India-Saudi strategic partnership continues to flourish
On the joyous occasion of the 74th Independence Day of India, I would like to extend my warmest greetings and felicitations to all Indian citizens and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
On this day, we pay homage to those who fought for India’s freedom with great courage and determination. We also remember with deep gratitude the brave guardians of our frontiers who have over the years sacrificed their lives for the safety and security of our motherland. We rededicate ourselves to building a modern, vibrant India, and to serving our people and the larger cause of humanity.
As a nation, we are proud of our exceptional pluralism, represented by an extraordinary mix of complex ethnic and linguistic groups, and diversity of religions and customs and traditions. As an independent nation, India chose to adopt multiparty democracy as its model for governance and nation-building, providing citizens with space to express their thoughts and pursue their dreams in the ways they like.
Over the centuries, the Indian civilization not only provided direction to all the convergent philosophies of the world but also helped in the evolution of new concepts and ideas. Indian culture and civilization continued to inspire the world throughout history.
Renowned American philosopher and historian Will Durant called India as “the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit as the mother of Europe’s languages.” German Indologist Max Muller described India as “the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow,” while British historian E.P. Thompson considered it “perhaps the most important country for the future of the world.”
Since 1947, India has stood as a beacon for the world, an economic power that prides itself on innovation, a resilient democracy in the face of terror, and a strategic power that upholds international norms and believes in the peaceful coexistence and equality of all nations.
India has a deep commitment to maintaining global peace and prosperity, ensuring sustainable development, and improving socioeconomic equity. It has been elected to the UN Security Council at an important time when the organization is celebrating its 75th anniversary. India is looking forward to playing a responsible role as a nonpermanent member of the council when its tenure begins in January 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe health crisis experienced by humanity since the Spanish Flu of 1918. It has already affected more than 20 million people globally, causing nearly 750,000 deaths. The socioeconomic effects of the pandemic have been extremely severe and are likely to remain so for a long time. The cumulative loss to global GDP is projected at about $12 trillion, and most countries face sharp contractions of their economies.
Over the past six months, the world has been united in fighting the coronavirus crisis. India has been actively engaging with other nations to explore ways of overcoming the social, economic and medical challenges posed by the pandemic and to share its best practices.
During the crisis, India has lived up to its role as a “pharmacy of the world” by making available more than 500 million hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and 620 million paracetamol tablets to more than 60 countries around the world. In addition, it extended humanitarian relief — including life-saving drugs, antibiotics, medical consumables and hospital equipment — to several countries. India is now in the advanced stages of developing a vaccine for COVID-19 and human trials have begun.
The government of India launched the Vande Bharat Mission in early May to repatriate stranded and distressed citizens from virtually every corner of the globe, bringing home a total of 1 million Indians in five phases. The Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia was able to smoothly arrange transport for more than 80,000 stranded Indian nationals. This was, perhaps, the biggest repatriation exercise undertaken by the embassy in its history.
This complex process involved close and intense coordination between various agencies in India and the Kingdom. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Saudi authorities, especially the General Authority of Civil Aviation, without whose help it would not have been possible to undertake such a massive air operation.
I also sincerely thank all the community leaders and volunteers from a variety of organizations throughout the Kingdom who have worked tirelessly in supporting the embassy’s efforts in the delivery of food supplies and medicines to the needy, and in coordinating other welfare activities.
Domestically, we have seen very significant policy initiatives undertaken by the government of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the futuristic Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, or Self-Reliant India Mission, that aims not only to make India self-reliant but also to provide viable alternatives to ensure the continuity of global supply chains, using India’s advancements in technology, innovation, progress in domestic manufacturing capacity and the enhancement of skills of its young, productive population.
A huge stimulus package worth nearly $270 billion, equivalent to 10 percent of India’s GDP, was provided to reinvigorate the economy and protect vulnerable sections of society, including small farmers, migrant workers and laborers. In addition, the world’s largest food-security program was launched, covering 800 million Indians.
Even during the pandemic, India attracted foreign investment worth more than $20 billion between April and July. This included $1.5 billion invested by the Saudi Public Investment Fund in June 2020 in Reliance’s digital services company Jio Platforms.
India offers exceptional investment opportunities in sectors such as agriculture, health, information and communications technology, education, renewable energy, infrastructure and defense, to name but a few.
India’s healthcare sector is growing at a rate of more than 22 percent, with an emphasis on drug formulations, medical technology, application programming interface, telemedicine and diagnostics.
Likewise, India’s food processing sector is very promising and is expected to be worth more than half-a-trillion dollars by 2025.
The recently announced National Education Policy in India is expected to bring about much-needed reforms that will help to prepare our young people to face the challenges of the 21st century. For the first time, foreign universities will be able to open campuses in India, providing new vistas of international collaborations in this vital field.
The Kingdom’s emphasis on food security, coupled with its recent announcement that the health, water and education sectors will be opened up for privatization provides an excellent opportunity for bilateral cooperation, creating a win-win situation for both countries. India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan can complement the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as both initiatives emphasize local manufacturing and the enhancement of domestic capacities.
The multifaceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership between India and Saudi Arabia continues to flourish. Bilateral trade was worth $33 billion during the 2019-20 financial year, with India’s exports to the Kingdom registering an increase of 13 percent to $6.2 billion from $5.5 billion the previous year. India emerged as the second-largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia in 2019, a testimony to the nation’s favored status as an economic partner of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia also continues to play a pivotal role as a reliable and long-term energy partner of India, supplying 18 percent of its crude oil and 30 percent of its liquefied petroleum gas needs.
Mutual investments have been increasing consistently. There are 476 Indian companies operating in the Kingdom, which have made investments to the tune of $1.1 billion. Last year, Indian companies accounted for the largest number of foreign direct investment licenses issued by the Saudi Ministry of Investment.
Important interactions between the leadership of the two countries have been taking place virtually, such as the G20 virtual summit that was held in March. As part of the roll-out of the Strategic Partnership Council, the two sides held meetings under the joint working groups for IT and technology, agriculture and food security, and energy and industry. We are looking forward to the main G20 Summit in November, and another round of high-level bilateral engagement on its margins.
I would also like to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by the Indian community to the economic development of Saudi Arabia and, more so, their patience and understanding during this difficult pandemic period. Their law-abiding nature has always been appreciated by the Saudi leadership.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ensuring the welfare of all residents in the Kingdom, including 2.6 million Indians, during these testing times, and for their strong support in elevating the bilateral relations between our two countries to the highest levels.
Long live the India-Saudi relationship.
— Dr. Ausaf Sayeed is India's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @drausaf