by Tarun Basu

Amazing things are happening between India and Saudi Arabia, whose hitherto energy-centred partnership is being upgraded and transformed into a multi-dimensional relationship. And all this is happening without too much fuss and publicity as both countries have been working quietly, and assiduously, to work towards elevating the relationship into a meaningful strategic partnership to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing Geostrategic environment. 

In fact, 2018 could well go down as Year of India-Saudi Arabia partnership as the two countries gear up to celebrate 70 years of ties with high-level visits on both sides; a spring inauguration by Saudi Arabia by one of the biggest embassies globally in New Delhi; India the partner country at its national heritage festival; a royal visit on the cards and other multi-layered visits on both sides by officials, businesspersons, cultural troupes, academics, strategic analysts, media persons etc. 

In fact, Saudi Arabia - its transformative political, economic and social decisions powered by a young, dynamic Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman - has been coming up with collaborative ideas at such a rapid-fire pace that is has left Indian officials - used to laidback, cumbersome decision making till now by Riyadh - scrambling to keep up. But Indians officials, according to visiting Saudis, have not been found wanting and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embraced the new partnership with enthusiasm and vigour. 

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is slated to be in Riyadh in the second week of February where India is the guest of honour at the Janadriyah Festival. Held 42 km northeast of Riyadh, it is Saudi Arabia’s national festival of heritage and culture and choosing India as the guest of honour is seen as a signal to the world of the growing importance of India in the Kingdom's scheme of things. This visit is likely to be followed by a high-level royal visit to India, possibly by King Salman himself if all goes well, and who is likely to inaugurate the new embassy building in the capital's Chanakyapuri diplomatic enclave. The 17,500 square-metre complex - whose top-of-the-line construction material has been sourced from different countries - is likely to become the largest foreign embassy complex in India. 

One of the significant facets of the strengthening relationship has been the growing security and intelligence cooperation, much of which does not get publicised In fact, Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir in September 2016, even though it was clear that its fount was from across the border in Pakistan. 

In a world of changing equations brought about by a iconoclastic leader at the helm in Washington, who is ensuring that old relationships and treaties can no longer be held sacrosanct, the emerging India-Saudi Arabia bond would be a relationship to watch. And this in turn could impact on the geopolitics of South Asia where Pakistan was always known to have fraternal ties with Saudi Arabia and Riyadh/Jeddah was the second home of exiled Pakistani politicians and leaders who always dashed there for counsel on crucial governance issues in their own country. What is most significant is that, despite the old Riyadh-Islamabad ties, India was given precedence over Pakistan for being guest of honour at its national festival. Its surely is a signal of things to come!