Updated 28 January 2017
The highly successful state visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to India indicates a new era in the relationship between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and New Delhi. As prominent Indian journalist Jyoti Malhotra said in her wonderful article on NDTV.com, the sight of Arab troops marching down Rajpath for the first time ever is an intensely transformative moment. The 2.2 million Indians in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have played a major role in the re-transformation of crucial ties between India and the Gulf. But unlike the influential Indian diaspora in the US, who are American citizens and often embarrassed by India’s poverty, the Gulf diaspora maintains very close ties with their country. States such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, especially, have been changed beyond recognition by wealth generated in the Gulf. What is special is that Gulf non-resident Indians (NRIs) send back as much as $5.6 billion in remittances annually, compared to the $1 billion that US NRIs do, according to 2012 figures from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. A former chief of the UAE Naval Forces, Rear Adm. Ahmad Mohammed Al-Sabha Al-Tunaiji, explained the evolving relationship: “The march (of UAE soldiers on Rajpath) reflects the UAE’s love toward India as a way of giving back. It tells how much we love this country, how much we trust them and how much we value them. India’s help before and after the unification of the Emirates was notable as Indians helped build this nation with their labor force, professionals, businessmen and traders.” Al-Tunaiji said his father, like thousands of other Arabs, would sail to India, especially Calicut, to bring back precious spices. British India provided security from the 19th century onward, while the Khoja and Kutchi communities of Gujarat ran trade and banking. The rupee was legal tender, and Indian stamps overlaid with the emirate’s name were currency. Even after independence, Arab elites would send their children to study in elite schools in India, such as Mayo College in Ajmer, while Bombay was the heart of their social circuit. A significant part of the strategic partnership between India and the UAE is a function of both sides looking for diversified relationships.