ABU DHABI // Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and a 21-gun salute greeted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the Presidential Airport on Sunday.
Sheikh Mohammed, also Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, welcomed Mr Modi and invited him to inspect the honour guard.
He said the visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years, came within the context of the ties between the two countries that were laid down by the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, based on mutual trust and close friendship.
“The UAE, under the leadership of the President, Sheikh Khalifa, is pursuing and promoting Sheikh Zayed’s approach through diversified, excellent ties that serve all economic, developmental, trade, cultural and political sectors,’’ said Sheikh Mohammed.
He said Mr Modi’s interest in visiting the UAE was “a true expression of the bonds of friendship and fruitful bilateral cooperation, as well as the common vision towards a wide range of regional and international issues.
“We also share with you this interest, given your country’s important role in international politics and global economic growth.”
Sheikh Mohammed expressed gratitude for the contributions made by Indian expatriates to the UAE’s development.
“The Indian community has made significant contributions in the process of building the country and development that the UAE is witnessing. It is a natural extension of age-old bonds between the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Gulf,” he said.
Mr Modi was keen to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and was accompanied there by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, and Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Later, the prime minister travelled to Industrial City Abu Dhabi in Mussaffah, to meet Indian expatriates, of whom there are about 2.6 million in the UAE.
About 200 residents had gathered in a recreation centre at the camp, eager to meet their leader.
The audience buzzed when Mr Modi entered the hall, wearing a light yellow-coloured silk kurta and a shawl. He shook hands and posed for photographs with his compatriots.
“How are you, brother?” he asked workers in Hindi.
Residents said the prime minister’s visit helped to boost their morale.
They hoped that after his visit, Mr Modi would do more to improve the situations of workers supporting their families at home.
Others believed that Mr Modi should not implement taxation rules on workers’ remittances and should let them take home electronic goods without paying customs fees.
“We are very happy that you came to our camp and enquired about our living conditions. This is great thing for us,” one worker told the prime minister. Another congratulated him on India’s Independence Day, which was celebrated on Saturday.
About 50,000 workers live in the accommodations, of whom about 40 per cent are Indian.Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Labour, and Dr Gargash accompanied Mr Modi at Icad.
“We are taking care of them because we think they are a part of us,” Mr Ghobash told him after the event.
Kishan Lal, a carpenter, said he would probably not have met Mr Modi in India.
“I am very delighted to meet my prime minister, which was not possible in India,” said Mr Lal, who is from Rajasthan and has lived in the UAE for 19 years.
Ganesharam Suthar, who has lived in the country for 20 years and works as a mechanic, said he felt lucky to meet Mr Modi and shake his hand.
“We hope after this interaction that our prime minister will think about us and do more good things for us,” Mr Suthar said.
“We never imagined the our prime minister would come to workers’ accommodation to enquire about the well-being of Indian workers. It feels great to us and we are very fortunate to meet him.”
Another Icad resident, Sai Sahu from the state of Odisha, said money transfer taxes on remittances should not be charged.
“Workers do very hard work to earn this money here,” said Mr Sahu. “We will be very glad if this tax wouldn’t be implemented.”
Devendra Singh, a chef from the Indian state of Uttarakhand, said, “We can’t even dream of meeting the prime minister in India, but here my dreams have come true.”
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(via The National)