Diplomatist Special Report: West Asia - North Africa 2018 WANA 2018 - Page 25

SPECIAL REPORT The diaspora also builds upon, cement, and acts as a present-day reminder to the public in Middle Eastern countries of the historical and cultural links between the two regions. Members of the diaspora have an in-depth understanding of both cultures. in the West Asia. In achieving these interests, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will likely deploy several diplomatic instruments, including one it has utilized more than most previous governments: soft power. India’s trade with the countries in this region is conducted in free foreign exchange. Mutual Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) treatment is accorded in respect to trade with most of these countries. On her first trip to Egypt, in 2016, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reminded the policymakers in New Delhi, that West Asia and North Africa are growing in signifi cance for India's national interests and the country will pay greater attention to the region by seeking closer cooperation and stronger partnership. Wooing the diaspora for greater investment in India, the India Business Forum (IBF) has been created as a platform to promote Brand India and leverage the business interests of all Indian companies in the West Asia. In the West Asia, one of India’s most distinct soft power assets is the diaspora and its role in buttressing a positive image of the country. Indian workers are often known for being peaceable, tolerant, and willing to work hard under harsh conditions. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the agency dedicated to supporting India’s diaspora, states that the country’s tolerant, pluralistic society “in which people of different faiths, languages, ethnicities and political persuasions co-exist and thrive” is key to India’s positive migratory movements and labour mobility. As an asset to India's Soft Power The long-time presence of the diaspora helps to anchor bilateral relations. This provides tangible benefi ts, such as making it easier for West Asian & region’s governments, to justify to their populations the expansion of ties w ith Delhi in sensitive areas like defence cooperation. The diaspora also builds upon, cement, and acts as a present-day reminder to the public in region of the historical and cultural links between the two regions. Members of the diaspora have an in-depth understanding of both cultures. It is of note that Kerala and other western Indian states (some of the largest providers of labour to the region) were also the sites of some of the fi rst interactions between the peoples of India and West Asia. Compared to other Indian states, Kerala has a history of relatively peaceful Muslim-Hindu- Christian relations, providing a good basis for co-existence and multicultural understanding. The scale of emigration to the Gulf is resulting in an increased cultural exchange with Keralites back home, many of whom adopt culinary, linguistic, fi nancial, and other practices of the region. The diaspora also contributes to India’s soft power independent of government policy, providing a steadfast anchor in relations unaffected by policy shifts in Delhi. Other dimensions of India’s soft power, such as its non-interference and neutrality—which it rushed to highlight at the onset of the Syrian crisis—may change as India’s interests in the region grow and different Indian administrations respond with varying foreign policies. While such changes in policy emphasis may impact how Delhi is perceived on the West Asian street, the diaspora helps provide an assurance to populations in the region that India is a long-term partner. Remittances Notwithstanding a signifi cant 8.9% drop in remittances to India in 2016, the country retained the top spot among remittances receiving nations, according to a World Bank report. This was attributable mainly to the drop in oil prices and fi scal tightening in the oil-producing countries in the West Asia, which has a signifi cant Indian migrant population accounting for a large chunk of remittances. India received $70.39 billion in remittances from across the world in 2014. That is ahead of China, which got $64.14 billion, and more than all the remittances received by the Philippines, Mexico and Pakistan combined. The Philippines ($28 billion) came third, followed by Mexico ($25 billion) and France ($25 billion). West Asia accounts for 17.5 percent of the Indian diaspora population but contributes nearly 60 percent of total remittances to India. India’s export growth to WANA region which increased by 18% has become possible, due to the joint efforts put in by our Ministry, our missions abroad and the private sector. With our relentless efforts, India’s bilateral trade with these countries is poised to grow further. * MD. Irfan Ansari is a consultant on the International Trade to West Asia. West Asia-North Africa• 25