Diplomat turns author to spotlight India-UAE ties

India's Consul-General Venu Rajamony with his book. (PATRICK CASTILLO)

On the eve of his departure from the UAE after a successful three-year stint as the  Consul-General of India in Dubai, Venu Rajamony has written a book about Indo-UAE relations.

Titled India and the UAE: In celebration of a legendary friendship, the 257-page tome, which features a specially created MF Hussain painting on its cover, was released at a glittering ceremony in Dubai.

Talking about how the book came about, Rajamony told Emirates Business: "The idea originated when I was in Washington DC, before I came to Dubai. When I was told that I was being posted to Dubai, the first thing that I did was to go to the Library of Congress and look for books on India-UAE relations. But to my horror, I discovered that there was absolutely no material available."

He was talking to this paper ahead of his departure this month. In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about the book, his stint in Dubai and the issues concerning the Indian community here.

He said: "Then when I came here and started meeting people, I began to learn about the UAE and its long-standing relationship with India. I met Arabs with strong connections to India, and learnt about their interest and passion for India and I met Indians who have been settled here for three generations. That's when I thought that this is a story that needs to be told."

During the first year of his stay in the UAE, Rajamony felt that Emiratis were familiar with some parts of India like Mumbai and Malabar but not the whole country. And the younger generation Emiratis are more familiar with the West than with India.  Also, the Indian community in the UAE, which has been here for years, too, is not fully aware of the long, historical connection between the two countries.

"Indians living here are themselves not aware of the size and the expanse of our economic relations with the UAE. Apart from this, the people in India are also not too aware of the Gulf.  In fact, I myself knew very little about this country before I came here. I was not aware of its commitment to pluralism and the welcome it has accorded to people from more than 200 countries, including India, over centuries. People outside the region are not aware of the support given by the leadership to women, the success achieved by Indians and Indian companies doing business here," he said.

"So I thought of putting it all together in a book that will present India-UAE relations in a very comprehensive manner and which would be of use to the people of the UAE, India and the Indian community here."

The book, priced at Dh250, will be available at all major bookstores in the UAE and talks are being held with publishers in India to make the book available in the sub-continent too. It took 19 months of research in libraries in India and the UAE, talking to scholars, historians and the Arab, Indian and emirati community, to put this book together.

Talking about the future of the Indo-UAE diplomatic and trade ties, Rajamony said: "They will go from strength to strength. We already have a very robust, vibrant and multi-faceted relationship but still both sides are working to strengthen it further. In fact, next week Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of Foreign Trade, will lead a large business and government delegation to India for a roadshow, which will cover several cities of India. This roadshow will showcase the UAE, explore investment opportunities in India and also woo investments from India. The UAE minister for labour is likely to visit India for discussions with his counterpart soon."

Asked why, despite being the largest trading partner of the UAE, India was not included in the list of 35 countries whose citizens would get visas on arrival, Rajamony said: "Every country has its own logic, I presume. Each of the 35 countries that have been given this facility have small populations. Sometimes having a large population itself is a reason for the host government to be more careful about visas. However, it is the goal of the Indian Government to try and make travel abroad for its citizens as hassle-free as possible. So the Indian Government will discuss this with the authorities concerned in the UAE, to see if this list can be expanded to include India."

Discussing the Indian community in the UAE, Rajamony said: "While the Indian business community is doing very well here, we are aware of the issues and challenges being faced by the blue-collared workers. We have engaged the UAE Government in discussions on these issues and sensitised them about the areas that need reform. We have organised a number of welfare schemes for workers and taken initiatives like displaying our hotline numbers in bus shelters across Dubai so that they know how to get in touch with us in case of emergency.

"We worked very closely with the labour, immigration and police departments of Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman during the amnesty in 2007 to address the problems of the labourers. We did all we could to help them and support them in every manner possible."

According to Rajamony, during his stint in Dubai, he brought about many reforms in the functioning of the consulate for the benefit of the people. Some of them were the outsourcing of the passport, visa and attestation services to enable faster clearance of documents, setting up of a shelter for women in need and the creation of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to help those in need of monetary help.

Dwelling upon the challenges of representing and serving one of the biggest expatriate communities in the UAE, Rajamony said: "I have served in a number of countries but the range of challenges that a diplomat faces here is seldom seen in any other country."

The challenges, according to him, pertain to solving the problems of such a large Indian community, the large number of passports and visas that have to be provided on a daily basis, the challenges pertaining to building closer relationships with the emiratis and with the Arab countries in general and raising awareness about India among the Arabs and the other nationalities that live in the UAE.

Giving a parting message to the Indian community in Dubai, Rajamony said: "I am very proud of the Indian community in this country because they are the true ambassadors of the country here. Wherever I go, I get to hear positive comments about their contribution to the economic development of this country, their sincerity and their hardworking nature. I would urge them to keep up the good work and continue to make India proud."


Some welfare measures

- Passport and visa services were outsourced to provide faster services and 12 centres were opened for this

- A dedicated call centre and website was set up.

- Attestation services were outsourced from within the consulate to reduce waiting time

- Attestation services provided in the offices of Indian Associations all over the UAE

- Shelter for women set up to provides free legal aid and free counselling

- During amnesty, 40,000 Emergency Certificates were issued and 20,000 passports returned.

- Created the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF)

- Distributed Dh336,000 from the ICWF for tickets for stranded workers during amnesty, sending back mortal remains, repatriation of patients, etc.

- India-Sharjah Business and Cultural Forum organised for the first time.

- Extensive interaction with Free Trade Zones of the UAE

- Special events held to promote Indian handicrafts in the region

 

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