Caught between two countries with whom it shares good relations, India on Thursday engaged in some deft diplomacy as it asked Saudi Arabia to cooperate with the investigation by Gurgaon police against one of its diplomats accused of rape by two women from Nepal.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) chief of protocol Jaideep Mazumdar called Saudi ambassador Saud Mohammed Al Sati on Thursday, asking the embassy to cooperate with the Gurgaon police. This came a day after the MEA received a report about the case from the Gurgaon police.
MEA’s official spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted, “MEA Chief of Protocol called in Saudi Ambassador today and conveyed request of Haryana Police for cooperation of Embassy in the case of 2 Nepali citizens.”
Nepal ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay has already asked the MEA to provide assistance and expedite the probe.
South Block sources said India was now in a tight situation, handling bilateral relations with two countries — Saudi Arabia and Nepal, both important in their own way.
While it is an incident of serious crime allegedly committed by the diplomat, the Saudi embassy has rejected the allegations and invoked the Vienna Convention on “diplomatic immunity”, putting New Delhi in a tough spot.
While Nepal is a close neighbour — and a country which gets “national treatment” in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken it to the next level by supporting it on all counts. In fact, it is the only country in the neighbourhood Modi visited twice in the first six months of being in office.
While Nepal is hoping for a sympathetic hearing and prompt action, Saudi Arabia is a crucial strategic partner of India, especially in the context of the shifting sands of geo-politics in the region and beyond.
Saudi Arabia is crucial for a number of reasons. It is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of its needs. The total bilateral trade is about $US 50 billion. In fact, the bilateral trade has gone up by three-fold in the last five years.
Officials said Saudi Arabia’s help was extremely crucial when India evacuated over 6,000 Indians from Yemen in April this year. Saudis, who were conducting aerial bombings on Yemen, stopped for a few hours every day, so that Indians could evacuate their own nationals as well as US, Europe and even Pakistan citizens during those tense weeks.
And, the recent bombing of two boats with Indians – where seven were reported missing – has once again brought the clock back, as Indians will need Saudi help to keep their nationals safe in the conflict zone.
In Saudi Arabia, 2.4 million Indians live and work, forming the largest expat community in the country. When the Saudis brought the controversial Nitaqat law in 2013, it was perceived to be aimed at Indian workers. But with diplomacy, India was able to get concessions from Saudi authorities and 1.4 million Indian workers benefited from them and were regularised.
Since Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, many Indians go for Haj every year and about 1.3 lakh Indians avail it every year.
And, with ISIS emerging as an extremist threat in the region and beyond, India will need Saudi Arabia for strategic reasons as well to counter the threat.
In the backdrop of all these reasons, officials told The Indian Express that South Block will have to do some “deft diplomacy” so that India’s commitment towards women’s rights and human rights are not compromised. “It will be a diplomatic challenge to balance relations with both countries,” an official said.