West Asia forms the extended neighbourhood to the sub-continent. The civilisational linkages, trade and people-to-people contacts have strengthened the relations between India and the region beyond politics. However, owing to the contrasting ideologies, experiences, world views and political setup, the relationship with the Middle East has also posed various challenges in front of India. While the West Asian region primarily holds importance for India owing to its energy security concerns; India also has various stakes in the region. There are more than 8 million Indian expatriates in the Gulf alone which contributes to large remittances, however, the growing instability in the region either economically or politically has a great bearing on India. The protests against rising unemployment rates which transformed into popular protests against the regimes in few countries in the Middle East starting in December 2010 called for more indigenous populations to be employed in various sectors of the economy. This saw a huge number of Indian expatriates losing their jobs and returning back. On one hand, this limits the inflow of remittances, on the other; it compels India to provide job opportunities for the returnees. Hence, it serves as a double-edged sword. The political instability in the region calls for Indian preparedness for the evacuation of its citizens if a conflict situation arises.
Over the years, nearly all the governments in New Delhi have been involved in combating these challenges by increasing their engagement with the region and the regimes in terms of trade and investment, humanitarian assistance, investment and business projects, security cooperations, and cultural connects. Especially, the incumbent government has widened its cooperation with nearly all the countries in the Middle East. However, the emerging scenario in the region in terms of re-imposition of Iranian sanctions and the removal of waivers by the US on the oil-importing countries; the domestic situation in Saudi Arabia and its prolonged involvement in the Yemen conflict; Syrian conflict and the US’s decision on withdrawal of troops and finally President Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ on Jerusalem question pose further challenges towards India. Added to these, India is also mindful of the increasing Chinese influence in the Middle East through its projects and investments.
Given these complexities, a nuanced understanding of the emerging challenges in India’s West Asia policy is required and the RTD focussed on the same. While it was pointed out that the engagements will continue to take place with the region under the New Indian government especially because of leader-leader connect; engagement with Arabs and Israelis will take precedence. Additionally, the following subjects were discussed at length by Prof. PR Kumaraswamy (JNU) and Dr. Meena Singh Roy (MP-IDSA):-
- India’s policy towards West Asia during the New Indian government rule.
- India’s relations with Iran post-Sanctions by the US and the removal of waivers.
- India’s reaction to President Trump’s ‘deal of the century’.
- China as a competitor in the region.
- India’s preparedness for the evacuation of its citizens if an unstable situation arises.
- New areas of cooperation in bilateral and regional relations.
- India’s response to new uprisings in the region.