Indo-UK relations are at an all time high after the historic visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s visit to India as the Chief Guest at the celebrations of the 68th Republic Day in January of this year. The Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi’s visit to the state of Kerala cements Indo-UK ties even further and is a goodwill exercise seeing as how the largest contingent of expats hails from that region. Several senior Indian ministers including Nitin Gadkari and Alphonse Kannanthanam will attend the India-UAE partnership summit in Dubai on October 30-31. The World Government Summit has announced that India will be the Guest of Honour for its summit scheduled for Feb.11 – 13, 2018. Busy days ahead for Ambassador Navdeep Singh Suri.
Asian Lite’s Anasudhin Azeez meets HE Navdeep Singh Suri to get more details about his role in Improving India, UAE ties and the growing influence of India on various sectors in the UAE.
How was the trip to Kerala?
I had the pleasure of accompanying HH Sheikh Sultan bi Muhammad Al Qassimi, Ruler of Sharjah and the member of Supreme Council of the UAE, to Kerala. He was there officially for three days, and there was very useful communication between the delegation and Chief Minister Mr Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala. HH Dr. Sultan gave an amazingly informed lecture at the capital city on the historical links between the Gulf states, and particularly the Malabar coast in India. He has done his PHD on that subject and particularly his knowledge about history since the Portuguese times is deep and rivetting. In recognition of his tremendous research and knowledge on the subject, he was also given an honorary doctorate by the University of Calicut at Raj Bhawan in Thiruvananthapuram. So all in all a very good visit and a very, very positive outcome, particularly because he announced that he would release 149 Indian prisoners who had been in Sharjah jail for various minor offenses.
How was the public response to this historic royal tour. Did the delegation interact with the people?
Keralites are known for their hospitality. I was really impressed with the spontaneity of the love they showered on the Ruler and his delegation. The visit was primarily Dr. Sheikh Sultan’s. I was just there as India’s representative. So I think the spotlight was very much on His Highness as it should have been.
Did you pick up any Malayalam phrases?
Not really. Most of the conversations were in English, and there was limited time and opportunity to learn Malayalam. Maybe one day.
What do you have to comment on the full agenda in the near future between India and the UAE.
Let’s take it at two phases. The first is the high level visits and high level programmes. We are expecting the chief minister of Andra Pradesh, Mr. Chandra Babu Naidu here in Abu Dhabi later this month. We are also organising a major business event called the India-UAE Partnership Summit towards the end of this month. We have India-UAE strategic dialogue on October 29th for which our minister of state Mr. MJ Akbar is coming. That’s just in October. We have a very strong delegation, almost 83 people coming from India for the Word Skills Summit in Abu Dhabi. In November, we have a range of high level activities during the visit of Mr. Suresh Prabu, the Minister of Commerce and Industry.
I think the importance of World Government Summit lies in the fact that it is the flagship event organised by the government of UAE and particularly His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai. It is perhaps the world’s only event that is focused specifically on governance issues. Now Prime Minister Modi has invested immense energy in championing the use of technology in governance. When we look at the Jandhan Adhar mobile platforms, the effort is to see how you can use cutting edge technology, how you can use mobile apps to cut down on corruption to bring in transparency and to deliver socio-economic benefits to the last mile.
This World Government Summit will give us the opportunity as the guest of honour country to showcase the vast strides that India is making in this area. The WGS will bring over 150 countries and heads of several international organisations under one umbrella.
What’s your comment on UAE government’s support to various programmes launched by Prime Minister Modi in India?
Certainly these are integral part of our dialogue with the government of the UAE. We have UAE companies investing in India. There are several big companies which are actively engaged with India. UAE is India’s third largest trading partner when we look at non-oil trade and India is UAE’s largest trading partner. Our annual non-oil trade last year was to the tune of $52 billion and our exports to UAE was to the tune of $32 billion. So there is a very large economic relationship between our countries.
You played a key role in Invest in India during the early 90s. After 25 years, India is literally booming now. India is one of the best destinations to invest. So what is your take on it after 25 years, the efforts are bearing fruits now.
When we conducted our first ever investment promotion seminar in Singapore back in October 1991, soon after the first doors of economic reforms was announced, I can tell you that we would be greeted with a fair amount of skepticism. The Indian story was not known at that time, we had to knock doors and even break doors down to get access. Today the doors are open for us, because of the rapid economic growth of India, because of the reforms initiated by Prime Minister Modi, because of the credibility that he has built for India in so many countries. Today it is much more easy a task to promote India as an investment destination.
Where do you want to see India by 2025?
You know the Prime Minister has given a really interesting vision for new India and I don’t want to add anything to that, except to say that all of us wish to see an India which is free of poverty, which is free of disease, we see an India that respects cleanliness, we see an India that respects diversity, that shuns castism and communalism and that shines as a beacon for other countries to follow.
India is targeting to 13 million tourists by 2020. So what is the role you are playing to promote India in the UAE?
We have a tourism office in Dubai and we work closely with them. We recognise the market from UAE is quite different from the market in some of the other countries. Here you got a very high end market and so what we are trying to do really to reach out to key constituents with some of the top end packages whether it’s the Maharaja Express or the Palace on Wheels or some of our high end resorts or SPAs and so on. That’s the kind of market is liked here in the UAE. It is certainly part of our effort to see how we can get more people from the emirates to visit some of the really exciting locations in India.
UAE, especially Dubai, is gearing up for EXPO 2020. What will be India’s participation in EXPO 2020?
We already announced that we will participate and we are currently engaged in substantial discussions with the EXPO 2020 team to identify a suitable plot, where we will have the India pavilion. The Department of Commerce from the Indian side has been designated as the nodal authority to coordinate Indian participation and the Federation of Indian Exports Organistion has been assigned the task of bringing together Indian companies that will showcase some of our strengths in EXPO 2020.
UAE is going to celebrate 2018 as the Zayed legacy year. How are we going to join the celebrations?
We work very closely with the Indian community here in the UAE to put together ideas for the year of giving and remembering the legacy of His Highness Sheikh Zayed. We have some really interesting archival material which speaks about his visits to India and his own passion for India. How he saw the relationship between a newly independent UAE and India with whom they had traditionally enjoyed a very many close ties. So we will be trying to build upon that legacy as we go forward.
Over 2.3 million Indians are living in the UAE and what is your comment on the thriving Indian community in the UAE?
Well I wouldn’t look at the Indian community in the UAE as a monolith of 2.3 or probably 2.7 million, I would look at them in three or four different categories. At one end nearly 70 % of the Indian community is broadly what you call blue collar and it is very important for us to make sure that we look after them. Frankly, a lot of our time goes to making sure that their requirements are understood, when they are in distress, we are able to assist them. We should have systems in place when they need legal assistance or medical assistance. If somebody falls ill, we even have systems in place to repatriate them back to India. If they lose a job, we give them a subsistence allowance. We have an Indian Community Welfare Fund to help Indians in distress, particularly at the lower end of the income spectrum.
Then we have a vast number of Indian professionals and today you see in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and elsewhere that, whether it the financial sector, whether it is the real estate sector, whether it is the other services industries, you see Indians at the top most positions and that is an extremely important resource. They are like a brain bank for India overseas and we work very closely with them. Some of them have excellent ideas, they have expertise for illuminating India’s development path. The third category is what you would call at the top end, the very entrepreneurial business community and there are conversations with them, really to see how we can work closely with them to increase investments into India.
I am very pleased to say some of the business leaders from Abu Dhabi and Dubai have in fact invested significantly over the last few years whether you look at healthcare, you look at hospitality, you look at retail, you look at even some cases of manufacturing. So we work with the Indian business community to encourage their investments into India.