India currently does not feel the pinch of the ongoing crisis. However the External Affairs Ministry is keenly watching the unfolding events. Air-space traffic has been unhindered given that most of flights to Qatar pass over the Persian Gulf. For ensuring smooth trade between the two countries , Qatar has eased restrictions on Fujairah port for in-bound goods and exports for Indian companies. Iran too has opened up the ports of Bandar-Abbas and Chabahar as a transit route for Qatar-bound shipments after Dubai closed it’s Jubeir-Ali Port. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia has not pressured India, unlike Pakistan, to restrict ties with Doha. India imports around 60% of it’s LNG from Qatar accounting for nearly 15% of it’s outbound exports. India also is the third largest export destination for urea, polythene, ammonia and crude byproducts after Japan and South Korea. There are nearly 7,00,000 Indians who annually remit around $5 billion back to India. Moreover, there are nearly 30,000 students studying in various CBSE-run schools. Given the present scenario, India realizes it’s vital stakes in the country and paramount importance of stability in the Middle-East.
However the short term benefits offered by this crisis prove to be a blessing in disguise. The vacancy of job-posts left behind by Qataris in the other Gulf states would need to be filled. Indians in particular and South Asians in general can definitely fill those voids which would further generate employment opportunities. A large number of those residents already in Qatar are there on contract to work for the FIFA World Cup, to be hosted in 2022. But for some, cross-country travel within the Gulf might prove to be difficult for some time, which might force many to re-route their travel to these countries, upping travelling time by 1-2 hours and facing increased air-fare due to increased fuel consumption over long routes.
With Saudi Arabia imposing a de-facto food blockade, and as Qatar imports most of its food, Indians might face trouble procuring food supplies in the coming weeks due to short-term inflation which would in turn decrease remittances. However, the long-term impact could be quite the opposite. Since Saudi Arabia has exhorted other nations to also snap ties with Qatar and freeze investments in that country — should that happen, the job market could be negatively impacted, Dr S Irudaya Rajan, Chair Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said. Incidentally Kerala accounts for nearly half of the total expats. It was only justifiable that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to intervene to allay the fears of Indian expats in Qatar. In recent times though the trade-volume though has nearly halved from around $16 billion to $8.5 billion. India depends heavily on West Asia for its energy needs: nearly 50% of national total oil and gas consumption.
Laying to rest any speculation about India’s relations with majoritarian Muslim-dominated West Asia after the BJP government came to power, India has invested most heavily in this region in terms of aid and human resource. India has successfully engaged with all major powers in the region and dealt deftly with emergency situations in airlifting it’s expatriates out of danger. The Indian Diaspora provide a great deal of heft in dealing diplomatically with the concerned nations and have contributed to the prosperity and economic development of the host countries.
It is only befitting that India play a pivotal role in diffusing tensions and securing it’s national interests and assets in an increasingly volatile neighbourhood. The statement from the Ministry read, “We are of the view that all parties should resolve their differences through a process of constructive dialogue and peaceful negotiations based on well-established international principles of mutual respect, sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries”, a belief which India has held out consistently. For exposed fault lines in the Middle East would severely impact the flow of energy from the region to India as has already been witnessed during the Arab Spring , the Invasion of Kuwait and the Libyan crisis. It is in India’s best interests to not take sides in this ‘internal turmoil of GCC’ and play a neutral role in the current crisis.