A gold-plated gift, state events, and cooperative agreements have characterized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend. The whirlwind visit featured a packed agenda that reinforced the strategic ties between the two countries.
PM Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is the last stop of a globe-hopping tour that has taken him to Brussels and Washington, D.C. While in the United States, Modi was one of the participants in the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Barack Obama.
In contrast with the relatively low-key stops in Brussels and Washington, Prime Minister Modi’s weekend in Saudi Arabia had all the sense of occasion of an official state visit. PM Modi was met at the airport by Prince Faisal Bin Bandar Al Saud, the Governor of Riyadh. Saturday’s agenda was taken up with state events and social niceties such as a visit to a gallery at Masmak Fortress where the exhibits focus on the life of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
As reported in The Indian Express, PM Modi’s unique gift for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz was a gold-plated replica of a mosque located in Kerala. The Cheraman Juma Masjid was built by Arab traders in India around 629 AD.
The gift – as the mosque itself – is a symbol of the close relationship between India and Saudi Arabia as trading partners, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. It was named after Cheraman Perumal, a legendary Chera King who was alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and who converted to Islam. He fell sick and died on the way back home to India from Medina but not before asking the rulers along the way to help Arab merchants who wished to pass through to ply their trade.
Close to 3 million Indians live in Saudi Arabia, many working in construction and other trades. On Saturday, PM Modi also spoke with representatives of the Indian ex-pat community in Saudi Arabia.
Early on Sunday, PM Modi met with an all-women IT center in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, delighting the crowd by posing for selfies with the IT professionals. Modi’s agenda in Saudi Arabia then turned to more serious matters, including a meeting with an oil company and a series of talks that focused on issues of strategic partnership and cooperation, as reported by the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS). Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of crude oil to India and is its fourth largest trading partner. Trade between the two nations amounts to about $40 billion annually.
PM Modi and King Salman bin Abdulaziz led the talks which covered various issues where India and Saudi Arabia share common interests. Among the issues on the tables were the fight against terrorism, trade, investments, and cooperation in the energy sector.
As reported on NDTV, along with the talks, PM Modi and the Saudi King signed an agreement on anti-terrorist measures. Among the details, PM Modi and the Saudi Arabian King agreed to share intelligence on matters of money laundering and terrorism financing. India and Saudi Arabia also agreed to coordinate counter-terrorism operations, including a focus on the use of the internet to foster radicalization.
Some observers see PM Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in broader strategic terms. An editorial in Scroll.in, a regional independent news source, notes the problematic balance of power between the Middle East, Iran, and Pakistan in conjunction with India, with terrorism a key issue in the region.
Modi returned to New Delhi on Sunday evening. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is the fourth by an Indian Prime Minister and the first since Manmohan Singh in 2010.
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