Hassan Rouhani swearing-in: India to send Nitin Gadkari with eye on Chabahar port
New Delhi: India will be represented by transport minister Nitin Gadkari at the swearing-in ceremony of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this week.
Gadkari’s presence in Tehran on 5 August assumes importance in the backdrop of India’s plan to develop the Chabahar port in Iran, which would give India access to landlocked Afghanistan and energy-rich Central Asia through its Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla ports on the west coast, circumventing Pakistan.
Reformist Rouhani was re-elected in May after defeating his hardliner rival judge Ebrahim Raisi. US-Iran relations have been strained since the US on 28 July imposed sanctions on the West Asian country over its missile programme.
“Decision to nominate Gadkari was taken by the Prime Minister himself. The decision was taken as shipping ministry is undertaking development works in Iran and the minister enjoys a great repute with the nation,” said an Indian government official who didn’t want to be identified.
The move comes at a time when India has stepped up work at the Chabahar port and is moving to install equipment worth $150 million. India has finalized the procurement of the equipment including Rail Mounted Quey Crane for the Iranian port and work on installing the equipment is likely to start soon, said the official mentioned above. The equipment is being purchased in seven packages, he added.
The Chabahar port, located in the Gulf of Oman near Iran’s border with Pakistan, is less than 100km from Pakistan’s Chinese-constructed port of Gwadar, part of a project to open up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf to western China.
India has also built a 218-km road link connecting Delaram with Zaranj in Afghanistan, which is adjacent to Iran’s border. The port will also promote India’s strategic interests in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.
“The minister has been specifically asked to represent India given our interests there and in the region,” said a person aware of the planned visit, requesting anonymity.
India under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has crafted a West Asia policy that envisages ties with Israel, the Arab states and Iran. Modi has already visited Israel and key Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as well as the Shia majority Iran.
India may also leverage Chabahar for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which will connect the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf with the Caspian Sea through Iran and then onwards to St. Petersburg in Russia and northern Europe.
A 10-year commercial contract for the development and operations of Chabahar port was signed between India Ports Global Pvt. Ltd and Iran’s Arya Banader on 23 May 2016 in Tehran, during the Modi visit. India Ports Global is a consortium of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Kandla Port Trust. The agreement commits India to equipping and operating the terminal for 10 years.