New Delhi: Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will be visiting Saudi Arabia this week, in one of the highest levels of contact between India and Saudi Arabia after a major shakeup in the ruling establishment of the kingdom last year which saw Mohammed bin Salman being named the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Sushma Swaraj will visit Saudi Arabia from 6-8 February during which she will inaugurate a prestigious festival of the Gulf nation, the external affairs ministry said on Sunday.
Swaraj’s visit comes almost two years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Gulf kingdom in 2016. It also comes days before Modi is to visit Palestine, the UAE and Oman. Swaraj’s visit also comes before a trip to India by Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani expected at the end of February. Added to this, India could also be playing host to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud sometime later this year.
According to a statement by India’s minister of state for external affairs, V.K. Singh, who is currently on a visit to Riyadh, Swaraj will head the Indian delegation that will showcase Asia’s third largest economy at the Saudi “National Heritage and Cultural Festival".
India is the “Guest of Honour country" at the festival known as Janadriyah, organized annually since 1985. “It is a rare honour for India to be named the guest country at this festival," said a person familiar with the development who did not wish to be named.
During his visit, Singh met the minister of national guard, Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Muhammad bin Eyaf al-Muqrin Al-Saud.
“There will be displays and presentations by ministries and departments such as Indian Ordnance Factories Board, Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation), India Tourism board, ministry of shipping, ministry of textiles, handicrafts promotion council, ministry of food processing industries, skill development, Digital India, Make in India etc," Singh said in a statement made available on the foreign ministry website.
A number of Indian companies will also be represented at the festival including Larsen & Tubro, Tata Motors, Al Abeer Medical Group, Jet Airways, Shapoorji Pallonji and Aster Med City, the minister said.
“On the traditional side, the India Pavilion will have presentations representing our socio-cultural heritage, folklore, traditional costumes, Indian perfumes, bridal costumes, artifacts, display of specimen of calligraphy, Arabic manuscripts etc. Our Saudi friends will also be able to enjoy glimpses of Indian Food at the Flavours of India booth in the Indian Pavilion," Singh said. Yoga demonstrations, the screening of Indian Bollywood movies and performances by Indian classical dance troupes—Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Chhau and Bhangra—will complete the Indian cultural experience at the 18-day festival.
India greatly values its “close and deep rooted civilizational and strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Singh said noting that the Gulf country was home to more than three million expatriate Indians. “I have no doubt that India’s participation in this festival will take our relationship to new heights," he added.