With a deeply entwined history spanning millennia between Bahrain and India, the two countries’ bonds continue to deepen economically, politically and culturally since official diplomatic ties were established more than 50 years ago.
On the economic front, the volume of Bahrain-India bilateral trade exchange has seen a 30 per cent increase during the past five years, reaching $1.653 billion in the 2021-22 period.
Bahrain’s exports to India amounted to $753.29 million in 2021-22, up from $290.69m in 2016-17.
Over the past five years, imports from India to Bahrain increased by 90pc from $471.71m in 2016-17 to $899.9m in 2021-22, making the country amongst Bahrain’s top 10 trading partners.
In 2023 thus far, Bahrain-India trade volume has crossed $818.68m.
Bahrain primarily imports agricultural products including rice, boneless meat, shrimp, sugar, fresh fruit and vegetables, machinery and engineering goods, medicaments, jewellery and polymers.
Meanwhile, its exports to India include urea, methanol, mineral fuel, mineral oils and products, iron ore, aluminum, copper and bridge sections.
In May this year, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan visited Bahrain for two days, meeting with key Bahraini officials including Finance and National Economy Minister Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa and Social Development Minister Osama Al Asfoor.
This was followed by the visit to India of a 62-strong Bahraini delegation, led by Industry and Commerce Minister Abdulla Fakhro alongside Economic Development Board chief executive Khalid Humaidan, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority chief executive Dr Nasser Qaedi and Export Bahrain chief executive Safa AbdulKhaleq.
Foreign direct investment from India to Bahrain has reached approximately $1.5bn, increasing by more than 35pc since 2019, while cumulative investment from Bahrain to India is about $185m.
On the cultural front, artists, musicians and dancers from India continue to enthral audiences with their spellbinding performances.
In May this year, the Indo-Bahrain Dance and Music Festival 2023 took the stage at the Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam, featuring artists like Pankaj Udhas and Ustad Rashid Khan, who serenaded Indian and Bahraini crowds.
In recognition of the deep cultural ties between the two countries, a ‘little India in Bahrain’ project was launched in December 2015 covering an area of 5,000 square metres in the Manama Suq, near the 200-year-old Hindu Sri Krishna Temple, where regular markets, fashion shows and cultural performances entertain tourists.
In addition, Bahrain also approved allocation of land for the BAPS Swaminarayan temple in the kingdom in January last year.
According to the Indian embassy, there are 30 registered Indian community socio-cultural organisations and an equal number of unregistered associations and clubs in Bahrain, thus allowing the Indian community to promote art and culture including classical dance, music and art.
There are also eight schools in Bahrain following the Indian curriculum, including The Indian School Bahrain – which is amongst the oldest community schools in the region, established in 1950.
Indians are known to have come to Bahrain as early as 3,000BC when ships plied between Harappa settlements, Bahrain, Oman and Mesopotamia in pursuit of trade. Ancient Bahraini traders are believed to have carried out a flourishing trade of Bahraini pearls with spices from India.
Evidence of deep ties have extended and can be seen in the food of Bahrain and India, inspired and spread by traders in both countries.
In more recent times, Indian merchants established themselves in Bahrain in the late 1800s. Others moved to Bahrain from Baghdad and Basra. These merchant families came from the province of Sindh and Kathiawad region of Gujarat.
By around 1925, nearly 2,500 Indian families had settled in Bahrain, generally running small retailing businesses.
The discovery of oil in 1932 led to an influx in immigration as Indians started moving to the kingdom to start businesses or take up blue and white collar jobs.
Many of Bahrain’s most prominent figures have close Indian connections. When Bahrain was a British protectorate, the Indian rupee was legal tender in the country and to this day, 100 fils is colloquially called ‘ek rupiya’ (one rupee).
Today, of the nearly 650,000 expatriates, approximately 350,000 Indian nationals form the largest expatriate community in Bahrain.
In addition, a number of renowned merchant families even hold Bahraini citizenship and their roots now span multiple generations.
As the two countries move ahead, they are intent on collaborating on technology, retail and e-commerce, renewable energy, healthcare, automobile industry, education, gems and jewellery.
More than 65pc of the Indian workforce is employed in the construction, contracting and maintenance sectors. In addition, there are a sizeable number of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, bankers, managers and other professionals who play a vital role in Bahrain’s economic development.