Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Bahrain this week – the first by an Indian Prime Minister – demonstrates the importance both countries place on their trade links and bilateral relations.
His Majesty King Hamad marked the occasion by awarding Mr Modi the Order of Bahrain Medal of the First Class, in appreciation to his efforts in bolstering ties.
The two nations trust and respect each other and share values and principles.
India was one of the first countries in which Bahrain established a diplomatic mission after its independence in 1971, demonstrating the importance both countries place on their close relationship.
But the real ties go back much further. Bahrainis and Indians have traded with each other for hundreds of years.
Bahrain is home to the region’s first Hindu temple, the Shri Krishna Hindu temple, founded 200 years ago by the Hindu community of Thattai.
The foundation of the Indian Club in 1915 and the Indian School in 1950 have been followed more recently with the launch of the Bahrain Indian Society in 2007 and the opening of an Indian Federation of Industries office in 2014 – the first such office in the Middle East.
India and Bahrain have many areas of mutual interest, and a series of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) signed during the India Prime Minister’s visit will deepen those shared interests.
Bahrain’s interest in closer business and cultural ties are clear. In 2018, the volume of trade exchange grew by an estimated 24.6 per cent in the period 2016-2018, with the volume of non-oil trade exchange between the two countries (in 2018) reached $1.1 billion.
Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) make up the largest segment of the valued expatriate community in Bahrain – around 300,000 people.
Indian expatriates are an integral part of the Bahrain’s community. They own and operate many businesses that make major contributions to the economy for decades – Indians and Bahrainis march towards development together.
Bahrain is one of the most diversified economies in the GCC region, with state-of-the-art telecommunications and transportation facilities making it an important place to invest, reinforcing the structure of the Bahraini economy and stimulating job creation.
Indian workers benefit from Bahrain’s groundbreaking Flexi-Work Permit, a renewable two-year visa allowing people to live and work in the kingdom without a sponsor that has been hailed as an example of international best practice by the UN.
Alongside that, Bahrain launched a nationwide awareness programme to educate expatriate workers about their rights under Bahraini law, and created a national referral mechanism and anti-trafficking campaign to ensure no one is exploited.
Bahrain’s long-standing commitment to reinforcing expatriate worker protections is one of the reasons the kingdom gained Tier 1 status in the US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report, marking it fully compliant with US standards.
Both India and Bahrain are keen to extend the existing potential for two-way trade and investment.
The MoUs signed during the visit pledge several ways to create closer links. One of the more visible is the commitment to accept India’s credit/debit card RuPay in Bahrain.
This will make it easier for Indian tourists and business visitors to pay for goods and services. It will allow NRIs who have maintained Indian bank accounts to readily access their cash.
Another MoU marks Bahrain’s intent to collaborate with the International Solar Alliance, the India-led ecological body made up of nations lying between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the kingdom’s interest in joining the organisation.
A third pledges collaboration between the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency (NSSA).
Finally, the governments have agreed to a cultural exchange programme to deepen understanding.
Alongside these commitments, both nations remain steadfast in their stand against terrorism, and their commitment to maintain regional and international security, including maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.
Both nations believe in a multinational co-operation and the rule of international law.
These new commitments help cement the centuries-old friendship between our nations, and chart specific areas where ties may be deeper to the benefit of both countries.
Mr Modi’s visit to Bahrain acknowledged past friendship and sets the tone for future joint efforts.
Mr Al Mannai is chief executive of National Communication Centre Bahrain