Modi should learn from Indian expats

The prime minister will benefit from listening to his compatriots who are living in the UAE

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his Independence Day speech from The Red Fort in New Delhi. Roberto Schmidt / AFP
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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has a lot to accomplish during his historic two-day visit to the UAE. As with all such high-calibre visits, there will be a lot of talking, but he should also take the time to listen, especially to his compatriots who have built their careers and businesses here. Mr Modi came to power on a platform of reforming endemic corruption in India’s economy and political system. That is a still a work in progress, and right now, many entrepreneurial Indian expatriates are reluctant to expand their businesses into India because of that corruption and the prohibitively bureaucratic environment.

Mr Modi’s visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years, will cover a wide range of issues concerning Indian-UAE relations including trade, energy, security and investment. The relationship is a strong one and the UAE continues to be a major investor in many aspects of the Indian economy. Last year, we imported nearly $33 billion (Dh89bn) of Indian merchandise and became India’s sixth-largest supplier of crude oil. India was the UAE’s largest trading partner in 2013.

However, India is a difficult environment for direct foreign investment. Indian expatriates who have had built businesses in the UAE have used their skills and experience to expand internationally, but not always to India. Mr Modi needs to understand what is holding them back.

Remittances from Indians working in the UAE have certainly helped the Indian economy, but these alone will not revolutionise the way that country does business or help it to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. In fact, it could be argued that a reliance on the crutch of remittances is holding India back.

To change this dynamic, Mr Modi should listen carefully to the successful Indians he meets in the UAE today. He should ask them about their formula for success and, more importantly, ask them how that same success can be achieved in India. No doubt, many of the answers will lie in the comparative ease of doing business in the UAE and the support given at all levels to those with the vision to innovate and excel.

The relationship between the UAE and India is already strong. If Mr Modi can deliver on his campaign promises to reform the Indian economy, we both stand to gain – but nobody more than the average Indian living on less than $5 a day.