When His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, takes his place as the chief guest during India’s colourful Republic Day parade on January 26, he will receive salutes not only from marching bands of Indian soldiers in their finest livery but also from a contingent of the UAE Armed Forces. For the UAE has become only the second country — after France — to be accorded the honour of having its troops march on this most symbolic of days in India’s national calendar.
This move in itself is indicative of just how close UAE-India relations have become in the past few years, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country in 2015. Another barometer of the two countries’ increasing alignment on several issues is the fact that this will be Shaikh Mohammad’s second visit to India in less than a year; he was there just last February.
It has been a long journey of steadily growing official ties, ever since the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan laid the foundations with his state visit to India in 1975. Relations between the two countries have now taken the shape of what has been termed a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’. And this bodes well for the wider region, too, as one of the aims is to confront issues that afflict multiple states.
At least 2.6 million Indians call the UAE home, constituting, by far, the single biggest community in the country. For India, the UAE is its third-largest trading partner — behind only China and the United States, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy. For the UAE, India is its largest trading partner.
Trade between the two countries stood at $50 billion (Dh183.65 billion) in 2015, according to UAE ambassador to India Ahmad Al Banna. Indian exports of goods and commodities are expected to surge to $100 billion, and two-way trade exchange to $160 billion by 2030. This would make the UAE the largest-trade partner to India in the world — a far cry from 1971, when two-way trade was just $180 million.
The UAE is also the biggest Arab investor in India, accounting for more than 80 per cent of investments from Arab countries. Many UAE companies, like Emaar Properties, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa) and DP World have undertaken considerable projects and investments in the country, and have been operating there for a while. DP World, for instance, has invested billions and has become the largest container terminal operator in India.
The UAE has also decided to invest a whopping $75 billion in India’s infrastructure over the long term. This will be a massive boon to India, whose infrastructure has failed to keep up with the turbo-charged economic growth the country has experienced over the past 15 years.