Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi ended his two-day trip to the UAE by saying there was room for further co-operation against terrorism between the two countries.
Speaking in Dubai on Saturday, Mr Gandhi said he had been struck by the humility of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, during his visit, but had less favourable comments about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He described the relationship between the UAE and India as one of mutual benefit, love and affection.
“This has been a very old and successful relationship and we have scaled many heights,” Mr Gandhi said. “It’s an open canvas and we are ready and committed to improving and to strengthen the relationship that is based on a similar vision and ideas.
“The idea of tolerance that is being celebrated here as the Year of Tolerance in the UAE is a central theme in our country.”
Criticising the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for “intolerance” several times throughout his visit, he described the party’s rule from 2014 as a “temporary blip”.
Mr Gandhi accused Mr Modi of not delivering on promises on issues from job creation to farmers’ welfare and federal interference in state institutions. He said he was confident of causing an upset in the coming general elections.
“You will have a shocking result in 2019 because he has fiddled with India’s voice. He has tried to suppress India’s voice but we will move forward, India will move ahead,” Mr Gandhi said.
In a strong response to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s publicised message of friendship to India, he said: “I’m all for peaceful relationship with Pakistan but I will absolutely not tolerate violence being carried out against innocent Indians by the Pakistani state.
“That is the central issue here, you cannot carry out acts of terror in India and then expect India to talk kindly to you.”
Mr Gandhi arrived in the UAE on Friday and has had a packed itinerary.
Rahul Gandhi in UAE:
He met UAE rulers, spoke with businessmen, addressed blue-collar workers, interacted with students and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Although organisers had said his visit was not political, Mr Gandhi ended his trip with some outspoken political opinions.
“He [Modi] is strangling institutions and attacking the strength of India,” he said yesterday.
“I don’t like telling lies. My name is not Narendra Modi.”
The day before, Mr Gandhi gave a speech to hundreds of workers at a labour camp in Jebel Ali, telling them he was in the UAE to understand the challenges they face.
"I know you leave your home to go abroad to work and you face many difficulties,” Mr Gandhi said to cheers.
“You work the entire day and send money home. I have come here to tell you that we stand with you.”
“We are ready to help. Whatever you need, whatever we can do to help you, we will.”
He then met workers individually to hear about the challenges of working overseas.
Mr Gandhi’s visit was his maiden trip to the UAE after his unopposed election as the president of Congress in 2017 following his mother Sonia’s retirement.
The visit was part of attempts by India’s biggest opposition party to engage with the influential expatriate community in the UAE before general elections in April and May.
There are thought to be 2.8 million Indians living in the UAE but citizens living overseas cannot vote from abroad. They must travel home to cast their ballot.
During his visit, Mr Gandhi met Sheikh Mohammed and later said he was struck by the Vice President’s humility.
“The number one emotion I experienced in His Highness was humility. Great nations are built with that type of humility,” he said.
“A leader is he who has vision and listens and appreciates not only the people of his own country, but the voice of others who live here.”