India-Saudi relations at all time high: Dr. Ausaf

Dr. Ausaf-Sayeed

By Syed Khaled Shahbaaz

“The bilateral relations between India and Saudi are at an all-time high,” believes the newly appointed Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr. Ausaf Sayeed. Crediting the step up to the recently-concluded ‘highly successful’ first state visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, the Indian Ambassador-designate discussed the benefit of Saudi investments in India, problems of the Indian Diaspora and plans to adopt a pro-people approach in this exclusive first interview after his appointment as the Ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia

Q. How do you perceive returning to Saudi Arabia this time as an Ambassador?

A: I have served in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia thrice before in various capacities — first as Consul (Haj) in Jeddah in 1995 to 1996, then as Second/First Secretary in Riyadh from 1996 to 1998 and as Consul General of India in Jeddah from 2004-2008. However, I regard my current assignment as Ambassador as one of my most important and prestigious postings. It also comes at a time when the bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia are at an all-time high with the recently concluded highly successful first State visit of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, to India from Feb. 19-20.

Q. What according to you are issues faced by Indians in Saudi Arabia?

A: We have a large Indian Diaspora comprising of 27 lakhs individuals who are working in different sectors of the Saudi economy and contributing meaningfully to the development of the Kingdom. The Indian workers generally enjoy a very good reputation in all the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and are much sought after for their sincerity, dedication and hard work. Over the years, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of Saudi Arabia and the Protectorate of Emigrants and other official bodies in India have evolved a healthy mechanism of early resolution of common issues affecting the Indian workers. The Community Welfare wings of the Indian Embassy and the Consulate General of India are very proactive and are rendering real-time assistance to the Indians in need. Typically, the issues relate to service conditions, payment of dues, etc. Those Indian community members with children going to the high school are also faced with the challenge of higher education for their children for which opportunities are limited for expatriate children in the Kingdom.

Q. Your service as the Haj consul and consul general is perceived as remarkable by many. What is the reason behind this success?

A: I have been fortunate to work closely with people in my various assignments starting from the Regional Passport Officer in Hyderabad (May 1993- January 1995) and later as a diplomat in different countries. I had always made myself accessible to people, who could reach out to me very easily through email, phone or social media to discuss anything of concern to them. This also enabled me to understand the pulse of the people and helped me in dealing with issues in a practical and fair manner.

Q. The bilateral relations between India and Saudi relations are strong. As Ambassador what role will you playing to help boost bilateral relations further?

A: India and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial and friendly relations reflecting the centuries old economic and socio-cultural ties. Both countries have decided to work together closely in different fields such as oil & gas, trade & commerce, investments, security and strategic cooperation and to jointly counter the menace of international terrorism which is threatening global peace. Saudi Arabia is a major source of energy for India, as we import about 20% of our crude oil requirement from the Kingdom. As you are aware India is the third largest consumer of crude in the world after the US and China. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trading partner, after China, USA and the UAE. India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia is worth $27.48 billion. More than 420 Indian companies operate in the Kingdom through joint ventures or with 100 percent ownership.

Recently, Saudi Arabia has announced its decision to invest around $100 billion in India in the areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining, manufacturing, education and health care. This includes Saudi Aramco’s proposed investment in the world’s biggest oil refinery and petrochemical complex to be set up on the West Coast of India. My endeavor would be to closely follow-up on the various Agreements signed and other important decisions taken during the recent high-level visits between the two countries so that the bilateral political, strategic, economic and people-to-people relations are consolidated and strengthened further.

Q. Saudi Arabia is investing one billion dollars in India. Can these NRIs who are returning home be accommodated in new and proposed projects for their employment in any way?

A: The proposed investments from Saudi Arabia in India cover diverse sectors of economy and are expected to create growth and dynamism in these sectors which would be very good for the over-all economic growth.

Q. During your previous terms, you have proactively promoted and propagated the use of Urdu language, culture, and related traditions but the activities were not continued after your departure. Does your return to Saudi Arabia hint at its revival?

A: I had always encouraged cultural diplomacy and greater people-to-people engagement as an effective way of creating understanding between civilizations. During my previous stint in Jeddah, I have organized the first India Festival, the First Asian Festival the First Asian Film Festival in Saudi Arabia. I was also closely involved with the formation of the Saudi-India Friendship Society and the Saudi-India Civil Society Dialogue. Certainly, I would do everything possible to encourage all such constructive activities.

Q. Your message for the NRIs?

A: I wish to compliment all members of the Indian Diaspora for their hard-work, sincerity and dedication and for creating strong bridges of understanding between India and Saudi Arabia. I would like to assure everyone that both the Embassy of India in Riyadh and the Consulate General of India in Jeddah would adopt a pro-people approach and work closely for the welfare of the Indian community.

— The writer is a journalist from Hyderabad, India.