25.02.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

India: Narendra Modi visits UAE and Qatar; farmers revolt again

Narendra Modi

On 13-15 February this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to the Middle East on the formal occasion of attending the regular “World Government Summit”, which is one of the many international forum platforms that have emerged in recent years. Launched in 2015 at the initiative of the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, the World Government Summit is held annually with a different composition of participants in the capital Abu Dhabi. After addressing the forum and holding a number of meetings “on occasion”, Modi travelled to Qatar.

This trip is a remarkable event in the series of New Delhi’s actions in the foreign policy arena in early 2024. It took place against the backdrop of a sharply aggravated situation in the region, which is becoming increasingly important for India. For India, as well as for all the main participants of the current stage of the “Big World Game”, each of which considers the conflict that has erupted here as a source of various challenges to national interests.

As for most of the major players, the region is primarily a major source of hydrocarbon imports for India. Although Russia’s share in the region has increased sharply in the last year. It should be noted that the country’s economy is more than 80 per cent dependent on imports of oil and almost half of gas.

However, of no less importance is the factor of India’s noticeably growing geopolitical claims, in which the issues of controlling the Middle East space take an increasingly prominent place. As well as in Africa and South-East Asia.

In the process of gaining its place here, New Delhi enters into various kinds of contacts with other, no less “interested” geopolitical players. And since India is positioning itself more and more competitively in relation to the second world power, i.e. its immediate neighbour China, the general process of its rapprochement with the US seems natural.

In the Middle East, this has manifested itself, in particular, in the form of the formation of the I2U2 (India, Israel, United Arab Emirates, United States) configuration with the US in the summer of 2022. The implementation of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) project announced by US President Joseph Biden during his visit to New Delhi in September last year should have helped to strengthen the latter.

Everything looked very smooth and harmonious, and suddenly a fierce Palestinian-Israeli conflict broke out in the region, which quickly spread to the Red Sea (critical in the system of world trade) and also retained the potential to involve almost all countries of the region. Washington, which “almost automatically” got involved in this conflict, for some unknown reason having got into this anthill 30 years ago and not having managed to escape from it in time.

For the reasons mentioned above, India cannot afford to do so. It is not surprising that at the end of last year two patrol ships of the Indian Navy appeared in the waters of the Red Sea, the actions of which are supported by a maritime surveillance aircraft. And already in mid-December, it was reported about the action to free a certain civilian ship under the flag of Malta, on board of which a group of “unidentified persons” allegedly appeared.

However, the Indian marines who landed on its deck found no unauthorised persons on board. There are two possibilities here. Either the “unidentified persons” were more cautious than their American “colleagues” and at the sight of danger in the form of an approaching warship they abandoned their bad intentions just in time. Or the very fact of their appearance on the “Maltese ship” is a figment of journalistic imagination. Which, as we know, is especially strong in war (as well as in hunting and fishing).

But what is undeniable is the fact that this is almost the first time that India has taken action to signify its military presence in a region that is extremely important to it. At the same time, Indian naval ships are operating here in an absolutely autonomous mode and are in no way involved in the conflict with the notorious “Houthis”, which was unleashed by the “international coalition” formed by the same United States.

There is also no doubt that the official reason for the Indian Prime Minister’s trip, for which the above-mentioned military action served as a backdrop, is of secondary importance. It should be recalled that only six months earlier N. Modi had already visited the same UAE during an extensive foreign tour. The real main purpose of his next appearance in the Middle East, apparently, was to assess, as they call it, “on the spot” the nature of the development of the situation that has suddenly sharply aggravated here.

Besides, all the recent foreign policy actions of the incumbent Indian government should also be viewed from the perspective of the forthcoming general elections in two months’ time, during which the Bharatiya Janata Party, ruling for two consecutive terms, is going to win a convincing victory for the third time. The NEO has earlier highlighted two notable events in January this year by the incumbent leadership that have added political points to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “piggy bank” ahead of the upcoming elections.

Among them, let us mention here the ceremony of consecrating a temple to Rama, one of the main gods in the pantheon of Hinduism, which is under construction in Ayodhya. And the centre of this ceremony was not so much the ministers of the cult as the Prime Minister himself. And this highly advantageous for the Bharatiya Janata Party religious and cultural theme was continued during the discussed trip of the party leader, who is the same N. Modi.

The issue in question is the inauguration of a grand Hindu temple, which was being built here for several years on the order of the head of the largest emirate Abu Dhabi, timed to coincide with his visit to the UAE. Speaking at a ceremony on the occasion, Modi said that by doing so, the UAE leadership had “written a golden chapter in the history of mankind”.

However, he must have gained no less political points during his subsequent visit to Qatar on 15 February. To be more precise, not so much during that visit, but rather with what had happened there the previous day. It was the release from a Qatari jail on 12 February of eight Indian Navy “veterans” arrested in the summer of 2022 on suspicion of espionage and initially sentenced to death by a local court.

The Indian leadership and N. Modi personally immediately followed up with a statement of intent to positively resolve the sudden problem in bilateral relations, which they eventually managed to do. In this regard, during the meetings held in Doha, Mr Modi expressed gratitude to Emir Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. On his arrival home, the first public action of the Prime Minister was to meet the happy relatives of the released.

However, there were not only positive events awaiting him in terms of the upcoming elections, but also rather unpleasant ones. We are talking about another noisy action of farmers, demanding the establishment of a “fair” minimum level of purchase of produced goods by the state. A tractor convoy of farmers, moving towards the capital, was stopped two hundred kilometres away from it under the pretext of “paralysing traffic on one of the main transport arteries of the country”.

This was done by erecting fortifications across the motorways, the safety of which (as well as the huge crowd of farmers) was monitored by drones. The arsenal of modern “democracy”, including water cannons and tear gas, was used against the “rioters” themselves. The opposition took advantage of all this.

It should be noted that during the entire period of India’s independence, this is not the first protest action on the part of those who work in agriculture. The agricultural sector, which, in itself and according to expert opinion, has long been in need of radical (inevitably painful) reform. The same Modi government had intended to do this a few years ago and had to abandon it after a wave of protests from the same farmers.

At that time (in January 2021), a mass action similar to the current one, which took a rather symbolic character, fell on the country’s main holiday “Republic Day”. When columns of young handsome men (and beauties) in neatly pressed military uniforms proudly marched along the main avenue of the capital, and somewhere nearby in the alleys on rattling tractors drove (unlikely to have taken a bath before) those who provide the first with food. And everything was done to ensure that the paths of these two processions did not cross during the main, let us repeat, holiday of the country. It is a sad symbolism that prompts philosophical speculation on the eternal theme of the injustice of the world order.

We will not go into what we are going to do here, and in conclusion we will only note that the consequences of the next farmer protests are unlikely to override all the undoubted positives in the domestic and foreign policy of the government of N. Modi, which has been in office for ten years.

The image associated with him as one of the most successful prime ministers of the entire period of independent India has only strengthened after his regular tour of the Middle East.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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