Rahul Gandhi was just five years old when, at the invitation of his grandmother Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Zayed made a historic visit to India. This official engagement, which took place in 1975, formalised a vital partnership – already a century in the making – that has grown ever since. Mr Gandhi, now president of India's opposition Congress party, begins an inaugural two-day visit to the UAE today. To a packed Dubai International Cricket Stadium, he will speak about tolerance and the challenges faced by Indians overseas, before meeting with cabinet ministers and visiting the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi – a rite of passage for foreign dignitaries. Today, bilateral ties are strengthened every year between the two nations, from finance and trade to security and the battle against extremism. As a potential future Indian prime minister, Mr Gandhi is, appropriately, signalling the enduring significance of these links.
His prospects grew in December, when the people of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan delivered a rebuke to the ruling – and previously dominant – BJP, in important state polls. Ahead of general elections due to be held by May, Mr Gandhi will be keen to build support among the UAE's influential Indian community. While they cannot vote from here, the 2.8 million-strong contingent – the UAE's largest expatriate group – will no doubt share their thoughts with their families back home. Meanwhile, many affluent Indians living and working in the emirates will return to say their piece at the polls. Viewed by some as inexperienced and dynastic, Mr Gandhi must act the statesman ahead of the vote. With this visit, marking the 150th birthday of the late Mahatma Gandhi, he will hope to do just that.
As migration to the UAE boomed in the 1970s and 80s, the hundreds of thousands of Indians who arrived helped to build the country we see today. With it came great mutual respect and kinship between two nations that share common goals. It was plain to see last year, when Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, attended republic day celebrations in New Delhi as the chief international guest. These ties can now only grow stronger. Mr Gandhi's visit shows that he is clearly cognisant of that fact.