Saudi-Indian relations are nothing new as they have been strong for many decades. However today this relationship has taken on another dimension and is more vital. In 2006, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz visited India as a guest on Indian Republic Day and the King and his country received a warm welcome.
A month ago, the Indian Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh] visited the Saudi capital and this visit saw the inception of what was called the ‘Riyadh Declaration’ which led to the strengthening of Saudi-Indian ties and took the relationship to another level. Today, we see Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz visiting India and the hospitable welcome he received from India on all levels; political, economic, and educational.
The importance of Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to India lies in the fact that it comes within an ongoing framework to activate and strengthen Saudi-Indian relations. It is also important because it shows the seriousness of Saudi interaction with India. The other matter which is equally important is strengthening communication with India in all areas. This is for the sake of strengthening ties, as mentioned above, and in order to establish communication on the ground for citizens and businessmen, whereby there is activation of visa issues, economic sector activity is facilitated, and there is security cooperation between the two countries etc.
India has important international status, scientifically, economically and politically, and it is also a nuclear power. Saudi Arabia also has an important status as well, in terms of religion, politics, economics and more. Therefore, it is important that there is an effective relationship between Saudi Arabia and India that is firstly of benefit to the two countries and secondly of international benefit, politically and economically.
Some might think that the focus on the communication process is simplification but that is not true. A journalist from an Indian newspaper in New Delhi told me a story on Monday and it deserves to be retold to highlight the importance of communication. On the sidelines of a meeting arranged by the Saudi Ambassador to India, Faisal Bin al Trad, for myself and the Editor-in-Chief of Al Riyadh newspaper, Mr. Turki al Sudairi, to meet with some Indian journalists, a journalist told me that what significantly improved the image of Saudis in India recently was a story that has no relation whatsoever to the Riyadh Declaration or the projects that are due to be carried out or the excellent way in which the Indian Prime Minister was received last month in Riyadh. The story in fact was a very simple one.
The journalist told me that when the Indian Prime Minister visited Riyadh, New Delhi asked the Saudis a simple question: would the wife of the prime minister have to wear an Abaya or not? The answer from Riyadh was: that is up to you!
The Indian journalist said that this story touched the Indian media and even those who were not keen on consolidating Indian-Saudi ties. It sent a message to Indian society that the image of Saudi Arabia is not what some people make it out to be.
This story shows the importance of communication and getting to know societies closely instead of giving precedence to the prevailing stereotype. Every society has its own particularities that must be respected. There is no harm in the Indian woman being proud of the Sari that she wears and the Saudi woman being proud of the Abaya that she wears. But what’s most important is that we respect the traits of each society so that others respect our traits and our traditions.
From here, [it is evident that] communication is most important and if Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to India is solely for the sake of communication, that would be more than enough.