Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi started a visit to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to inaugurate the Middle East’s largest Hindu temple and boost investment and trade links.
The two governments signed deals, including a framework agreement on a major trade and transport route, at the start of Modi’s two-day visit, the third in the past eight months.
His trip comes ahead of India’s national election which is expected to begin in April.
He was due to inaugurate the region’s largest Hindu temple on Wednesday, a day after he addresses thousands of expatriates in a community event in the capital Abu Dhabi.
The visit is largely focused on galvanizing the diaspora, according to experts, even though Indians in the UAE can’t vote from abroad.
The UAE is home to about 3.5 million Indian nationals — the largest expatriate community in the Gulf country.
On Tuesday, Modi met UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to the Indian foreign ministry and local state media, their fifth meeting in eight months.
They inked several deals, including a bilateral investment treaty, building on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2022, India’s foreign ministry said.
They also signed a “intergovernmental framework agreement” on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, a ship-to-rail transit network that will supplement existing sea and land routes.
The ministry did not elaborate on the deal, which comes after an ambitious plan for a modern-day Spice Route was first announced on the sidelines of a G20 summit in New Delhi in September.
Ties have gradually deepened since a landmark 2015 visit by Modi to the UAE, the first by an Indian prime minister in over three decades.
The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade volume of around $85 billion between 2022 and 2023.
Later on Tuesday, Modi was expected to address large crowds at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where organizers say some 60,000 Indian expatriates had registered.
For Modi, “this visit will be focused on the diaspora,” said Ian Hall, author of the book Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy.