Mahatma Gandhi, India’s anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist once remarked, “Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundations of love between individuals.” In the present era when modern diplomacy seems to blur the component of ‘love’ and pays special homage to ‘power’ as a tool to determine a country’s potential; the friendship of India and Kuwait traditionally standsas an exception. The paper showcases that the primordial foundations of mutual trust and beneficial cooperation continue to weave the two Asian nations together; set aside prodigious enmity in the global arena.
India, once a part of the British colonies has been one of the earliest countries to recognize Kuwaiti independence. Prior to the discovery of oil, Indo-Kuwait trade revolved around dates and pedigreed horses, taken over by pearls and teak-wooda bit later.Kuwait’s exports and choice of Indian Rupee as its legal tender until 1961re-iterates that India has been the natural trading partner of Kuwait ever since.
The diplomatic relations on the other hand, began in June 1962 with the appointment of Yacoub Abdulaziz al-Rasheed, the first Kuwaiti Ambassador to India. Kuwait has been one of the first countries to extend support to India during 1962 Indo-China war, got furious with India’s pro-Iraq stance and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992-conflicts, that they managed to normalise in the following years. From ideological enemies to close allies, the two withstood the test of time to a great extent. Perhaps, Kuwait’s democratic political structure, non-aligned foreign policy and the grant of freedom of speech at the present dayis a replica of Indian model that reflects much about the commonality between the political and social approaches of both the countries and their way forward.
The book West Asia and the Region: Defining India’s Role says, “There is hardly any region in the world with which India has better, warmer and more cordial relations than the Arab World.”
The statement holds utmost significance given the geographical proximity that has always influenced the trade dimension between India and Kuwait. India has consistently been one of the top ten trading partners of Kuwait, with a bilateral trade of approximately $5 billion, reported a senior official from Kuwait investment Authority. Kuwait is the source of 10-11% of India’s annual crude oil requirements. With a 2.7% year over year growth, bilateral trade between India and Kuwait in 2018-19 stood at US $8.76 billion, having Indian exports worth US $1.33 billion and imports totaling US $7.43 billion.
The rise and expansion of trade has enabled international migration over the years. Migration further facilitated the relocation of Indians to Kuwait as the largest expatriate community, Kuwaiti Interior Ministry points out. The large rates of migration continue to render dual benefits. Kuwait has started opening up to economic development that demands manpower from abroad. India, with surplus labour force has become one of the main suppliers toKuwait and other West Asian regions. In this sense, migration of Indian families to Kuwait provides them employment while Kuwait’steam of skilled engineers, doctors, scientists, technicians, architects, management consultants and unskilled labour completes.
At the same time, migration has fostered good cultural relations. When people move from one place to another they carry their customs, traditions, rituals, philosophy and religion. Islam and Hinduism, as a result became more compatible. Today, the socio-cultural influences have led to the introduction of Indian cuisine, musical instruments, costumes and jewellery into the Gulf culture.
Indo-Kuwait relationship, like every other alliance has some stumbling blocks. U.S. military and defence support to Kuwait is one. U.S. assists Kuwaiti military with education and training, also provides assistance to the country’s English language and developmental exchange programs. Thus, Kuwait’s relative dependence on U.S. restricts a faster engagement with third world socialist countries like India.
The line of bilateral trade curtail further includes the lack of publicity of Indian goods in Kuwaiti market, the book ‘Persian Gulf 2013: India’s Relations with the Region’ states.Indian goods, especially machinery and appliances are high-quality. While India remains ready to export goods involving modern technology, Kuwaiti buyers are ignorant of India’s technological progress. Apart from thestiff competition from European and Asian countries, inability of the Indian exporters to advertise policies and organize sales promotion is the root cause which briefly calls out for action if the two aim to broader their trade chains in the future.
The conflicting national interest is perhaps another factor. In 2004, agreements were made to initiate a three-fold increase in India’s exports to Kuwait in return of double the value of Kuwait’s crude oil to India. For a country with adverse balance of payments, impositions in relation to the crude oil led to massive domestic production in India. The dilemma however, began for Kuwait whose entire economy is based on petroleum products, cannot afford to increase the imports at the cost of oil.
Finally, Corruption in Kuwait impedes much of Indo-Kuwaiti trade. Transparency International, an international anti-corruption watchdog 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 85th out of 180. Such rampant corruption dominated by the public officials and civil servants implicates the practices of hoodwinking, retards much of Kuwait’s good-will in the mind of Indian investors in many cases.
The countries have enormous potential to shape the geo-political world order, are working relentlessly towards it. Most importantly, there are better prospects of Indian products in Kuwait’s retail and Mall culture. As Indian products are more cost-effective in comparison to the Western counterparts, Kuwaiti merchandisers from super markets prefer them. Outlets such as Lulu hyper-market or Max India that have multiple outlets across Middle East, should be kept into close vigilance for that matter.
India’s experience in the fields of economic development can provide sound basis for expansion and advancement to both the countries. It is a hard reality that Kuwait will be a major oil exporting country even in the coming years, so economic developments in some fields might open new array of opportunities. Several efforts have been initiated on the part of Kuwait’s government to execute such development schemes, if executed will open up a range of new job vacancies.
Developments in the sector of Information and Communication Technology would also be commendable. While Kuwait has well-trained and specialized manpower for the sector, India has come across a long way in the advancement of ICT’s. Adding up to the joint ventures, establishing an India-Kuwait Information Technology Park would be a great move.
Education sector, specifically Student Exchange Programs offer limited choices to both Indian students and Kuwaiti’s as of now. Student exchange programs helps budding workforce to famaliarize themselves with another country’s culture, lifestyle, language etc. Although both the countries expressed consent to practice the same, there is limited evidence that the same is being applicable at the university level. The suggestion comes in line to the recent invalidation of IIT degree by Kuwaiti authorities. It’s high time to consider the matter and explore opportunities in a way that benefits the youth of both the nations.
Hitherto, most of them aroused from terrorism. Kuwait, perhaps not the direct victim faces severe repercussions as a result of Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite. The conflict constantly threatens to transform the mapping of Middle East, widen fissures and poses threat of transnational jihadi networks, which hampers much of Kuwait’s day to day balance. The storm, accompanied with the onset of global pandemic COVID-19becomes a matter of urgent concern for India.
Subsequently, the biggest challenge for India is to bring back its migrants given the inadequate protection from COVID-19 in Kuwait. Indian migrants are kept in labour camps with poor sanitary conditions. While most of the sectors have implemented remote working policies, a large number of workers stand exempted from these benefits.
World-wide lockdowns has also led to a decline in the demand of oil and its prices. Reduction in oil prices means that Kuwait will have to manage its public expenditure by reducing foreign labourers and reserving job positions for the locals. Because Kuwait has the largest Indian diaspora, cases of unemployment for Indians is likely to shoot up.
A third implication would be stiff competition for oil between Gulf nations. Since all the Gulf nations will be hit hard, cut-throat competition is to spring up by the end of this pandemic where every GCC will aim to increase its exports further hampering the functioning of existing trade chains.
Given the current constraints, India will have to assure full cooperation with Kuwait to halt the spread of corona virus. This is a tedious process and requires the use of diplomatic channels and safety nets, India and Kuwait put forth their will to travel the extra miles.
To sum up, Indo-Kuwait bilateral relationship has been decent since time immemorial. Though there continues to be a room for economic expansion, the two never fail to back each other in time of crisis. Their understanding and rationale in dealing with the global pandemic is worth appreciating. The possibility of increasing competition amongst GCC besides approaching unemployment raises an uncertainty regarding how the relationship will unfold in the nearing future; India and Kuwait should be able to work out a future roadmap well in time.