India’s PM Narendra Modi arrives in UAE on seventh trip to nation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived on Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates on his seventh trip to the nation, preparing to be feted by tens of thousands of his countrymen ahead of elections back home in the coming months.

Modi was met on landing in Abu Dhabi by Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a man he has called his brother while working to bolster ties between the Arabian Peninsula nation that is home to millions of Indians. The two leaders walked past an honour guard before sitting down for their meeting, which saw bilateral agreements signed between the nations.

“Over the last nine years, our cooperation with the UAE in diverse sectors such as trade and investment, defence and security, food and energy security and education has grown manifold,” a statement from Modi’s office read. “Our cultural and people-to-people connect is stronger than ever.”

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The UAE offered no immediate readout on the trip or what the two men discussed.

On Tuesday night, tens of thousands of Indians are expected to crowd into Zayed Sports City Stadium to see Modi. Only Indian nationals were being permitted to attend the event in Abu Dhabi, organisers said.

Modi’s arrival came as Indian police on Tuesday used tear gas and detained some farmers who clashed with them and tried to break barricades, blocking their way to New Delhi to demand guaranteed crop prices. In 2021, farmers camped for months in the Indian capital after Modi withdrew controversial agriculture laws that had triggered the earlier protests.
Farmers shout slogans during a protest demanding minimum crop prices in Amritsar, India. Photo: AFP

The protests could pose a significant challenge for Modi and his governing Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the coming elections in India, the world’s largest democracy. However, Modi is widely expected to win a third term.

Of the over 9 million people living in the UAE, India estimates more than 3.5 million are Indian expatriates, making them the largest national group of people in the country, outnumbering even Emirati citizens. While many are low-paid labourers, there are a growing number of white-collar professionals and multiple generations of Indian families.

Modi’s visit highlights the nations’ long-standing economic and historic ties, from spice selling and gold smuggling in the UAE’s formative years to tens of billions of dollars’ worth of annual bilateral trade today.

The countries signed a free trade deal in 2022 aimed at doubling their bilateral trade to US$100 billion. India remains a key buyer of Emirati oil, while the UAE hopes to boost its local industries. The countries have agreed to allow India to settle some payments in rupees as opposed to dollars, lowering transaction costs.

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The relationship also underscores the Emirates’ realpolitik foreign policy. The UAE has embraced Modi as Muslims in India increasingly come under attack by Hindu nationalist groups. Modi received the Emirates’ top civilian honour in 2019 even as he stripped statehood from the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

Modi’s original visit to the Emirates in 2015 was the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years.

Modi also will address the World Governments Summit in Dubai and inaugurate a new stone-carved Hindu temple near Abu Dhabi on Wednesday while in the UAE. He will then travel to Qatar.

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