guest at Republic Day celebrations in 2006 and PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to the Kingdom in 2010, which elevated the relationship to that of a strategic partnership.
India has high stakes in the stability, peace and prosperity of the largest nation in the Arab World due to the presence of two of the holiest shrines in Islam – Mecca and Medina – in the Kingdom. These shrines have intense emotional influence on Indian Muslims, about 170000 of which make the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca each year. Moreover, Saudi also has a large Indian semi-permanent workforce. Recent estimates put the size of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia at 2.8 million, making it the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. Any disruptions in jobs for the Indian workers in Saudi will have social, economic and political repercussions back home.
The recent Nitaqat policy implemented by Saudi to give more job opportunities to the domestic workforce, did not have any significant impact on the Indian labour there. At the expiry of second and final grace period, only about 140,000 Indians had to exit Saudi, that too without facing any penal action and with no ban on their return on a regular visa. This favourable treatment of the Indian workers shows that Saudi gives a lot of weight to its relationship with India.
Further, the trade relationship between the countries is strong with bilateral trade touching 43 billion US $ in 2012-13. However, a major part of it is Indian crude oil imports from Saudi, which is also India’s largest supplier of crude oil.
India also shares many security concerns with Saudi Arabia, with cooperation between the nations already strong in intelligence sharing related to terrorist activities in money laundering, arms and human trafficking, drugs, etc.
The recent visit by Saudi’s Crown Prince to India was a reaffirmation of the strategic relationship between the countries. It witnessed the signing of a host of MoUs, the major one being in the field of defence cooperation. It is expected to help defence personnel of both countries to work closely and learn from experiences of each other.
Moreover, the Crown Prince also emphasised on the private sector of Saudi, especially the cash-flush Saudi investment funds, to put money in the Indian petrochemical, pharmaceutical and medical equipment sectors. The Indian president too invited Saudi investment into development of Indian infrastructure including highways, ports, airports, etc. Even at present, companies from both countries have made investments in each other’s territories in varied fields such as oil exploration, software, consultancy, etc.
The future years are certain to see even more strengthening in India-Saudi ties. Just like India has high stakes in the peace and prosperity of the Gulf country, so should Saudi be convinced to invest its wealth in Indian infrastructure and hydrocarbon industry so that it also has long-term stakes in India’s continued economic growth and prosperity. This will ultimately result in ensuring stability and development on both sides.