Prestigious honour reflects New Delhi’s deep and historic relations with the Gulf and the scope for future opportunities.
The prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize for the year 2019 being conferred on late Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, is not only a great recognition of the Oman Ruler’s vision that helped forge closer relations with India over the decades, but also a testimony to New Delhi’s deep and historic relations with the Gulf – often overlooked for the fanfare of other far-flung ties.
India’s Culture Ministry announced earlier this week that Sultan Qaboos was being conferred the posthumous honour in recognition of his vision to strengthen relations with India, and his efforts to promote peace and non-violence in the Gulf region.
The choice of Sultan Qaboos as the recipient of the prestigious award is hardly a surprise. When the Sultan passed away in 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid rich tributes and recalled his contribution to India-Oman relations, by saying that he was “a true friend of India and provided strong leadership for developing a strategic partnership between India and Oman”. PM Modi also remembered him as a “visionary leader and statesman” and “beacon of peace for our region and the world”.
According to the ministry, late Sultan Qaboos, the longest-serving leader in the Middle East and Arab world at the time of his death, received the prize in "recognition of his outstanding contributions for social, economic and political transformation through non-violent and other Gandhian methods”.
"His Majesty Sultan Qaboos was a visionary leader whose twin policy of moderation and mediation in addressing international issues won him praise and respect across the globe. He played an important role in supporting peace efforts in various regional disputes and conflicts,” the ministry said. “Sultan Qaboos was the architect of the special ties between India and Oman. He had studied in India and always maintained a special relationship with India. Under his leadership, India and Oman became strategic partners and our mutually beneficial, comprehensive partnership strengthened and scaled newer heights,” it added.
Indeed, India’s strategic engagements with the Gulf have witnessed a significant increase under the Modi government since 2014. PM Modi has invested significant diplomatic effort and energy in the Middle East, reaching out to major regional powers and has even successfully managed to maintain friendly relations with those countries that are at odds with each other, such as Israel and Iran. Since Prime Minister Modi’s first trip to the Gulf in August 2015, the frequency of high-level visits to and from the region has increased significantly.
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Oman, for instance, was the first Gulf country with which India established a robust defence and security cooperation mechanism, and in recent years New Delhi and Muscat have cooperated in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. The Royal Navy of Oman partners with Indian Navy’s anti-piracy mission and Indian Naval Ships (INS) are regularly welcomed by Oman for overseas deployments. Additionally, Oman has provided berthing facilities for Indian warships patrolling the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea for anti-piracy activities.
With that ever-strengthening history in mind, the Gandhi Peace Prize for one of the most respected of Gulf Rulers will go a long way in further consolidating the relations between India and the GCC states and pave the way for further bilateral opportunities.