At a time when Saudi Arabia is facing international opprobrium over the brutal murder of Saudi journalist and pro-democracy activist Jamal Khashoggi, India on Friday decided to set up a mechanism at the leadership level to enhance the oil-rich kingdom’s investments in energy, infrastructure and defence sectors in India.
This was decided in Buenos Aires in Argentina when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is facing the flak over Khashoggi’s murder, on the sidelines of the G20 summit. India has not taken sides in the Khashoggi incident, and has refrained from commenting on the issue so far. As per available data, Saudi Arabia is the 48th biggest investor in India with investments from April 2000 to March 2016 amounting to $64.19 million. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters in Argentina that the Crown Prince spoke of India as an “important partner” for Saudi Arabia and there was “very specific discussion” that took place between the two leaders on how Saudi Arabia can enhance its investment across a number of sectors in the “next two to three years”.
Salman told Modi that Saudi Arabia will be finalising an “initial investment into the National Infrastructure Fund”. He also referred to the future prospects for investment in the technology sector, in the agriculture sector and in the energy sector. “Two leaders have agreed that we will now set up a mechanism at the leadership level which will go into the possibilities of concrete actions in terms of investment, in terms of technology, in terms of manufacturing across various sectors from energy to food security and to infrastructure to defence,” he said.
“This mechanism will be worked out shortly and we will expect that in the next two to three years there will be significant scaling up in the Saudi investments in India,” Gokhale said. The other issue that came up was the issue of energy prices, which is unpredictable due to US sanctions on Iran. Although India has got a waiver from the US, Modi stressed upon the importance of having “stable and predictable” energy prices and some discussion took place between the two leaders how Saudi Arabia can contribute and help in stabilising energy prices, particularly for India.
Saudi Arabia is India 4th largest trade partner and is a major source of energy as the country imports around 19 per cent of its crude oil requirement from the kingdom. During the meeting, the two leaders discussed ways to further boost economic, cultural and energy ties. “It was a cordial and warm meeting.” “Prince Salman was mindful of the contributions that Indians have made in the building of Saudi Arabia over the years and he specifically expressed appreciation for this,” Gokhale said. This was important since over 3 million strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom and is the ‘most preferred community’ due to their expertise, sense of discipline, law abiding and peace loving nature.
In April 2013, Saudi King Abdullah had announced a grace period allowing overstaying expatriates to correct the status, get new jobs or leave the country without facing penal action till the end of the grace period i.e. November 3, 2013. More than 1.4 lakh Indians availed the amnesty and returned back to home without facing penalty. After the meeting, Modi expressed his satisfaction about the meeting. “Had a fruitful interaction with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. We discussed multiple aspects of India-Saudi Arabia relations and ways to further boost economic, cultural and energy ties,” Modi wrote on Twitter.