Hajj pilgrimage an important component of Indo-Saudi bilateral relations

Amer Ali Khan

India and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial and friendly relations reflecting the centuries-old economic and socio-cultural ties. Both the countries have been establishing diplomatic relations for several decades. They are cooperating with each other in several realms. The trade between both the countries is boosted with each passing year. It can be hoped that the total trade between both the countries could reach several billion dollars in the next few years. Both countries give importance to mutual relations and strengthening trade relations is their top priority.

Saudi Arabia’s role in energy and security sectors holds importance for India. Saudi Arabia also extends every possible support to India. Both countries pay attention to joint ventures in investment, infrastructure development and other realms. Lakhs of workers from India are employed in Saudi Arabia and play an important role in bringing foreign exchange to the Indian economy.

Since Indian independence, the bilateral engagements have gradually strengthened. Both countries extend cooperation in all fields of mutual interest. However, the Hajj pilgrimage is the most important component of Indo-Saudi bilateral relations. A large number of Indians visit the Kingdom to perform Hajj and Umrah every year. The Saudi government has set up various departments which remain active the whole year. Saudi government strives to improve the facilities provided to the pilgrims by each passing year. India holds an important position in the eyes of Saudi Arabia due to the presence of a large number of Muslims in India. Last year a total of 175025 Indian pilgrims, including 47% of women pilgrims, visited Saudi Arabia for the Holy pilgrimage. Several women are performing Hajj without mehram (male companion). For the year 2019 also a considerable number of women applied for Hajj without Mehram and it is hoped that the number will increase in the coming days.

The facilities provided by the Saudi government for the pilgrims are unparalleled. Hundreds of workers are engaged in the arrangements. A separate department works for the arrangements in Haramain Sharifain. Effective measures are taken up for the boarding and lodging of pilgrims and their stay in mina, muzdalifa and Arafat during Hajj days.

Recently Saudi Arabia has also launched High-Speed Railway train between Makkah and Madina which shows its keenness to provide better facilities to the pilgrims.

Imparting a fresh momentum to the bilateral relationship, steps have begun to revive sea route for Hajj pilgrims. Using modern technology, travel time would be cut down. Best facilities and convenience will be ensured by using state-of-art ships. Measures are also taken to reduce the charges of pilgrimage via seat route as well. The Saudi government also cooperates with India in providing buildings with modern amenities near Haramain Sharifain.

In order to further strengthen the ties, an agreement was also signed in December 2018. With this pact, the Saudi Government made it clear that improving Hajj services and facilities are among its top priority. The role of Saudi Arabia in providing foolproof boarding and lodging arrangements during Hajj for Indian pilgrims is remarkable. It can be hoped that the bilateral relations between both the countries will be boosted further.