With terror and investments high on his agenda for talks with the UAE leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday began his two-day trip to this strategic Gulf nation with a visit to the historic Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque, the world's third largest.
Modi was earlier warmly received by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi along with his five brothers at the airport, in a departure from protocol. The last dignitary to be received by him was the King of Morocco in May this year.
Clearly indicating his agenda for talks with the leadership on Monday, Modi said in an interview to Khaleej Times that he wanted to see the UAE as India's foremost partner in trade and in countering terrorism, noting that both countries have a range of common security and strategic concerns in the region, including extremism.
"We have a range of common security and strategic concerns in the region, including terrorism and extremism. So India and UAE have everything to be a top priority for each other. This is the way I look at the UAE. The Gulf region is vital for India's economic, energy and security interests," he said.
Modi further said he was keen to foster a strategic partnership, particularly in the security, energy and investment sectors, with the fastest growing Arab economy and its visionary and pragmatic leadership.
Apart from seeking enhanced cooperation in energy and trade, Modi, during the visit, will reach out to investors to promote India as an attractive business destination.
Visit's focus on trade and investments is also reflected in the fact that Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) Hamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is hosting a dinner in honour of the prime minister.
ADIA has USD 800 billion sovereign funds and India is expected to woo it to attract investments in the infrastructure sector.
India-UAE trade, valued at USD 180 million (approximately Rs 117 crore) per annum in the 1970s, is currently around USD 60 billion (around Rs 39,000 crore), making the UAE, India's third largest trading partner for the year 2014-15 after China and the US.
Modi also interacted with Indian workers at their camps I-CAD to know the problems they face and discussed ways Indian government can help them.
The I-CAD Residential Labour Camp houses thousands of migrant labourers from the Indian subcontinent in an area spread over one square kilometre.
About 2.6 million Indians constitute nearly 30 per cent of the population of this country.
Notably, a large portion of the 2.6 million Indians in the UAE are from Bihar and many are Muslims.
Security agencies of both nations had cleared a select group of 300 migrant workers to interact with Modi in a modest 20X40-metre sports hall on the premises. Much to the delight of the workers, Modi posed for group photographs.
Soon after his arrival in the UAE, Modi tweeted, "Hello UAE. I am very optimistic about this visit. I am confident the outcomes of the visit will boost India-UAE ties." He also tweeted the message in Arabic.
Modi said, "I deeply appreciate kind gesture of his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who received me at the airport." The prime minister was also accorded a ceremonial reception at the airport.
Given that late Indira Gandhi was the last prime minister to visit UAE in 1981, Modi's visit is seen as an opportunity to boost India-UAE ties in key areas of trade and security.
Marvelling at the UAE's spectacular achievements, Modi described the Gulf nation as a paradise built up in a desert with unmatched vision and remarkable skill.
"I have always thought, how this paradise could come up in a desert? What vision! What remarkable skill!" Modi said of the country.
Earlier, ahead of Modi's trip, the UAE's Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the prime minister's maiden visit to the UAE provides a strategic opportunity to draw a new blueprint for taking bilateral ties forward, including in areas of counter-terrorism, defence and economy.
"Our shared values and strong bilateral ties provide an important basis on which the UAE and India can elevate their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership," he was quoted as saying by the Khaleej Times.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the UAE provides an opportunity to chart a new course in our partnership for the 21st century. We look forward to a productive exchange of ideas covering a wide range of economic, political and security issues of mutual interest," he said.
Noting that his visit comes at a time when bilateral ties have never been warmer, he said: "The prime minister's visit is of strategic significance in our bilateral relations and follows on the heels of growing diplomatic, economic, energy and defence cooperation between our two countries."
Asserting that terrorism poses a grave danger to humanity, Modi said all those countries who believe in humanity, must stand together without delay as it was extremely necessary to challenge the forces of terrorism.
"As far as the Indian community is concerned, the languages that are spoken in India, are all spoken in the UAE! In a manner of speaking, the UAE is a 'Mini India'. The way the two communities work together represents a special bond," Modi, who will address a gathering of over 50,000 Indian expatriates in Dubai on Monday, said.
He said the Indian community was not only contributing to the progress and development of the host country, but also participating in the economic development of India through their remittances.
"I have no doubt that with the overall economic reform programme in progress, they will find India an attractive, stable and secure destination for their investment and savings," Modi added.