Syed Khaled Shahbaaz | Caravan Daily
HYDERABAD-based Dr Sayeed served in Saudi Arabia thrice in different capacities – first, as the Consul (Haj) in Jeddah in 1995-96, then as the Second/First Secretary in Riyadh from 1996-98 and as Consul General of India in Jeddah from 2004-2008. He has earlier served as the Consul General of India in Chicago (for mid-west US) and as the Ambassador of India to Seychelles before assuming charge as the subcontinent’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Dr Ausaf Sayeed hails from a literary family. His father Awaz Sayeed is a literary figure in Hyderabad.
“The bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia are at an all-time high”, believes the newly appointed Indian Ambassador to the country Dr Ausaf Sayeed. Crediting the step up to the recently concluded ‘highly successful’ first state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Indian Ambassador discusses 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 with Syed Khalid Shahbaz, after his appointment as the Ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
How do you perceive returning to Saudi Arabia this time as an Ambassador?
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 of India to Saudi Arabia 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 His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India from 19-20 February 2019.
What according to you are issues faced by Indians in Saudi Arabia?
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 related to service conditions, payment of dues, etc. Those Indian community members with children going to 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.
Your service as the Haj Council and Consul General is perceived as remarkable by many. What is the reason behind this success?
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.
The bilateral relations between India and Saudi are strong. As an Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, what role will you be playing to help bilateral relations become even more formidable?
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 the US $27.48 billion. More than 420 Indian companies operate in the Kingdom through joint ventures or with 100 per cent ownership.
Recently, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced its decision to invest around US $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 endeavour 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.
A significant proportion of Indians are returning to India from Saudi Arabia? What can be done to prevent further fallback and offer them employment in Saudi Arabia?
The migration of Indian workers to the Gulf Countries is robust and dynamic and depends on the demand and supply in these countries. Despite the nationalization of jobs in many countries, a large number of Indians continued to go to the Gulf Countries seeking newer job opportunities. We have 33 lakh Indians working in the UAE and 27 lakhs in Saudi Arabia. There were special measures put in place for Indian workers to mitigate the effects of nationalization and minimize the impact. The governments of India and Saudi Arabia have started working on integrating the migration platforms of both the countries viz., e-Migrate and e-Tawtheeq to create a robust migration environment.
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?
The proposed investments from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in India cover diverse sectors of the economy and are expected to create growth and dynamism in these sectors which would be very good for the overall economic growth.
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?
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 under the patronage of the Saudi Ministry of Information and Culture and the Saudi-India Civil Society Dialogue. Certainly, I would do everything possible to encourage all such constructive activities.
What is your opinion about organizing a global Urdu conference in Riyadh / Jeddah?
A large section of the Indian Diaspora in the Kingdom is Urdu speaking. I had encouraged the introduction of external Urdu examinations of MANUU in Saudi Arabia for the benefit of Non-resident Indians (NRIs). However, due to unavoidable circumstances, these examinations had to be discontinued. I was also instrumental in introducing an Annual Urdu Mushaira in Jeddah since 1995. This has become one of the most sought-after literary events in Saudi Arabia with Mushairas and other literary events being held in Riyadh and other cities too. An International Urdu Conference was also organized in Jeddah under the umbrella of the Consulate in 2008 in coordination with MAANU and several socio-cultural organizations in Jeddah. Certainly, all literary and cultural activities would be given due encouragement.
What are goals and targets during your tenure as an ambassador in Saudi Arabia?
Once I settle down I will focus on each of the areas of bilateral importance to both countries.
Your message for the NRIs?
I wish to complement 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.
Syed Khaled Shahbaaz is a journalist from Hyderabad, India.