08/18/2015, 00.00
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Hindu nationalism and Islamic terrorism cast a shadow on Modi’s visit to the Emirates

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Indian leader was in the Emirates on 16-17 August. Both India and the UAE are united in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. The two sides signed agreements on economic cooperation and investment in new infrastructures. Bilateral trade is expected to grow to US$ 75 billion. During his visit, Modi met Indian expats, and praised the UAE for granting land for a Hindu temple.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first task "is to create a process of justice and address the issue of terrorism in order to spread a sense of peace in Asia and throughout the world,” said Lenin Raghuvanshi, President of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee On Human Rights (PVCHR), as he spoke to AsiaNews about Modi’s recent visit to the United Arab Emirates

For the Dalit rights activist, India has the same problems as the Emirates. In both the Middle East and in India, “a culture of impunity and silence prevails.”

India’s prime minister and his UAE hosts (pictured, Modi and HH Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE) discussed major issues, like the fight against Islamic terrorism, bilateral economic relations and the situation of 2.6 million Indian immigrants in the Gulf monarchy.

Many media described as historic Modi's visit, since he is the first Indian prime minister to travel to the Arab state in 34 years. The last Indian prime minister to visit the Gulf state was Indira Gandhi in 1981.

Modi stressed the importance of the trip, describing the UAE as a valuable partner. In fact, the UAE is India’s third trading partner after the United States and China. Bilateral trade between the two countries went from US$ 180 million in 1970 to a record US$ 60 billion.

India imports oil and oil products, metals and precious stones, pearls, minerals and other chemical materials.

The leaders of the two countries reached important agreements in the field of energy and investment in new infrastructures, which could reach US$ 75 billion dollars a year.

Talks also centred on the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Both the Indian and UAE governments condemned the actions of some states that use religion to support and justify violence and terrorism.

However, for Dr Raghuvanshi, India is not immune from religious fundamentalism, which lurks even among members of Modi’s party. "It is essential,” he said, “to break the cycle of poverty and the culture of silence in order to build lasting peace in India and the Middle East, and achieve a society based on justice. This requires confronting the violence of fundamentalist forces.”

Out of respect for the Muslim country, Modi visited Abud Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is home to the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, capable of accommodating up to 40,000 people.

On his last stop, the Indian prime minister visited a residential compound for 28,000 Indian workers and the Dubai Cricket Stadium, packed with a crowd of 50,000 Indians.

Some 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE, approximately 30 per cent of the resident population.

For analysts, meeting Indian expats was a smart move for the prime minister because their remittances from the UAE now total almost US$ 13 billion a year.

On this occasion, Modi expressed pride in his compatriots, and thanked his hosts for their decision to grant land for the construction of a Hindu temple.

For Dr Raghuvanshi, this was not necessarily a good thing because in both India and in the Middle East there is no clear demarcation between politics and religion. Indeed, "The politicization of religion is a serious danger, something that insidiously promotes terrorism.”

“Modi has the right to express his faith,” the PVCHR president said, “but as prime minister of India on an official visit he should have insisted on secular democratic principles rather than promote his religion."

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