JEDDAH: An outgoing Indian diplomat on Monday praised the strengthening ties between his country and Saudi Arabia as he ended a four-year stint as India’s consul general in Jeddah.
Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh said he was fortunate to have witnessed a remarkable turnaround in relations during his time in the Kingdom.
“India becoming Saudi Arabia’s second-largest trading partner is something to be very proud of and is indicative of how far the relationship has progressed,” he said.
Being part of the team that worked on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “very successful” visit to Riyadh in October 2019 was among the highlights of his tenure, Sheikh said, noting that the relationship between the two countries was one of the oldest and closest.
“I have seen the relationship grow by leaps and bounds in recent years. The leadership of the two countries is very close. Visits by our prime minister in April 2016 and October 2019 and of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in February 2019 have been watersheds in enhancing the relationship.
“I am happy to see many Saudi companies looking to India for technology and skilled personnel instead of only as a source of labor,” he said.
Before taking over as consul general in June 2016, Sheikh was Hajj consul for nearly four years. “Handling the Hajj operations successfully from 2012 to 2019 will always remain etched in my memory. Serving the pilgrims gave me immense satisfaction.”
Indian Hajj operations are the largest handled by the Indian government outside of its borders. “For us, it is quite challenging due to the diversity of Indian pilgrims in terms of their region, language, cuisine, et cetera,” he said.
Sheikh pointed out that during the period he was posted in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia had undergone huge transformations.
“Saudi Arabia is blessed with a very wise leadership and Vision 2030 is truly transformational. When I compare my first arrival in 2012 with now, there has been a positive change in the Kingdom’s economic and cultural worldview.
“Such steps as allowing women to drive and the opening of various cultural fronts are appreciated by one and all,” he added.
He said the excellent relationship between the leaders of the Kingdom and India, especially between the crown prince and Modi, was reflected in all official dealings and even among the Saudi people.
During his tenure, there were significant improvements in Hajj management, Sheikh said, adding that one of his proudest achievements was the issuance of passports to Indian nationals in three days instead of the previous 25.
“During these eight years of Hajj management, we have made all-out efforts to bring in transparency, efficiency, and digitalization of all procedures. We have also focused on prompt redressal of grievances — through helpline numbers, branch offices, mobile apps, and social media (Twitter and Facebook).
“I have always felt that it is best to resolve any problem at the beginning rather than leaving it unattended in which case, it might become an unmanageable problem,” he said.
“I have been fortunate to get excellent cooperation from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Ministry of Labor, and the seven governorates in the western region. Their constant support helped me in carrying out my tasks.
“When the Saudi Oger (construction company) crisis erupted in July 2016, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a telephone call late on a Friday evening from the director general of the Ministry of Labor requesting a meeting. Within half an hour, we were meeting at the consulate discussing ways to resolve the issue.
“Whenever any crisis or problems came up pertaining to community issues or Hajj, we unhesitatingly approached the concerned officials and the best possible solutions were always worked out,” Sheikh added.
On community links, he said: “I have interacted very closely with the local Saudi community in addition to my interactions on the official level. Many prefer to do business with India. Their love for Indian culture, food, and Bollywood is truly amazing.
“Who would have thought there would be so many yoga enthusiasts among them? I am also glad that the Kingdom has recognized yoga as a sports activity.”
He noted that he was leaving Saudi Arabia with great satisfaction at the improvements that had taken place over the past eight years.
The Indian community is the largest expat population in the Kingdom, he said, and in the western region there were about 1 million Indian nationals working in multiple sectors including health, engineering, construction, business, IT, education, journalism, and domestic services.
“They are held in high esteem and are well-known for their hard work as well as for being law-abiding and of an entrepreneurial nature,” he added.
Sheikh’s successor Badre Alam is expected to assume his responsibilities in the next few days.