Narendra Modi meets Saudi prince in Argentina on the sidelines of G20 summit – discusses crude oil prices, investments.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) at the latter’s residence in Buenos Aires may turn out to be the most important development at the G-20 Summit from India’s perspective. This could also be Modi’s most significant foreign policy intervention.
MBS has, according a report by Saudi Press Agency, indicated his willingness to “supply India with all of its needs of oil and petroleum products.
We have used the words ‘may’ and ‘could’ because there is many a slip between the cup and the lip; our foreign office is talented enough to transform opportunities into crises. But it is indubitable that there is an initiative and there is a possibility.
It is a well-known fact that MBS, till a few weeks ago lauded as the harbinger of change in the ultra-orthodox Kingdom has become an international pariah. He has been accused of the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. MBS, reported Reuters, “was sidelined during the official ‘family photo’ of world leaders and other dignitaries at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires on Friday, standing at the far edge of the group portrait and ignored… The Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, quickly exited the stage without shaking hands or talking with other leaders.”
Fraternizing MBS at this time will of course incense liberals all over the world, including in India, where they dislike Modi and MBS in equal measure—Modi for obvious reasons and MBS because he is tough on the fundamentalists. In fact, Khashoggi was a friend of Osama bin Laden and the spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the fraternizing is in India’s national interest.
At a time when international crude prices are high, Saudi Arabia can help India which is heavily dependent on oil imports. Expensive crude is having a bad effect on our fiscal and current account deficits. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s statement on the content of the meeting seems to be some indicator: “Prime Minister, in particular, stressed about the importance of having stable and predictable energy prices and some discussions took place between the two leaders on how Saudi Arabia can contribute and help in stabilizing energy prices particularly for India.”
Besides, India is also keen on investment. Again, MBS can be of considerable assistance. MBS has, according a report by Saudi Press Agency, indicated his willingness to “supply India with all of its needs of oil and petroleum products, as well as Saudi giant Aramco’s investment in refineries in India, especially the large refinery on the western coast of India and in the field of crude oil storage.”
For too long, India has been a preachy nation, sermonizing and pontificating incessantly about humanitarian principles.
It can be argued and will be argued by liberals, that Khashoggi’s murder should not be condoned, that India should not trade morality with cheap oil. Well, improving ties with MBS’ Saudi Arabia doesn’t condone the murder. At any rate, even before his killing, the Kingdom’s human rights record—as that of dozens of other countries with whom we have relations—was not exemplary.
For too long, India has been a preachy nation, sermonizing and pontificating incessantly about humanitarian principles, Gandhian ideas, and other nice things. The preaching often cost us dear. Over half a century ago, it infuriated the US to the extent that the then president Lyndon Johnson was about to stop food shipments to India—something that could have caused untold misery to the food-starved nation.
It is time we put our national interest before grand principles. US President Donald Trump is doing that; this is the reason he has gone soft on MBS. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is doing that. It is good to see that Modi has not followed the hate-MBS trend. Whether foreign office mandarins, steeped in Nehruvian mindset, would translate the Prime Minister’s initiative into a major advantage, is to be seen.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.