UAE-India ties at 50: A look back in wonder

The two countries are celebrating the golden jubilee of their diplomatic relations


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Mon 15 Aug 2022, 12:08 AM

Last year was historic for both India and the UAE. India had begun celebrations for its 75th anniversary of independence, which culminates today (August 15); the UAE, too, had set plans in motion to celebrate the golden jubilee of its foundation on December 2 — the young Arabian nation was founded in 1971.

This year, India and the UAE are also celebrating 50 years of their diplomatic relations. Amid the yearlong celebrations, there was a pleasant surprise: Expo 2020 Dubai was held between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, even though it wasn’t planned that way.

The historic milestones for both nations fall within the span of a year, as the bilateral ties go from strength to strength.

Here are some lesser-known facts of the two nations, who are bound by shared history and culture:

>> The centuries-old ties between the peoples of India and the UAE are rooted in trade and commerce. The ties were established between 3300 BCE and 1300 BCE during the glorious Indus Valley Civilisation. This was also the era when the two regions had a flourishing maritime trade

>> In the early 20th Century, Bombay, which is now known as Mumbai, emerged as the biggest hub for pearl trade in the region. The emergence coincided with the rise of the pearl industry in the Trucial States, which were under British rule and became the UAE in 1971, that originally consisted of six sheikhdoms on the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf, comprising Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain, between 1869 and 1968

>> The currency of the two countries remained the same until 1973, when the Dirham replaced the Gulf Rupee in the UAE. Records show that India was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE, in 1972, before opening its mission the following year

>> This shared journey of the peoples of the two countries flourished much before the foundation of the UAE. According to International Migrant Stock 2020 released by the Population Division of the United Nations’ (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Indian expatriate community in the UAE is estimated at 3.5 million — the largest ethnic community in the Arabian Gulf country and around 30 per cent of its population

>> The Indian diaspora, one of the most vibrant and dynamic, is the largest in the world. According to the UN’s latest data, over 18 million Indians are living outside their homeland

>> Although Indians have lived in the UAE from even before the British colonial rule till 1971, their numbers increased after the UAE’s formation. The real impetus came in the 1990s, at a time when Dubai was becoming a global hub for trade. The massive infrastructure boom in the emirate attracted talent from India.

>> Indian expats living in the UAE comprise over 20 per cent of the total Non-resident Indians (NRIs). Dubai is believed to be the second city after Durban, a coastal city in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, which has the highest number of NRIs

>> As of August, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made 64 foreign trips, including four visits to the UAE since he assumed office in May 2014. His four trips to the UAE equal that of Singapore. The only other nations he has visited more times are France, Germany and the United States of America at six and seven, respectively. PM Modi visited the UAE in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2022

>> Similarly, the President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited India twice, including in January 2017, when bilateral relations were formally upgraded to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” (CEPA)

>> Bilateral trade, which was limited to spices, dates, pearls and fisheries until the 1960s, has undergone a sea change. It has grown to $59 billion in 2019-20 from around $180 million in the 1970s

>> India and the UAE signed the bilateral CEPA in February. The agreement has potential to increase trade between India and the UAE from $60 billion to $100 billion in the next five years. The UAE is India’s third largest trading partner after China and the USA. The UAE is also the second largest export destination of India

>> Under THE CEPA, about 90 per cent of export products and 80 per cent of lines of trade from India to the UAE will be duty-free. The zero- duty access for Indian products to the UAE is expected to grow over the next decade to 97 per cent of UAE tariff lines or 99 per cent of Indian exports by value

>> The CEPA enables automatic registration and marketing authorisation of Indian generic medicines within 90 days of approval. Under the free trade agreement, India provides duty concessions on gold imports from the UAE, while Indian jewellery exporters enjoy zero-duty access to the UAE market. The UAE accounts for 16 per cent of the global trade of diamonds, gold and jewellery

>> The India UAE Cultural Council has been formed after the CEPA was inked. The council seeks to encourage cross-cultural exchanges between the two countries. It is promoting the shared cultural heritage to pave the way for shared future collaborations

>> The India Pavilion is one of the few permanent structures at Expo 2020 Dubai, which concluded on March 31 after six months. Built at an estimated cost of $68million, the pavilion showcased an emerging India that is committed to the philosophy of “Together, We Prosper”. The tagline for the pavilion – “Openness, Growth, Opportunity” – is reflective of the UAE leadership’s vision

>> A physical copy of the India-UAE Joint Commemorative Stamp was launched in July to mark the golden jubilee of bilateral ties. Earlier in February, PM Modi and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had released the Joint Commemorative Stamp on the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and marking the golden jubilee of the UAE’s foundation

>> Last October, the USA, India, Israel and the UAE set up a new joint working group to coordinate strategy, drawing comparisons with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — the Indo-Pacific Quad that joins the USA and India with Australia and Japan

>> The Middle East Quad — as and when it comes into force — can be seen as part of the effort to rearrange the regional order in the Middle East and balance of power, in which India is slated to play a key role because of its geographic location, economic might and political interests

>> Space cooperation between India and the UAE gained quick momentum during PM Modi’s visit to the UAE in 2015. Together, the two space agencies have developed the nanosatellite, Nayif-1, which was launched from the Satish Dhavan Space Centre, Sriharikota, in India

>> The big Indian names in the UAE are those who flocked here during the first oil boom in 1974-75. Most of them belonged to communities on India’s west coast like Sindhi, Kutchi, Gujarati, Mangalorean and Malayali, irrespective of their religious identities

>> Yussaf Ali M.A. of Lulu Group International; the Joy Alukka family of the eponymous jewellery chain; the Bhatia Brothers; Ram Buxani of ITL-Cosmos; the Chhabria family of Jumbo Electronics; educational entrepreneur Sunny Varkey of Varkey Group; Hiro and Mohan Jashanmal of Jashanmal National Co. LLC; Dr Thumbay Moideen of Gulf Medical University and late Bharathkumar J. Shah are some of the prominent Indians who have made the UAE their home-away-from-home for decades and generations

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