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Explained Ideas: Why India should elevate ties with Arab world instead of romanticising relationship with Iran

For India, the costs of neglecting the new possibilities for wide-ranging Arabian business are far higher than a lost railway contract in Iran, writes C Raja Mohan.

India, India Iran ties, India ties with Arab world, India diplomacy, C Raja Mohan Indian Express, Indian Express opinions Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-with President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in February 2019. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

In his latest column, C Raja Mohan, director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and contributing editor on international affairs for The Indian Express, writes that the persistent enthusiasm for Iran in Delhi stands in stark contrast to the perennial under-appreciation of India’s much deeper and wider relationship with Iran’s Arab neighbours.

Mohan explains the arguments in favour of “an extra-special relationship with Iran”. These include historical connections, civilisational bonds, energy supplies and regional security.

But he points out that all these factors are of far greater import in India’s engagement with the Arabian peninsula.

“Millions of Indian immigrants in the Arab nations, massive hard currency remittances from them, and the density of commercial engagement with the Arab Gulf outweigh the relationship with Iran. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have, in recent years, extended invaluable support in countering terrorism and blocked attempts to condemn India in the Muslim world”.

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The sources of this curious inversion in India’s intellectual imagination are many — the latest anxiety pertains to the loss of a railway contract in Iran due to US sanctions. But for “the romantics”, a longstanding motivation for Delhi’s friendship with Tehran is to defy the US. Then there are those who are worried about Beijing’s economic partnership with Iran.

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So what should India do?

Mohan argues that for both internal (repeated rebellions against the clerical regime) and external (the US sanctions etc) reasons, Iran will remain a difficult place to do business.


“Delhi must advance ties with it within the confines of that unfortunate but real constraint,” he says.

Meanwhile, the Arab world has had its doors open for political, economic, and technological cooperation with India.

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“This provides a solid basis for elevating India’s economic partnership with the Arab world to the next level. For India, the costs of neglecting the new possibilities for wide-ranging Arabian business are far higher than a lost railway contract in Iran,” he concludes.

First published on: 21-07-2020 at 08:36:24 am
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