KT EXCLUSIVE: Even the sky is not the limit for UAE-India ties, says Indian PM Modi
Dubai - UAE-India ties elevated from buyer-seller relationship to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
In an exclusive interview to Khaleej Times, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says strengthening ties with the UAE remains one of the most important foreign policy priorities of his government. Talking about cooperation in all sectors between the two sides, he says the rapport shared between leaders has helped the countries break new ground. Tolerant UAE and secular India, he emphasises, are natural partners. PM Modi also provides insights into his leadership style and says India is ripe for investments. Edited excerpts from the interview:
1. This is your third visit to the UAE. Your last term was marked by an outreach to the Middle East, and the UAE in particular. How do you plan to build on this relationship during this visit where you will receive the Order of Zayed? What does it mean to receive the UAE's highest civilian honour?
I am happy that our relations with the UAE have been elevated from a mere buyer-seller relationship to that of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the last four years. This reflects convergence of interests and the keen interest taken by both in promoting the unprecedented synergy in the relationship for shared security, peace and prosperity.
Strengthening this relationship is one of the most important foreign policy priorities of my government. I am happy that the leadership of the UAE attaches similar importance to relations with India. With unstinted commitment and cooperation from both sides, we have come a long way in the last five years. But for this relationship, even the sky is not the limit.
I feel very honoured to receive the UAE's highest civil honour, the Order of Zayed. It is testimony to our growing partnership and is also an honour for the entire Indian nation of 1.3 billion people.
2. You share a great rapport with the UAE leadership, especially His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Do you think this personal connection between leaders has helped you achieve so much in so short a time?
The Crown Prince and I regard each other as brothers. We have developed enormous goodwill and mutual respect. I believe that the excellent rapport between the two of us is an important driving force in realising the true potential of our relationship.
As a result, India-UAE bilateral relations have grown in the last four years as never before. The excellent cooperation we receive from the leadership has enabled us to transform the relationship not only in energy and people-to-people contact, but in trade, investments, defence, food, and security cooperation. We share a common vision for our bilateral relations and I highly appreciate the initiatives of His Highness the Crown Prince for regional peace, prosperity and stability.
3. India-UAE trade is worth $60 billion annually and the UAE is a major oil supplier. What steps will you take to make it easier to boost UAE investments in India? What are the sectors that need foreign investments in your opinion?
The UAE is the third largest trade partner for India and fourth largest supplier of crude. Its commitment to invest $75 billion in India is a game changer. There has been a significant increase in flow of investments from the UAE during the last few years in areas ranging from ports, infrastructure and housing. But ours is not a relationship dominated by statistics. It is a strategic partnership based on shared vision and objectives. No wonder the UAE is the first foreign country to participate in the strategic petroleum reserves and greenfield refinery project in India. Similarly, India is also participating in upstream projects in Lower Zakhum and recently has secured 100 per cent exploration rights in Block 1 of Abu Dhabi.
4. On the issue of investments, is it the right time for NRIs and entrepreneurs in the UAE to think of expanding their operations in India? What incentives do you intend to roll out to make it attractive for NRI investors?
This is the best time ever to invest and expand operations in India. The vision for the next five years is to have investment-led growth. We are targeting around $1.5 trillion worth of investment in the coming five years. To achieve this vision, the government is working on policies to promote inflows from domestic as well as foreign sources. We have improved our Ease of Doing Business rankings by 65 positions in the last five years, and are targeting to break into the top 50. A number of reforms and policy decisions have been taken to attract more FDI. We especially welcome investment to promote Make in India. Given the UAE's own priorities, we can also break fresh ground in agriculture, food processing and food security and even digital and cyber realms.
5. There are fears of a US recession by next year, which could have a ripple effect. Do you think a stronger India-UAE economic partnership could help tide over bad times if that happens? What are the steps you intend to undertake in this regard?
The fundamentals of the Indian economy are strong. We have set our sights on becoming a $5 trillion economy in the next five years. The UAE is diversifying its economy, going beyond its traditional sectors of strength. Together, we have the vision and roadmap as well as size, momentum and resources to achieve prosperity. It is a win-win for both, and also for the world. Our economies can complement each other using growing synergies and the presence of millions of Indians in the UAE.
6. The UAE has been promoting a tolerant society and is fighting against all forms of extremism. Does the UAE's vision for a peaceful society and India's secular democracy make them natural partners in progress?
Terrorism and extremism are a threat to humankind. It is the responsibility of everyone to oppose them with all the force at their command. India and the UAE have rapidly expanded their cooperation for security, based not only on their common concerns but also their shared values.
Since the time of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, the country has been a beacon of enlightenment and forward-looking policies. That's why the world has come to it and made this place its home and preferred business partner. To millions of Indians, it is a second home. They feel welcomed in the UAE's ethos rooted in respect for diversity. How many countries in the world have a separate Minister for Tolerance in the Cabinet? I am gratified that the UAE leadership consciously promotes coexistence and harmony. It is a landmark development to allot land for the construction of a temple for the Indian community working and living in the UAE. I truly appreciate this gesture by the UAE's leadership.
7. You are considered the most popular prime minister in modern India's history. Indian expats have great hopes from your government. There is Indian ambition riding on you globally. How do you plan to make India's name count globally and its voice heard during Modi 2.0?
I am blessed to be serving a nation as diverse and dynamic as India. Today, the people of India and across the world are seeing the country as a bright spot and a ray of hope. This is because the world has seen the potential of India's talented youth. The mandate of 2019 election shows the people of India want a stable polity and a government that can fulfil people's aspirations with honesty and diligence. We will continue working for 1.3 billion Indians in that spirit. We will build on the ground covered during the last five years and fulfil people's expectations. At the same time, India will do whatever is expected at the global stage to make our planet more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable. For the last five years, India has been a leading voice when it comes to cracking down on terrorism, black money, corruption and money laundering. We will continue doing so to free the world from these evils.
At the same time, India has been at the forefront of initiatives like the International Solar Alliance, which aims to harness solar energy for a better future. The response to the Alliance from fellow nations has been encouraging. Our efforts to get more people to embrace yoga have been satisfying too. Yoga, which was born in our nation centuries ago, has the power to herald a new era of peace, harmony and oneness. In a world characterised by stress and fast-paced lives, yoga offers calm and balance. Because of our value systems, the talents of our citizens and the achievements of our diaspora, India is widely respected and we, on our part, will always rise to the occasion and contribute towards whatever is expected from us.
8. India and the UAE have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Will terror be a main part of your discussions with Sheikh Mohamed when you meet him? Article 370 has been scrapped in Jammu & Kashmir. Do the Gulf countries understand India's concerns?
India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for over four decades. Both India and the UAE have a common interest in ensuring that the anti-humanity forces that shelter or promote terrorism in any way are compelled to give up their destructive policies. The UAE has shown full understanding of the strong steps we have taken against terrorism. We have exemplary cooperation to ensure mutual security. As far as Article 370 is concerned, our internal steps were taken in a completely democratic, open, transparent and constitutional manner. They were designed to end the isolation that had kept Jammu-Kashmir underdeveloped to serve the vested interests of a few. This isolation also allowed some of the youth to be misguided, get radicalised and take to violence and terrorism. We cannot afford to let these tendencies get any foothold in our harmonious society and distract us from the primary tasks of growth and development of the entire country. I appreciate the understanding the UAE and its leadership have shown for our steps and our reasons for taking them.
9. You just completed 75 days as PM in your second term. What is your domestic agenda for India?
It was a pleasant coincidence that the new government completed 75 days in office on the eve of India's Independence Day. Our vision for the country remains firmly rooted in the guiding principle of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas (Everyone's support, everyone's development and everyone's trust).
We want to work for every Indian and empower lives, particularly of the poor, downtrodden and marginalised. We want to create new opportunities for India's youth, women and farmers. The years from 2014 to 2019 were about fulfilling the basic developmental requirements of our people. This included providing basic facilities such as bank accounts, smoke-free kitchens, social security, healthcare, etc, which were lacking for seven long decades.
Now, the time has come to go a step ahead and deliver on people's aspirations and expectations and build a 'New India' of hope and progress. You would be happy to know that in the last 75 days, several path-breaking changes have taken place.
India now has a Ministry for Jal Shakti, or water power. This was among our government's first decisions that will ensure water for every Indian.
We are fully sensitive to the water crisis the world is facing and the extent to which it can affect the development of our planet. We want to take concrete steps and ensure we do our bit as far as access and cleanliness of water are concerned.
The last session of our parliament was among the most productive in six decades. There were numerous bills passed that would improve the welfare of children, reform the medical sector, add strength to the fight against corruption and improve India's reform trajectory. In a first, India's farmers as well as traders have pension coverage to protect them in case of possible adversities. The medieval practice of Triple Talaq has become history. For years, this caused injustice to several women belonging to the Muslim community, preventing them from fulfilling their dreams. That impediment has gone. I am delighted to say that this decision has been hailed by several Muslim women and people from all walks of life in India.
10. Bear Grylls says you are calm during a crisis. You have faced several problems during your terms in office. How do you keep your composure? What is the secret of your success as a leader?
Wherever I go, the Man Vs Wild programme with Bear Grylls surely comes up for discussion! So many people have been asking me about it, talking about aspects relating to it. It was a wonderful way to raise awareness about the issues facing our planet and highlight India's rich association with nature, including our culture of living in harmony with nature.
As for keeping calm, I am a regular practitioner of yoga, which has played an anchoring role in my life. Particularly, it has given me inner strength to cope with any eventualities. Yoga is a great way to have a healthy body and strong mind.
In leadership positions, we do face situations of crisis but I can tell you this - panic never helps. It has not helped me personally. It will not help the people of my nation who expect solutions and not aggravation of a crisis. And, an effective solution to any crisis can only come when the mind is calm. A positive spirit is also absolutely essential. It can do wonders.