The arrival of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in India from September 9th to
11th, 2023 was a significant event, highlighting his important role in shaping
the partnership between India and Saudi Arabia. During his visit to New Delhi,
the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor not only
showcased a major infrastructure project but also presented a formidable
challenge to China's Belt and Road Initiative.
The extensive state visit and the
inaugural meeting of the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council
further strengthened the importance of this relationship, reinforcing
cooperation in economic, energy, and defence sectors through vital agreements.
The deep roots of diplomatic relations, which can be traced back to 1947, were
emphasized by important events like the Delhi Declaration in 2006 and the
elevation to a strategic partnership through the Riyadh Declaration in 2010.
Prime Minister Modi's visit in 2016, characterized by the bestowal of Saudi
Arabia's most prestigious civilian award, further enriched the long-lasting
social, cultural, and economic ties between these two countries.
Saudi Arabia holds the position of being India's fourth largest trading partner,
falling behind the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates. With a
mutual ambition to evolve their conventional buyer-seller dynamic into a more
profound strategic alliance, both India and Saudi Arabia aspire to achieve this
transformation. Given that India relies on imports for approximately 80 percent
of its energy requirements, it is worth noting that nearly a fifth of this
energy comes specifically from Saudi Arabia. Noteworthy is also the fact that
Saudi Arabia maintains its status as India's primary supplier of crude oil.
During the fiscal year 2022�23, there was a noteworthy economic collaboration
between India and Saudi Arabia. Their bilateral trade value amounted to a
staggering $52.76 billion, accounting for around 4.53% of India's overall trade
during that period. This remarkable figure served as a testament to the
significance of Saudi Arabia as a key trade partner, emphasizing the extensive
nature of their economic involvement.
Moreover, Indian companies have actively
invested in Saudi Arabia, establishing a total of 2,783 joint ventures or
wholly-owned entities with an estimated value of approximately $2 billion. This
robust presence includes prominent corporations such as L&T, Tata, Wipro, TCS,
TCIL, and Shapoorji Pallonji, thus contributing significantly to the intricate
economic fabric of the Saudi market.
In return, Saudi Arabia has made significant contributions in different areas in
India. Prominent Saudi investors like Aramco, SABIC, Zamil, e-holidays, and the
Al Batterjee Group have collectively poured a substantial amount of $3.15
billion into various ventures as of March 2022.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund
(PIF) has played a crucial role in solidifying economic bonds by strategically
investing in Indian startups and major businesses. It is worth mentioning that
the PIF holds a noteworthy stake in Reliance Industries' Jio Platforms and
Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd., further cementing their involvement in India's
Moreover, the recently suggested West Coast Refinery and
Petrochemicals Project in Maharashtra, which entails a partnership between Saudi
Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and an Indian consortium, serves as a
prime example of the significant financial commitments made by both countries.
The energy industry continues to be an essential connection, given that Saudi
Arabia ranks as India's third-most important supplier of crude oil and petroleum
goods. This further emphasizes the crucial nature of their collaborative efforts
in the energy sector.
In December 2020, an important step forward in strengthening the defence ties
between India and Saudi Arabia took place. This momentous occasion was marked by
the visit of General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who at that time served as the Chief
of the Indian Army, to Saudi Arabia. The purpose of this visit was to showcase
the dedication of both nations to enhancing their cooperation in defence
matters, reflecting a shared concern for regional security.
The naval sector witnessed a significant milestone during this visit with the
introduction of the bilateral naval exercise named Al Mohed al Hindi. This
exercise was conducted successfully in two editions, serving to solidify the
partnership between these countries in maritime affairs.
Furthermore, a joint
statement was issued during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit, which
emphasized a deepening of defence cooperation. This statement expressed a mutual
interest in exploring opportunities for collaborative development and production
of defence equipment, highlighting a commitment to each other's strategic
Indians in Saudi Arabia:
The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia is made up of over 2.4 million people and
serves as an important connection between the two countries. Not only are they a
significant part of Saudi society, but they also actively contribute to the
nation's growth and development. They work in different fields like
construction, healthcare, education, and services, bringing their skills and
hard work to help the kingdom progress.
The close relationship between India and
Saudi Arabia is brought to attention through official statements and diplomatic
exchanges, recognizing Saudi Arabia's dedication to the well-being of the Indian
community abroad. This dedication was demonstrated in crucial times, like when
they offered assistance in evacuating stranded Indian citizens from Sudan via
Jeddah as part of Operation Kaveri. This act showcased the harmonious
cooperation and compassionate approach shared by both nations.
Facilitating Religious Pilgrimage:
Saudi Arabia holds a significant position in helping Indian citizens embark on
religious pilgrimages, specifically for Hajj and Umrah. The kingdom's assistance
emphasizes its dedication to guaranteeing a seamless and deeply meaningful
voyage for Indian Muslims. This aspect of the two nations' relationship
highlights the cultural and religious connections that unite India and Saudi
Arabia, promoting shared comprehension and collaboration in matters concerning
faith and pilgrimage.
Challenges in Relations:
Dependency on Energy:
India's energy security is closely connected to Saudi Arabia, relying heavily on
the latter for its oil supply. If there are any disruptions or changes in Saudi
Arabia's oil policies, it could seriously jeopardize India's energy stability,
emphasizing the crucial nature of this dependence. India's substantial reliance
on oil imports from Saudi Arabia can make it economically vulnerable to the
fluctuations in oil prices.
India's diplomatic relations with countries like Iran, Yemen, and Pakistan in
the Middle East add a level of intricacy to its interactions with Saudi Arabia.
These relationships have the potential to influence India's position in the
constantly changing geopolitical landscape of the region.
The politics of the
Middle East are intricate and multi-faceted. One aspect of this complexity is
the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while another dimension involves
the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. India maintains strong diplomatic
connections with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nevertheless, India is still in the
process of strategizing how to effectively manage its relationships with Iran,
on one side, while simultaneously maintaining its ties with Saudi Arabia and the
United States on the other.
Over time, even though there has been a considerable amount of trade and a
substantial Indian expatriate population residing in the Gulf region, the level
of investments between India and the Gulf monarchies has remained quite low.
However, both countries are putting in efforts to tackle this economic hurdle,
as they acknowledge the unexplored possibilities for investments that can prove
advantageous for both parties involved.
Diversification of Trade:
Both countries, beyond energy, such as in technology, defence and
infrastructure, need to work on diversifying their trade.
Immigration & Labor:
The welfare and working conditions of Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia could
potentially have an impact on relations between the two nations.
When it comes to security partnerships, India is careful in its dealings with
Gulf states that have longstanding connections with Pakistan's security
establishments. This thoughtful approach demonstrates India's understanding of
the potential difficulties and sensitivities involved in the security realm
within the Gulf region.
Cooperation in Countering Terrorism:
Challenges can arise when aligning strategies and priorities to combat terrorism
and extremist ideologies.
The increasing presence and influence of China in the Gulf region directly
challenge India. The Belt and Road Initiative, which emphasizes the construction
of ports and infrastructure projects in the Gulf, emerges as a factor that could
affect India's strategic interests in the region. The ongoing strategic
competition highlights the importance for India to carefully navigate its
diplomatic and economic approach in the Gulf.
The conflicts between different communities in India can have a variety of
effects on its relations with Saudi Arabia. Being an important player in the
Muslim world, Saudi Arabia pays close attention to any developments related to
religious unity. If communal tensions in India worsen, it could lead to
diplomatic issues and impact the economic connections between the two countries,
especially in the energy industry. The political aspects of such conflicts may
also come into play and potentially influence India's position in the Middle
Additionally, as a guardian of Islam's most sacred places, Saudi Arabia
may express concerns regarding humanitarian matters. India holds a notable
number of its citizens living in Saudi Arabia, which we refer to as the
expatriate population. In the event of communal tensions arising within India,
there is a possibility that these tensions might reverberate within the
expatriate community. Such occurrences have the potential to impact social unity
and how different communities engage with one another.
Consequently, this could
create a ripple effect on interpersonal relationships and cultural exchanges.
Therefore, it becomes crucial to effectively manage and address these communal
tensions within India not only for maintaining internal stability but also for
upholding the strength of its global connections, including those with Saudi
On the 23 January 2024, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which
includes Saudi Arabia as a member, reportedly shared its grave concerns about
the recent building and opening of the "Ram Temple" at the location where the
Babri Mosque once stood in Ayodhya. The OIC's General Secretariat expressed
their strong position on this matter, expressing great distress over the
measures taken to establish the "Ram Temple" and condemning the destruction of
the "significant Islamic symbol embodied by the historic Babri Mosque".
Cultural & Religious Differences:
Mutual understanding and cooperation can sometimes be impacted due to the
diverse cultural and religious norms.
The Nitaqat Programme was implemented by the Saudi Arabian government to promote
job opportunities for Saudi citizens and reduce unemployment rates among them.
The presence of a large number of Indian individuals working in Saudi Arabia has
sparked a misunderstanding between the two countries over the Nitaqat program.
This program, which was introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2011, has become a major
source of disagreement in the bilateral relationship with India, mainly because
of the substantial number of Indian workers employed in the Kingdom.
objective of this program is to enhance the employment prospects for Saudi
citizens in the private sector by implementing quotas and providing incentives
for businesses to hire local residents. On the other hand, the substantial
community of Indian expatriates, who play a vital role in the Saudi workforce,
has expressed worries regarding the possible consequences for the job
opportunities and rights of Indian workers.
The introduction of Nitaqat has
sparked conversations between the two nations to tackle these concerns and
discover a fair solution that aligns with the goals of the Saudi government
while also protecting the welfare and interests of the Indian workforce.
To navigate this particular aspect of the relationship between India and Saudi
Arabia, it is essential to possess diplomatic finesse in order to strike a
delicate balance between the policy objectives of the host nation and the rights
and livelihoods of Indian expatriates.
Open dialogue must be initiated by both
countries in order to gain a deeper understanding of each other's perspectives,
explore potential areas for collaboration, and establish mechanisms that ensure
fair treatment and protection for Indian workers in light of the Nitaqat
It is imperative to find common ground when addressing the
socio-economic implications of such policies, as this will contribute to
fostering a harmonious relationship that takes into account the interests of
both nations and their respective populations.
To overcome these challenges, it is essential for both the countries to have
honest and open conversations, show respect towards each other, and be willing
to find common solutions that can benefit both nations along with keeping
communal strife under check and control. The partnership between India and Saudi
Arabia has the potential to grow even stronger, driven by economic, energy,
defence, and cultural connections. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leads on
the international platform, India is actively working towards strengthening this
practical alliance in order to achieve mutual advantages and maintain stability
in the region.
The potential for a bright future in the relations between Saudi Arabia and
India is evident, as their diplomatic, economic, and strategic connections
continue to grow stronger. Both countries have come to realize the advantages
that come with collaboration, particularly in areas such as energy, trade, and
defence. The Vision 2030 economic reform plan of Saudi Arabia is closely aligned
with India's development goals, creating opportunities for investment and
Moreover, a shared concern for regional stability,
counter-terrorism efforts, and cultural exchanges adds depth to this
multifaceted relationship. The ongoing cooperation between these two nations is
expected to have a positive impact on the geopolitical landscape, fostering
stability and prosperity in both the Middle East and South Asia.
Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565