At all the meetings and events during HH the Emir’s visit to India, there was a pervasive atmosphere of friendship, trust and shared keenness to work together for greater progress and prosperity of the people of both countries.
By Sanjiv Arora/Doha
The state visit of HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to India on March 24 and 25 at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee has expectedly received extensive and prominent media coverage.
Many friends, including in media, have asked me to write about this visit. I am doing so, without dwelling upon the details of the official programme and the outcomes, about which so much has already been said and written.
The visit was highly significant in many ways. This was His Highness’s first visit to India, a country with whom Qatar’s relations are steeped in history. This was also the first visit of the head of state of an Arab country after India’s current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May.
Interestingly, the 34-year-old Emir is the second youngest head of state to visit India. While King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan is older than HH Sheikh Tamim by less than four months, he was 29 years young when he paid his first state visit to India in December, 2009. Such visits are highly inspirational for the youth of India, a country which has over 650mn people below the age of 35, as Prime Minister Modi emphasised to the Emir.
The most important dimension of any official visit between two nations is the personal chemistry between the leaders. HH the Emir and the Indian leadership struck an instant and excellent rapport reflecting the strong ties, nurtured by cultural affinities, people-to-people contacts and trade and commerce between our two great countries through centuries.
At all the meetings and events, there was a pervasive atmosphere of friendship, trust and shared keenness to work together for greater progress and prosperity of the people of both countries.
Interactions during the visit had a remarkable personal flavour, with the leaders exuding a sense of family reunion (Lamm Shaml Al Aayila). The same sentiments permeated during official and informal interactions between the two delegations.
Shortly after we reached the Leela Palace Hotel after receiving His Highness, the hotel lobby acquired the distinctive ambience of a majlis (or a chai ki chaupal - a place to relax and converse over cups of tea!), with officials from both sides, many of whom were meeting for the first time, intimately talking and engaging in light-hearted banter as if they had been friends for long!
I was touched by my Qatari friends suggesting that I may consider staying with them. Similar feelings were expressed by esteemed businessmen from Qatar when we were together savouring their favourite Indian cuisine, especially biryani, kebabs and naan at Hotel Maurya Sheraton the next day. Such bonhomie is not experienced often during state visits!
Indian leadership warmly recalled the visits of the Father Emir, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 1999, 2005 and 2012, and the visit of HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser in 2006, and HH the Emir spoke about their fondness for India with equal warmth.
The Indian side’s admiration for Qatar’s leadership and the strides being made to achieve Vision 2030, and His Highness’s articulation of Qatar’s trust in India and its leadership, and deep appreciation for the sincere contribution of Indian nationals to Qatar’s progress, struck a strong chord among everyone involved in the deliberations.
Prime Minister Modi complimented HH the Emir for his commitment and vision for India-Qatar ties; clarity and precision of thoughts and expression; and outcome oriented approach. His Highness reciprocated these sentiments and expressed appreciation for Prime Minister Modi’s vision, leadership and initiatives.
HH the Emir truly won the hearts and minds of India’s leaders and people. I frequently heard the comment: “The Emir of Qatar is so tall, impressive, pleasant and gracious”.
India’s Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who was the minister in waiting during the visit, was overwhelmed by His Highness’s passion for sports - Rathore is a renowned shooter, who has won many medals and awards, including an individual bronze medal at the Asian Games in Doha in December, 2006.
A senior official sitting next to me at the ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Estate) whispered to me: “I have attended many such occasions. The courtesy and respect with which His Highness is inspecting the guard of honour is truly a class... .”
A legendary actress of Indian cinema, with whom I was standing in the line-up of guests at the state banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee, told me that she had already become a fan of HH the Emir who is “so tall, handsome and elegant!”
For me personally, it has been a privilege to be a part of the preparations and programme of this landmark visit, that has opened a new chapter in India-Qatar relations. When I had the honour of presenting my credentials to HH Sheikh Tamim on September 25, 2012, he had spoken very warmly about India.
Qatar has been home to me and my family for over two and a half years. On the night of March 25, 2015, when my turn came to say goodbyes at Palam Air Force Station in New Delhi, HH the Emir smiled and remarked: “Ambassador, see you soon in Doha...!”
I flew back from Delhi to Doha with a sense of fulfilment and a myriad memories of this visit...
♦ The writer is India’s ambassador to the State of Qatar