Mahraba NaMo

Narendra Modi's visit to the UAE, the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years, was not originally on the cards and has been suddenly put together on the PM's urging. The parliamentary log jam and frustration about slow progress in domestic affairs must have propelled a tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to be slipped in to showcase Modi in his strongest suit --firing up the substantial Indian diaspora, wooing wealthy Sheikhs in the Gulf to invest in the Indian economy, and protecting India's national security interests.
Modi is setting foot in a theocratic Muslim country for the first time and that too a uniquely placed one with extensive Indian presence in migration, energy and economics. The third largest trading partner of India and the sixth biggest exporter of oil to India, UAE is religiously less conservative and more open compared to other Gulf monarchies.
These factors have been magnets for Indian migrants, who now number a whopping 30% of the UAE's population and contribute 20% of India's total remittances. Modi's address to a massive crowd of non resident Indians (NRIs) at the Dubai Cricket Stadium is a mega event meant to buoy the spirits of our workers who make up more than 40% of the UAE's labour force.
The expat worker model of the UAE's economic development has been carried largely on the shoulders of NRIs, and Modi's dialogue with the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai will include the issue of improving their living conditions and lessening the exploitation of the blue collar category among them.
Many symbolic gains await an Indian PM belonging to the Hindu nationalist BJP which is strong in north India when he espouses the cause of NRIs in UAE -75% of whom are Muslims and Christians from the south Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As Modi positions himself at the Centre of the ideological spectrum, his stepping into the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi will be a special moment to lift spirits of our NRI brethren working in harsh circumstances and to project back in India that he respects each and every religion.
Not all the NRIs in the Gulf are engaged in low paying, backbreaking menial jobs. The UAE has transformed into what scholars term as a `dualistic economy', where there are traditionally low-skilled profiles like domestic helpers and construction labourers but also an advanced white collar sector clustered around finance and informational technology.
28% of high-skilled professionals entering the UAE happen to be Indians with technical and managerial back grounds. Modi will want to encourage this trend so that India's image in the Middle East shifts from a cheap labour exporting nation into a provider of knowledge-based manpower that spurs economic growth in that region and ties it closer to India's service sector.
The official leg of the PM's UAE stay will be focused on tapping into Abu Dhabi's humongous oil-financed sovereign wealth fund that has over $800 billion in assets. UAE's investors have in the past been disappointed with India's “legacy issues“ that hobbled their star companies like Etisalat, TAQA, DP World and EMAAR. Modi will be in his usual reassurance mode to press home that India under him is far more conducive and profitable for foreign direct investment (FDI).
Just as Modi inherited a mess with regard to India's receptiveness towards FDI, he also carries the burden of a history of our less-then-optimal collaboration on counterterrorism with the UAE. Before he took over as PM, a top Indian Mujahideen (IM) Abdul Wahid slipped out of our hands after the UAE released him, reportedly “under tremendous pressure from Pakistan“ and due to laxity of our own officialdom.
As many Indian citizens are still under captivity of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Pakistan remains intent to use the UAE as an offshore base for anti-India terrorism, Modi will present a reinvigorated India that is alert, alacritous and eager to partner with the Emirates to root out jihadist threats.
Geopolitically, Modi would aim to ramp up India's Defence Cooperation Agreement with the UAE such that the western portion of the Indian Ocean is not conceded to the Chinese navy, which is prowling the waters there in the guise of countering maritime piracy. Our deeper demographic and geographic connections to the UAE and also our contrasting closeness to Iran give Modi the platform to situate India as an ideal partner for stabilising the entire Gulf.

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