Saudi Arabia and India: from spices and silk to security and defence

Indian consul general in Jeddah says warmth and goodwill have helped nurture a deep diplomatic relationship

Mohammed Shahid Alam, the Indian Consul General in Jeddah. Credited to the Indian Consulate in Jeddah
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Mohammed Shahid Alam, the Indian consul general in Jeddah, has a ready smile and exudes enthusiasm for his role.

Mr Alam told The National he was keen to focus on the significant milestones, friendship and strong strategic ties between the countries.

It comes as India marks 75 years of independence.

“We are also celebrating 75 years of India-Saudi Arabia diplomatic ties,” Mr Alam said with a smile.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to establish formal diplomatic relations within a few months of India gaining independence in 1947, Mr Alam said. High-level visits from both sides followed, with the late King Saud visiting India in 1955 and then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visiting the kingdom in 1956. State visits these days are regular.

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited India in 2019, he targeted $100 billion in investment in India. The kingdom also increased India’s Hajj quota by 30,000, lifting the figure to 200,000 per year.

Mr Alam said: “We celebrate the centuries-old friendship between the two countries. Our relations are built on the long history of the movement of people between India and the kingdom for mercantile trade and Hajj pilgrimage. The people of Hijaz were fascinated by India’s spices, pearls, precious stones, silk, sandalwood, oud and perfumes."

He said political will, economic engagement and warmth and goodwill have nurtured a strategic partnership.

In 2019, during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Saudi Arabia recognised India as a key ally for Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 initiative, which has helped transform the kingdom. The countries also signed agreements on energy, security, drugs, defence, civil aviation and strategic petroleum reserves, among others.

“The Saudi Vision 2030 program has been a landmark social and economic transformation program," said Mr Alam. "The flagship initiatives of the Government of India and Vision 2030 complement each other. As the kingdom is looking to diversify its economy, India can be an important partner in other areas like manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and food security, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, higher education and IT."

India is now one of Saudi Arabia's main trading partners, with exports amounting to SAR46.4 billion ($12.4bn). The countries have moved towards a strategic partnership in the hydrocarbons sector with investments from Saudi Aramco.

Mr Alam said there are no limitations on areas India and the kingdom could explore, from energy to cricket and yoga.

“There is a great scope for co-operation between India and Saudi Arabia in areas like training and skill development, the entertainment sector, clean and renewable energy, SMEs, handicrafts and sports," he said.

Since Vision 2030 was announced, Saudi Arabia and India have strengthened cultural ties further with live entertainment events showcasing Indian talents, cinemas showing the latest Indian movies and collaboration on art and cultural platforms to engage the Indian community.

Mr Alam said until a few years ago, the social changes were "unimaginable".

Updated: October 03, 2021, 4:14 AM