Ties across the sea: On the India-UAE close relationship  

Tolerance and pluralism are values that India shares with the UAE

Updated - February 19, 2024 10:59 pm IST

Published - February 19, 2024 12:15 am IST

At first glance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week, might have seemed like any other bilateral visit he has undertaken. But this visit, Mr. Modi’s seventh to the UAE since 2014, indicates the government’s desire to bring out the salience and prominence of the Emirates, more than it has with any other country in the Gulf region. The timing may have been related to an invitation to address the ‘World Governments Summit’ in Dubai and to inaugurate Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple, but the 10 bilateral agreements signed need a closer look. The speed with which India and the UAE concluded the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2022 has been matched by last week’s Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). This makes the UAE not only the first country the Modi government has signed these agreements with but also the only country that India has both a trade and an investment agreement with. The UAE is now India’s third largest trading partner, India’s second largest export destination, and fourth largest source of FDI. The inauguration of the Bharat Mart for Indian MSMEs is also expected to strengthen trade ties. A second raft of agreements deal with technological ties including building digital infrastructure; R&D for energy security and trade focusing on green hydrogen and energy storage, and digital cross-payments. Third, the Agreement for an Intergovernmental Framework on the India-Middle East Economic Corridor paves the way for multilateral cooperation between the two countries; there is already coordination over the I2U2 initiative with the U.S. and Israel, and, from 2024, there will be cooperation within the BRICS framework, now that the UAE is a member. Finally, the discussions on the Israel-Gaza operations and the Red Sea attacks, indicate that in a region roiled by conflict, India considers the UAE to be a stable interlocutor.

India-UAE ties are also built on a bedrock of history and cultural engagement that includes centuries-old maritime trade and a diaspora that contributes about 18% of India’s global remittances. While India’s technological prowess and the UAE’s positioning as a trade and industry hub bring complementarities, the changes in their polity and societies bring possible friction points. As the UAE, a theocratic monarchy, seeks to democratise its governance and have a more pluralistic system, such as the decision on the temple in Abu Dhabi, it has expressed concern over the rise of majoritarian and sectarian forces in India. To that end, Mr. Modi’s words in Abu Dhabi, where he rejoiced in the mutual values of tolerance and pluralism, and “shared heritage of humanity” may be the most significant bonds between the two countries separated by the Arabian Sea.

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