With two women from Nepal accusing a Saudi Arabian diplomat based in India of committing rape, India is now in a difficult position of handling bilateral relations with two countries- Saudi Arabia and Nepal, both important in their own ways.
While it is an incident of serious crime allegedly committed by the diplomat, the Saudi embassy having digging in its heels and rejecting the allegations against its diplomat has made it difficult.
And, with the Vienna Convention on “diplomatic immunity” coming into play, South Block will be in a tough spot when it comes to managing the diplomatic ties with both countries. It may well turn out to be a diplomatic challenge for India.
While Nepal is a close neighbour — and a country which gets “national treatment” in India — Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken it to a next level by supporting it on all counts — whether its Constitution-writing or quick and extensive rescue, relief to the country when earthquake struck the Himalayan country in April this year. In fact, it is the only country in the neighbourhood where the Prime Minister visited twice in the first six months of being in office.
While the victims from Nepal will get a sympathetic hearing and prompt action, Saudi Arabia is an extremely 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.
Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of its needs. The total bilateral trade is about USD 50 billion. In fact, the bilateral trade has gone up by three-fold in the last last five years.
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 bombing on Yemen, stopped for a few hours every day so that Indians could evacuate its own nationals as well as many foreigners from US, Europe and even Pakistan, during those tense weeks in April this year.
And, the recent bombing of two boats of Indians- where seven were reported missing- has once again brought the clock back, as Indians will need Saudi help, once again, 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 benefitted 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, South Block will have to do some deft diplomacy so that India’s commitment towards women’s rights and human rights are not trampled upon. It remains to be seen what path can the Narendra Modi government choose.