GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
INDIA AND THE EMERGING GULF: Between ‘Strategic Balancing’ and ‘Soft Power’ Options
Paper Proposal Text :
Between ‘Strategic Balancing’ and ‘Soft Power’ Options

K.M. Seethi

The proposed paper tries to analyse the emerging trends in the relations between India and the Gulf region against the backdrop of the global recession and the profound changes sweeping across the Arab world. It keeps in perspective India’s policy options and strategies in the region within the framework of its own terms of engagement in a highly volatile international milieu.

The Gulf, as it has been emerging in the post-globalisation phase, is a critical factor in India’s transregional engagements today. In the wake of the global recession transcending across regions, as well as in the background of the popular uprising currently underway in the Arab world, India sees the Gulf within the perspective of ‘crisis as opportunity’ in terms of expanding its geo-economic, geo-cultural and geo-strategic influence in the region. The much-debated ‘Look East’ policy of India is, therefore, reinforced with its ‘Look West’ policy in the Gulf by sustaining ‘strategic balancing,’ on the one hand, and deploying ‘soft power’ options, on the other.

A major factor behind the expanding role of India in Asia is its burgeoning trade and other transactions with the countries in the Gulf, which stand as India’s top trading partners alongside China and the United States. The upswing in bilateral trade and the flowing of FDI into various sectors of the Indian economy show the imperatives of strengthening cooperation in other areas too. Energy security, human security and food security are, perhaps, the most critical areas that call for negotiations and bargain between India and the Gulf states. The dependence on oil and natural gas and the inevitability of remittance make India vulnerable while the Gulf States may have to address the question of food insecurity sooner or later. Similarly, the future of the Indian Diaspora in the Gulf is now uncertain given the policy changes underway (or under consideration) of the Gulf States as part of indigenization drive in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring.’ This is crucial in the emerging scenario given the fact that the number of Indian nationals in the Gulf region is above 4 million.

In the politico-security architecture of the Gulf, the role of India would be constrained by the fact that Pakistan is likely to be the preferred choice of many Gulf States given its geo-strategic and geo-cultural advantages. This could be seen in its relations with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain etc. In such a scenario, the strategy of India would be to offset/counterbalance Pakistan’s leverage by projecting its image as a backyard of terrorism and religious fundamentalism. Pakistan, on the other hand, tends to see the increasing role of India in the region with considerable skepticism. Similarly, the possibility of China emerging as a major player in the region is viewed with concern in the security circles in India. Yet, given the long historical ties the Gulf states have had with the West, it is highly unlikely that any single major Asian power can dominate the security architecture of the region. It is also a fact that India considers the expanding role of Pakistan and China in the Gulf as ‘threatening’ (therefore conflictual) though there are immense possibilities of collaboration in diverse areas.

Notwithstanding the concerns in place with respect to labour, remittance and oil in the wake of the global recession and the popular uprising in the Arab world, India can very well play a pro-active role in the region with its soft power potential. This entails the structural transformation in the trade and investment pattern in both India and the Gulf, the strengthening of service sector related collaborations, the facilitation of knowledge economy and more joint ventures in areas of energy security and food security. The paper would further elaborate the potentials and constraints of India-Gulf collaboration and joint projects.