Indian citizens of the UAE count their successes in generations, those achievements made both when the land was called the Trucial States and today when that shared entrepreneurial spirit is championed by leaders.
DUBAI // The Trucial States were viewed as the land of opportunity by Indians who followed in the footsteps of their forefathers trading spices and textiles for pearls and dates in the late 19th century.
One of the oldest Indians in the UAE, Maghanmal Pancholia, 93, said the generosity of the Rulers helped build a strong attachment that drew his countrymen here.
“In the early days, things were difficult. Then we lived without cars, electricity, roads and clean drinking water. Things became better gradually also with oil when conditions improved,” said Mr Pancholia, chairman of Arabian Trading Agency who still goes to work each morning.
“The Rulers are always interested in the population, in creating opportunities for a better life for all. The UAE has always been a place that supported business, where there are opportunities for locals and non-locals in which we can enjoy a safe, peaceful life.”
His grandfather arrived in Sharjah in 1860, followed by his father in 1895, and Mr Pancholia made Dubai his home in 1942.
After setting up a company to supply electricity to Dubai in 1957, he was later elected director of the Dubai Electricity Company formed by the late Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
Sheikh Rashid also granted him a plot of land to build the Indian High School that fulfilled Mr Pancholia’s dream to give the community access to Indian education.
“The Rulers showed us love even in difficult days so we knew there would be support, security and stability in this land. Now we hope for a closer friendship after prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s historic visit to India. It makes me very proud.”
The three-day state visit of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces begins on Tuesday, with Sheikh Mohammed invited to be the chief guest at India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations on Thursday.
“This visit is a very good sign because it will also mean stronger commercial, business and personal relations,” said Vasu Shroff, 77, chairman of the Regal Group.
“Our trading ties are so old that when I came here Indian rupees and coins were being used. Our community has grown because of the keen interest the Rulers took in the people.”
Indian currency along with gold and silver Islamic coins were in use in 1960 when Mr Shroff arrived and gradually expanded his family’s cotton business to textiles, technology and real estate.
India and the UAE have been among each other’s top trading partners with bilateral trade of around US$50 billion (Dh184bn) in 2015 and 2016.
Cooperation in energy security, renewable energy, defence, electronics, information technology and space were discussed last week in meetings between senior ministers and top officials of the UAE and India ahead of Sheikh Mohammed’s second state visit.
At 2.6 million people, Indians are the UAE’s largest expatriate community. “I moved here for better prospects and because I regarded this as the land of opportunity,” said Taher Shams, managing director of Zulekha hospital.
“Then my children were born here and we have always thought ‘we are home’.”
Compared to 20 years ago when Mr Shams travelled to India once in two years, connectivity between the two nations has encouraged more visits to family and also helped set up businesses.
The hospital, with facilities in Sharjah and Dubai, set up a project last November in Nagpur, a central Indian city and Mr Shams’s hometown.
“Better connectivity has helped our staff travel frequently to Nagpur. The Republic Day visit is very exciting and I see wonderful times ahead.”
Presidential visits from the UAE to India
Sheikh Zayed visited India in January 1975 and in April 1992
Crown Prince visit
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, went in February 2016
Prime Ministerial and Deputy Prime Ministerial visits
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister, visited India in March 2007, March 2010 and May 2011
Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, visited India in November 2011
Presidential visits from India to the UAE
Pratibha Devisingh Patil in November 2010
Dr A P J Abdul Kalam in October 2003
Dr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in November 1976
Prime ministerial visits
Narendra Modi in August 2015
Indira Gandhi in May 1981
Source: Ministry of External Affairs
* Ramola Talwar Badam
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