When Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed set foot in the Akshardham temple in New Delhi this week it was the latest gesture cementing ties between old friends.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation visited India this week and held wide-ranging discussions with senior officials to further trade, energy and security ties between the two countries.
From official diplomatic business to cultural visits, Sheikh Abdullah will leave India on Saturday having captured the interest of the community who saw his stopover at the temple as an indication of tolerant and peaceful coexistence in the UAE.
“It was a moment in history when a Sheikh of his position came to visit our Akshardham, and to be witness to such an occasion will be a lifelong memory,” said Rohit Patel, a UAE resident present during the temple visit.
The visit is particularly noteworthy following February’s announcement to build the Middle East’s first traditional Hindu stone temple — modelled after Akshardham — in Abu Dhabi by 2020.
Being constructed on a 55,000 square metre plot of land — gifted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces — in Al Rahba, the temple will be open to all religions and cultures.
“It will lead to a tremendous understanding of each other’s cultures and religions and this is aligned with the Year of Zayed and spreading happiness for all residents,” said Mr Patel.
During his official visit to the country, Sheikh Abdullah met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss peace and stability in the region.
Both countries committed to strong partnerships in the petroleum industry to enhance energy security.
Analysts and industry heads have said the ongoing dialogue and expanding investment would create new opportunities for growth for both countries.
“UAE and India share a common outlook for the security of both the Gulf and South Asia. The view that is common between them stems from the fact stability will produce prosperity that will feed in more stability in those regions. Strengthening state capacity and combating extremism is the way for this stability to gain traction in both regions,” said Albadr SS Alshateri, politics professor at Abu Dhabi’s National Defense College.
“Both countries aspire to become a knowledge-based society which will create a vast array of fields where the two can gainfully collaborate,” he said.
Mr Alshateri said the countries have only built on their deep historical ties.
“India’s relations with the Arabian Gulf go way back in history, predating even the British Raj. The realisation between UAE and India of these historical, geographic and cultural ties draw naturally the two close. The visit by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed comes amid a growing relationship that has culminated in the comprehensive strategic partnership between Abu Dhabi and New Delhi.”
In meetings with India’s national security adviser, officials spoke of the latest regional and international developments, improving existing co-operation, ways to promote stability, and joint co-ordination in countering extremism and terrorism.
Sheikh Abdullah met Mr Modi on Monday after a joint workshop organised by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the Indian Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas on the industry.
Sheikh Abdullah spoke about looking forward to future collaborations to deepen the “rich and long-standing relationship between the two countries.”
The same day, Adnoc and Saudi Aramco signed an agreement to jointly invest in a $44 billion refinery in Ratnagiri, in western India.
Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and Adnoc group chief executive, said the investment secured a key market for crude and strengthened access to one of the world’s fastest growing refining and petrochemical markets, according to Wam, the state news agency.
The world’s third-biggest crude consumer after the US and China, India is a big importer of Middle East crude.
Before Sheikh Abdullah’s meeting with Sushma Swaraj, India's Minister of External Affairs, an agreement was signed on diplomatic training between the Emirates Diplomatic Academy and the Foreign Service Institute of India.
Nita Mathur, head of Ambeone JLT, a big data analytics and artificial intelligence training consultancy, said information technology was an area for growth.
“Things related to data science, artificial intelligence that Indians are well known for, these are the fields that will have the most impact in the future. In fact, the more technical the subject that will be the main growth areas for India and the UAE. Indians are known for development in these fields and the UAE is keen to learn more in these areas,” she said.
“It’s not just question of trade and cultural ties, the two countries coming together also makes sure that the whole region benefits. Both the UAE and India are stable and peaceful and partnering with each other adds to the stability in the neighbouring areas.”
This week’s dialogue with India are part of a series of visits that demonstrate the broader commitment of the leadership in both countries to build connections based on trade and deepen long-standing, friendly ties.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes four months after Mr Modi’s second visit to the UAE in three years in February. Agreements in defence, education, transport, financial markets and energy were signed during this visit.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations last year. It was his second visit to India in less than a year.
Kamal Vachani, director of retail chain the Al Maya Group, said expatriates looked forward to collaborations.
“The visit will further boost the UAE-India relations and signifies the close bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said.
“India is the third largest trading partner with the UAE. Trade and economic relations will increase further. The number of visits of senior leaders from both countries shows the importance given to building ties between the two countries.”