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Mideast lukewarm to Modi victory

Out of the larger Gulf states and the Middle East region, only Qatar and Egypt wished Modi on his win.

Kabir Taneja  New Delhi | 24th May 2014

eaders from the Middle East, particularly from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have been lukewarm in their response to Narendra Modi's landslide win in India's general elections. Out of the larger Gulf states and the Middle East region, only Qatar and Egypt wished Modi on his win. Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani wished Modi on an "emphatic" win and Modi took to Twitter to thank Al Thani and wished for a continuation of stronger ties between the two countries. Egyptian President Adly Mansour also wished Modi.

However, crucial regional partners such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and so on have seemingly maintained a distance as of now. The reasons behind this could be varied, but largely resonate the domestic politics and influence groups in the region.

Other countries in the region such as Israel and Iran have also wished Modi on his win. While Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Modi is "keen" to deepen Israel-India ties, Iranian envoy to New Delhi, Gholamreza Ansari, said he expected a "vibrant" relation between India and Iran.

"The region has a delicate political ecology and Narendra Modi's win is being treaded upon cautiously by the governments of the region more so on domestic factors than Modi himself," said a Western diplomat in the region who wished to remain anonymous.

"The people of the region may not view Modi very positively, but irrespective of that I think all nations will continue to expand their relations with India as they did during Manmohan Singh's tenure."

After Modi's win, various terror outfits such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) released open threats to the Prime Minister-elect. In a court in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, SIMI members taking advantage of media persons chanted "Ab ki baar Modi ka number", and "Taliban zindabad", according to reports.

Other terror organisations such as Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and so on are active entities in the Gulf. The recent arrest and deportation of IM operatives from Dubai and Abu Dhabi showcased both the activeness of such organisations and the increased bilateral cooperation between India and the Gulf in areas of security and anti-terror operations.

However, some experts believe that the lack of direct outreach to Modi from the Gulf should not be read into too much. Collectively the region is India's biggest trading partner in the world, and more than six million Indian citizens live and work across the Middle East forming huge inflows of remittance crucial to India's economy.

"While it may be true that congratulatory messages from the Middle East have been few and far between, it does not necessarily indicate hesitation to engage with the new Indian government," says Rohan Joshi, fellow at Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank.

"Ultimately, India is far too big, and Indian citizens and businesses far too entrenched in the successes of many Middle Eastern economies to be ignored. India's growing demand for energy also makes it an indispensable trading partner to the oil-rich Middle East. Public felicitations may not be forthcoming, but will not impact India's engagement with Arab and Middle Eastern countries."

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