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What Modi's UAE visit means: An Insider View

August 17, 2015 15:05 IST

'Here is a man who can steer the country out of the woods. That sense of hope towards Modi was already there. And now that he has actually visited this region, it will go to the next level.'

'Modi has had a great connect with these people when he visited their camps. This made these labourers from India very happy and euphoric. They now believe that their lot can improve because the PM of their country went to meet them.'

'When Modi went to the mosque, there were thousands of Indians, both Muslims and non-Muslims -- to cheer him. I have never witnessed this scene from a mosque where people cheered with 'Modi, Modi' chants.'

Zafar Sareshwala, a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shares his impressions about the PM's historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi writing his comments in the visitors' book at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi writes his comments in the visitors' book at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Photographs: Kind courtesy Zafar Sareshwala

The most important message is that after 34 years the prime minister of India has come here, to the United Arab Emirates.

Normally, whenever a prime minister visits a nation, particularly where some trade ties already exist, it takes it to a new level. For example, Saudi Arabia. Now Dr Manomhan Singh also visited Saudi Arabia in 2010 almost after 33 years. After Indira Gandhi no other PM visited Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah came to New Delhi in January 2006.

After these two visits the level of trade phenomenally increased. So, the same thing (will happen again).

There may be some issues, some roadblocks (between India and the UAE) -- which the PM himself has mentioned -- but these can be resolved.

When the PM comes it gives strength that 'here is the captain'. It gives a huge sense of hope to investors in this region that is home to a large amount of capital. Their sovereign fund (the UAE sovereign fund) has more than a trillion dollars; the Islamic banks here have two trillion dollars; a lot of independent funds too have another trillion dollars (which can be invested in India).

So a huge amount of capital is here and that money needs to be invested.

Before 9/11 investors in the entire Gulf Cooperative Council countries have invested left, right and centre across the world. After 9/11 because of so many situations people are wary of investing in those parts of the world (affected by terrorism and terrorist threats). Look at the kind of infrastructure Malaysia has... it is all Middle East money.

Now, this money doesn't have any avenue of investment in that region (affected by terrorism). The nearest (attractive) investment destination is India. They have capital and we have investment opportunities. And our avenues are Islamic-ally-compliant. That is also one issue, a major issue, particularly for Islamic funds and Waqf funds. The infrastructure projects, the power sector and cement sector are industries which typically they would like to invest in and they are Islamic-ally-compliant.

The most important takeaway of the prime minister's visit is that it will open this door of foreign direct investment towards India.

While it is difficult to make any assessment now about how much money can flow into India, the kind of reception he got from the leadership in the UAE was overwhelming.

I have visited this region a couple of times in the last one year and the mood among the Arabs, the people who are in power, their leadership, very high net worth billionaires have very high hope from Modi.

Here is a man who can steer the country out of the woods. That sense of hope towards Modi was already there. And now that he has actually visited this region, it will go to the next level.

We also have an existing trade relationship. Our external trade is about $60 billion. We can scale it up twice the size in the next five to ten years.

The other major reason is the 2.6 million Indians residing in the UAE. Nobody takes care of these Indians. There are Indian Diasporas across the world but these 2.6 million Indians spread across the Gulf are engaged in labour-intensive industry. No administration or no PM of a country even addresses them. Normally, high net worth individuals are given prominence.

But Modi has had a great connect with these people when he visited their camps. This made these labourers from India very happy and euphoric. They now believe that their lot can improve because the PM of their country went to meet them.

However, let me say that these labourers are in very good condition already. It is not like the labour camps or the squalid conditions that we have in our part of the world.

There are certain difficulties but when the PM comes visiting you, there is a reassurance from him to the administration here. That somebody is there behind these Indian labourers.

The labourers in these camps were very elated when they met Modi.

I met a lot of members of the Muslim community and the labourers here two days ago. My meeting them is a kind of bridge... and Muslims cannot live in isolation. And you could see that in the response of the Indian Diaspora there when Modi went to the mosque, there were thousands of Indians, both Muslims and non-Muslims -- to cheer him up.

I have never witnessed this scene that from a mosque people cheering with 'Modi, Modi' chants.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Developmentk, at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The locals were there too in huge numbers inside the mosque to welcome Modi, particularly the administration and the leadership. They were very happy to show him the architecture of the mosque, its history and answer all questions asked by our curious PM.

Modi first went to pay his respect at the grave of Sheikh Zayed in the courtyard. He started with that. And then he spent almost 45 minutes inside the mosque.

The scene inside the mosque was very holy and spiritual. It was a great moment.

In the visitors' book meant for important dignitaries and heads of the State the PM wrote that 'Peace, harmony are the fundamental and core principles of Islam.' It was a very beautiful message.

The Sheikhs received Modi very respectfully. The moment he landed all the five leaders -- all brothers -- went to receive him at the airport and the bonhomie that started on his arrival to the UAE continued till his departure for Dubai.

Our prime minister's body language was also about happiness and bonhomie between the two countries.

We can positively see some FDI coming into India from the UAE and Gulf region. We already have Gulf FDI in India, but this visit will take it to the next level.

Immediately, I feel that the external trade between the two countries will increase tremendously. This is always the result of a PM's visit to a country that is a source of capital.

He went to the labour camp. It was his reaching out initiative to the labourers who now feel confident that they will be looked after better in the region after this visit. Our PM recognised the efforts they are putting to send billions of dollars in remittances into India. They send almost $15 billion to India annually. They are actually getting us precious foreign exchange.

The most important message, I think, went from his visit to the mosque. It has created tremendous goodwill, not only among the Muslims of India but also of the entire Gulf region.

People who don't know him (look upon him as a communal person). But that is not the case, at all. People like me, who knew (that he is not communal at all), always supported him.

I think after this visit to the UAE and Dubai and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque the whole debate about topi and iftar will come to rest now.

Wearing a (skull) cap is nothing (is not of great significance) in Islam but going to the mosque is the most important thing.

This visit has developed a lot of goodwill. Now it is for the people from civil society, industry and business to do the rest. He has shown the way. Now, it is our duty to walk.

We should take the opportunity that has opened up because of these visits to the Gulf. Showcase India as a destination of investment.

I have met a lot of Muslims from India in the Gulf from all walks of life -- the labourers, the educated middle class, the religious leaders from Deoband and Nadwa -- and they have been telling me a lot of positives things about Modi.

No Muslim, in India or abroad, will have any doubts about the PM not wearing a cap. Absolutely, all misconceptions (that Muslims and those who oppose the PM) have been cleared by these visits.

As told to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com

Zafar Sareshwala