Ever since the announcement of (India’s Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, speculation was rife about some major plans and programmes that he would announce in Dubai for the welfare of the Indian workers there.
All eyes were on the mammoth gathering at the Cricket Stadium in Dubai, where he addressed the Indian community.
Although there was no indication that any such grand plans were on their way, Indian community groups and the media produced their own list of measures that would transform the plight of Indian workers.
Most important of them were an understanding on slowing down of localisation of jobs, resettlement of returnees in India, air travel facilities and voting rights. No such dramatic announcements were made, but the Prime Minister declared a new strategic relationship between the two countries, which, it was presumed, would have a salutary effect on the life of Indians in the UAE.
Mr Modi used his electrifying speech to present his own report card on his achievements in the last one year to the 50,000-strong NRI audience.
At the very end of his speech, he dealt with the ‘small problems’ of the Indian workers and announced various portals to deal with their grievances.
But these measures did not seem to satisfy those who had expected the prime minister to find solutions for their problems. That the Prime Minister generally focused on broad policy issues and not on matters of detail left them bewildered.
His silence on voting rights of Indians abroad also disappointed many.
The biggest applause went to the announcement that the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had allotted a piece of land for a Hindu temple. Mr Modi himself suggested a standing ovation for the Crown Prince.
His very warm references to the reception that he received and the announcement of US$ 75 billion of UAE investment must have gladdened their hearts.
The support of the UAE for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council was projected as a major gesture of solidarity. But the main body of the speech, which was a catalogue of his achievements in foreign policy, could not have excited his listeners.
They may have seen it as a campaign speech with eyes on the forthcoming elections in some states.
The support extended to India by the UAE on terrorism was a major theme in the speech and Modi did not miss the opportunity to take a few digs at Pakistan without naming it.
His pointed reference to ‘no good Taliban and bad Taliban’ was particularly significant, as the UAE had once recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
The problem of defining terrorism at the UN hinges on the claim that freedom fighters should be exempted from charges of terrorism and this has a bearing on Pakistan’s position on terrorism in Kashmir.
The fact that the UAE supported India on our proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism is a welcome step in this context.
Mr Modi proved the point about borderless terrorism by citing the terrorist attack in Bangkok he had just heard about. He said that the world had recognised that terrorism was no more a law and order problem and that it was a global phenomenon that should be tackled by international cooperation.
India’s improved rating by the World Bank and others and 48% increase in Foreign Direct Investment were pointed out as singular achievements.
Mr Modi dwelt at length on the improvement of relations with neighbours and hinted at moving forward with SAARC without Pakistan, which was blocking cooperation and integration. He gave the details of the new understanding with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in a bid to isolate Pakistan.
He also mentioned the agreement with the Nagas (a related article appeared in our August 15, 2015 issue). He made a pointed reference to the indispensability of dialogue to resolve problems, whether inside India or among countries.
Many references to the contributions of the Indians in the Gulf to the development of the UAE that enhanced the pride of India raised the hope that Mr Modi would deal with specific problems of the workers in the Gulf, particularly after he visited a labour camp.
He waxed eloquent on the support extended by the Indians in the Gulf, who held out a helpful umbrella at the time of need and cheered the election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The recollection of the contribution made by the Indians in the Gulf to the fund launched by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, following the nuclear tests of 1998 was particularly heart-warming. It was noted at that time that the bulk of the deposits came from Indians in the Gulf and not from the richer Indians in the US and Europe.
But Mr Modi chose to leave the solution of the day-to-day problems to the embassy and the consulate with an assurance that the grievances could be transmitted to the government through the various platforms, which have been established.
He gave the embassy 30 days to rectify the problems of the E-Migrant Portal and also promised more schools. Though the Community Welfare Fund and Consular camps for the Indians outside major towns are not new, the mention of these by the PM was significant.
The message was that the government would be sensitive and responsive to the needs of the Indian workers.
No doubt, Mr Modi reached out to the Indian community in various ways, just as he reached a new understanding with the rulers of the UAE. His visit to a labour camp and the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi symbolised his approach.
He stressed how he had rectified the negligence of the past by travelling to Dubai to acknowledge the contribution of Indians and to raise the relationship with the UAE. The expectation is that the new relationship with the UAE will lead to the betterment of the Indians, now that the UAE has a stake in India’s stability and prosperity.
Modi’s Dubai speech was heavy on his own national and international agenda, but it had the right mix of sentiment for the UAE and the Indian community.
It met the twin objectives of making the UAE a strategic partner and endearing himself to the Indians in the Gulf.
Mr Modi’s oratorical skills were once again on display, but much will depend on the follow up action required to fulfil the promises.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council and Director General, Kerala International Centre. The above article, which he wrote for Rediff.com and published on August 18, 2015 was sent to us by former Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Bal Anand. We thank Rediff.com for the article.
Narendra Modi surrounded by Indian expats in Dubai