Free Press Journal

Modi reaches out to West Asia


PTI Photo by Shailendra Bhojak

Pundits and politicians inclined always to look for reasons to criticise the Prime Minister, rushing to berate him even for crimes he did not commit, have reason to revise his view of how he has conducted India’s foreign relations. Thus, last year when Modi paid a State visit to Israel, the entire secularist-leftist crowd came down with a tonne of bricks, accusing him of not visiting the Palestine territories.

This was the first time, they said, when a high Indian dignitary had pointedly omitted Palestine while visiting Israel. Most helpfully, they recalled how a couple of years earlier President Pranab Mukherjee had crossed over to Ramallah, the Palestine capital, from Israel, thus affirming a sort of parity between the Zionist nation and Palestine. Of course, nitpickers were not expected to say sorry but all along a visit to Palestine was in the works even at the time when Modi was in Israel. Having de-hyphenated the Palestine-Israel ties, the Prime Minister visited Palestine last Saturday, combining it with his visit to the United Arab Emirates and Oman. And what might have further come as a surprise to the visceral critics was that he did reiterate, that is, if it was needed,  India’s support for the creation of a sovereign, independent State of Palestine.

It is no less significant that earlier India had voted in the United Nations against the unilateral declaration by President Trump to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem, the holy city claimed by both the Palestine and Israel. The Indian stand might be hard for some to appreciate who see relations with foreign countries in unidimensional terms. Nations are mature enough to recognise that friendly ties with a particular country do not preclude its having warm relations with another country which may be arrayed against it or locked in a bitter dispute with it. Only little school children seek exclusive friendships, insisting on boycott of those with whom they may have had petty fights over petty matter. Mature nations conduct their foreign policy on far more pragmatic and sounder terms, especially in an age when the pursuit of ideology or an ism has become redundant. Thus, it was that Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas not only warmly welcomed Modi, who had flown in from Jordan, while President Mukherjee had from Israel, but expressed full satisfaction that ties with India were set to grow further as a result of the Prime Minister’s visit.

Modi also promised further financial and technological aid to Palestine. In fact, despite the noises that India had abandoned support to the Palestine cause, especially following the PM’s visit to Israel last year and the return visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, Modi made it a point to seek closer ties with the West Asian nations on his recent visit.

His visit to the UAE and Oman, which has a substantial presence of Indians in the workforces, led to several key agreements and protocols being signed. From the strategic point of view, the agreement with Oman which allows India access to the key port of Duqm for military and logistic support is significant. Access to Duqm port in the western Arabian Seat fits well into India’s maritime security scheme for the wider region with the Chabahar port in Iran located not far away. It is notable that Oman and the UAE have had closer ties with India all along.

Given the significant changes in the broader West Asian region with the Iranians openly arrayed against the Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Islamist nations, Indian diplomacy has to tread carefully. But the fact that a number of Islamic nations are not-so-surreptitiously conducting friendly business with Israel, India pursuing its own independent ties with Israel, which has emerged as one of the biggest suppliers of defence equipment to this country in the last two decades, no longer casts a shadow over India’s relations with the Islamic world. West Asia accounts for a large chunk of foreign exchange remittances to India. Besides, it speaks of the goodwill that the country enjoys that in a rare gesture to India the UAE authorities have allowed  the construction of a grand temple which was inaugurated by Modi. The gesture carries its own significance for the future growth of political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries.