India-Middle East Relations

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, at the Royal Court, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 03, 2016, Narendra Modi, CC 2.0

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, at the Royal Court, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 03, 2016, Narendra Modi, CC 2.0

India-Middle East Relations

With the rising political and economic power of India in south-east Asia and elsewhere, the Indian leadership under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reaching out to other Middle Eastern countries, with the attempt at increasing ties between India and the Middle East. While of course there are many reasons for India’s increased interest in building relations with Middle East countries, many of the factors include energy, Indian residents living in the Middle East, as well as political interests.

Of course, India is building their ties to many countries within the Middle East. In this article, we shall provide a more general discussion with regards to India-Middle East relations. In later articles, we hope to explore these relationships in more detail through separate articles, examining more specific bilateral relations between India and Israel, India-Turkish relations, India and Saudi Arabia, India and other Gulf states, etc…

As Madan (2016) says: “The Middle East has been crucial for India for decades. It’s been a source of energy, jobs, remittances and military equipment and holds religious significance for tens of millions of Indians. It’s also been a source of concern, with fears about the negative impact of regional instability on Indian interests. But today, there’s also opportunity for Indian policymakers in the fact that, for a number of reasons, India is important to Saudi Arabia and a number of Middle Eastern countries in a way and to an extent that was never true before.”

India’s Interest in the Middle East

India has of course had historical ties to many different countries in the Middle East (that have included trade ties, etc…). For example, “India has a long history of relations with the Middle East, more than any of today’s existing or emerging great powers. Emperor Ashoka had ties with ancient Egypt’s Ptolemy II. Arab traders settled on India’s eastern coast. One of the earliest mosques in the world was built in Kerala in 629AD. Mughal rule then saw the entry of Islam to India on a mass scale. During British colonialism, the Raj administered autonomous Gulf Arab states from India” (Pethiyagoda, 2015).

However, it can be argued that while there may have been reductions in relations in recent decades, Indian-Middle East relations have increased since Modi has come to power. In recent years, he has devoted more time and attention to building relations within the Middle East.

For example, in August of 2015, Modi made a visit to the United Arab Emirates. This trip has been viewed as a historical occasion, in particular because it “marked the first visit in 34 years of an Indian leader to the UAE and Modi’s first official trip anywhere in the Middle East” (

According to figures from January 2015, there are 7.3 million non-resident Indians living in the Middle East, and “[t]hese non-resident Indians remitted over $36 billion in 2015 (52 percent of the total remittances to India)” (Madan, 2016). Thus, the Indian government has economic reasons to continue ties to the Middle East. But along with the number of those from India living in the Middle East, there are also other reasons as to why the Indian government is looking to improve relations with countries in the Middle East.

India, The Middle East, and Energy

India’s economic rise requires an increased use of energy. For example, India is heavily reliant on oil and natural gas from the Middle East, with 58 percent of oil coming from the region, and an even higher 88 percent of liquified natural gas deriving from states in the Middle East (Madan, 2016). As India grows, there is more and more demand for oil and natural gas. As Madan (2016) explains, “India also continues to guzzle significant—and growing—quantities of both. But, today, Delhi has buyer’s power. Why? Because oil prices are relatively low and there’s a lot of gas on the market…”.

Because of this, the Indian government has attempting to increase their economic ties with Middle East oil and natural gas states. Because of greater demand for oil and other energies resources, Modi and India’s leadership wants to make sure that their relations with those providing the energy (primarily the Gulf states in the Middle East) continues to be strong (Pethiyagoda, 2015).

But, because India is a growing economic power, because prices are low, and others are looking elsewhere to buy not only oil, but additional energy sources as well, this is leading the Middle East states to arguably be even more reliant on India to continue to purchase its oil and energy (Madan, 2016).

India-Middle East Political Relations

While energy is an important factor related to why India is interested in increasing ties to Middle Eastern states, there are addition, non-economic factors that also need to be considered. For example, historically, the United States has had a greater role in the Middle East. However, because of “the diminishing of US interest and influence [in the Middle East][,]” this will open up space for other leaders to get more involved. We have been seeing this in recent years, and recent months with Russia, as well as China, and also India.  In addition, related to this, it has been argued that “the fluid security situation in the broader Middle East provides new opportunities for an ambitious India. The Gulf states are looking to diversify their security guarantors and may seek to maintain leverage by working with multiple strategic partners. It is unlikely that China will be able or interested in replacing Washington in the medium term” (Pethiyagoda, 2015).

Plus, India is now being courted by different countries in the Middle East, part of this is for political reasons. One of the largest rivalries in the Middle East is the Iran-Saudi Arabia relationship. In looking to find ways to reduce the influence of one another, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are looking to allies.

This is however a bit difficult for India, who has traditionally had closer ties to Saudi Arabia. For example, there have been cooperative efforts for India and Saudi Arabia to work together in fighting corruption, as well as terrorism (Madan, 2016). While this puts a bit of strain on India to ensure that it does not upset one or the other, “it also gives each country a reason to maintain its relationship with India” (Madan, 2016). Thus, the Indian leadership is continuing to make trips to the Middle East. Whether it is to Bahrain, Israel, Palestine, Oman, etc… (Madan, 2016), Modi and others realize that there is a political and economic opportunity to working with Middle Eastern states.


The relationship between India and the Middle East will be one to continue to watch in the months and years ahead. Given India’s attempts to build their economy and military, their relations with regional countries will continue to be high importance.



Madan, T. (2016). Why did Indian PM Modi Drop in on Saudi Arabia Last Weekend? Newsweek, April 9th, 2016. Available Online:

Pethiyagoda, K. (2015). In a multipolar Middle East, a strategic partnership between India and the UAE evolves. Brookings Institute. Middle East Politics & Policy. September 22nd, 2015. Available Online: 

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