PM’s sudden UAE trip takes many by surprise

Officials said the decision to go on the trip was conveyed only last Wednesday.

August 12, 2015 02:50 am | Updated November 28, 2021 12:45 pm IST - New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai on August 16 and 17.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai on August 16 and 17.

PM Modi's visit to the UAE, announced on Tuesday, has caught many within the government as well as organisers in Dubai by surprise, and set off speculation for the reason for the suddenly announced trip.  Announcing the visit to the UAE, the Ministry of External Affairs said the PM would visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai on August 16-17 and meet with the Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Dubai Ruler and PM of UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  Meanwhile, preparations are underway for a massive public address to Indians based in UAE, with registrations opening on Tuesday for the event less than a week later.

MEA officials confirmed to The Hindu that the decision to go to UAE came last Wednesday. As a result, South Block has had to scramble to its feet to make arrangements and organise security. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Secretary Anil Wadhwa rushed to UAE on Sunday and met with Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed after holding foreign office consultations on the outcome of the visit. The Prime Minister's key foreign policy aide Jawed Ashraf, who is the joint secretary in the PMO was also part of the delegation that handed over a letter from PM Modi to the Abu Dhabi crown prince. Meanwhile an advance security liaison team including MEA officials and SPG security personnel are still conducting logistical surveys of the PM's entourage expected to finish just a couple of days before the PM leaves for Abu Dhabi. Adding to the difficulties caused by the speed of the announcement is the fact that the UAE has no Ambassador in India at present, and has only just appointed an envoy who is due to reach Delhi sometime in September.

The decision has left many wondering on whether there is a "big ticket"  announcement expected to be made on either investments or on security cooperation. "Trade, Investment, Energy and Indian Community will be the main focus of this visit," the Spokesperson told The Hindu in response to a question on deliverables from the visit. Sources said that several agreements have been pending on bilateral investment promotion as well as anti-terror cooperation that were to have been signed when former PM Manmohan Singh was to have travelled to UAE in March 2013,but the visit was cancelled at the last minute. Other experts have also  suggested that the PM's trip to the Arab world was a "balancing act"  ahead of his planned visit to Israel. However, neither explanation would cover the need for the urgency of the current visit. 

While the MEA has been speaking of a gulf trip for PM Modi, his first foray into the Arab world for some time, sources said it had been expected that he would either visit UAE as part of a trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, or on his return from the G-20 visit to Turkey in November, a trip when he is expected to go to the UK. In an interview some months ago, the PM had said he preferred to visit atleast three countries on each trip to make the most of the travel time. The visit to the UAE, instead ,is a unique stand-alone visit, and the PM will fly there on August 16-17. "The PM's visit to UAE without sufficient advance notice could cause protocol difficulties," said former diplomat, KC Singh, who served as Ambassador to the UAE from 1999-2003 , "Visits to the UAE require coordination between all the different Emirates and their Rulers or Emirates which makes it more complicated ."

Organisers of the PM's Dubai sports city address say their  arrangements for the PM's address to an estimated audience of between 20,000-40,000 are also now being rushed at high speed. "To organise an event of the scale we saw in New York and Sydney in about a week is going to be a challenge, but we are up for it," a member of the organising Indian Community Welfare Community(ICWC) told The Hindu over the telephone from Dubai. A website to facilitate registrations only started to accept entries from those wanting to attend the PM's address on Tuesday. (The rest of the site, including media registration is yet to be set up). The BJP sent national general secretary Ram Madhav,  who was enroute to San Francisco to work on preparations for the PM's address in silicon Valley to stopover in Dubai to help with arrangements. According to Vijay Chauthaiwale, head of the BJP foreign cell, who has also just returned from Dubai, "Already 22000 people have registered to attend PM Modis speech. This will be the largest gathering of the people of any country on foreign land to welcome non-religious leader."

 Experts also point out that unlike the PM's previous diaspora events,  the majority of those attending the address at Dubai sports stadium cricket stadium are Indian citizens, and largely in dubai on blue collar or labour jobs. According to Ambassador Singh,  in the gulf region where 7 million Indians live and work,  and there are often issues over labour rights, "A very hyper nationalistic speech of the kind PM Modi could have made in other countries may not go down well with the rulers." "As a result the government may wish to carefully modulate the message it sends there, " the former Ambassador told The Hindu .

This report has been corrected for a factual error.

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