By Ed Attwood
Debates may rage over our rankings, but no one can deny that Indians have been pivotal to the GCC's growth
If there was any doubt as to the importance of the Indian business contribution to life in the UAE, one figure will immediately dispel it. Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries topped $43bn. And by no means was it all one way, with UAE exports to the Asian economic powerhouse making up just under $20bn. That amounts to the entire nominal GDP of Tunisia last year, if you want to put that number into perspective.
Due to the long historical ties between the two countries, trade between India and the UAE is by far the largest in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, which is looking to increase those ties substantially, saw around $7bn worth of exports and imports last year, with the other GCC countries following on behind.
No wonder that so many non-resident Indians (NRI) have decided to call the Gulf their home. According to the latest figures sent to Arabian Business by the Indian consulate general in Dubai, the Indian population in the UAE now stands at 1.7 million. Again, to put that figure into perspective, the UAE Statistics Bureau said last year that the population of the country in total was just 8.26 million, which means that Indians represent around 21 percent of residents. They outnumber local nationals by not far off two to one, and make up almost a quarter of all expats living in the UAE.
But the UAE doesn’t even have the largest Indian population in the Gulf — that honour goes to Saudi Arabia, which has 1.79 million resident Indians, making up just under seven percent of the population there.
This week, Arabian Business is publishing its annual list of the most powerful Indians in the Gulf. Our first list, last year, garnered an enormous amount of attention, and I have no doubt that the phones will be ringing off the hook again when our latest list is released. But whether you disagree with the placings, or whether you think that we’ve missed out on someone vital, we hope the main point is absolutely clear; that Indian businessmen and women have been absolutely vital to the development of the Gulf as we know it.
Take Maghanmal Pancholia, for example. The Arabian Trading Agency chairman has now lived in Dubai for more than six decades; he moved here aged seventeen, at a time when there was no running water, no roads, and the main form of transportation was a donkey. Pancholia’s decision to buy a generator and supply electricity to the markets around Dubai Creek made him the first man to bring power to the emirate.
But, like so many other names on our list, Pancholia didn’t just let the cash roll in and rest on his laurels. He laid the foundations for Dubai’s first Indian High School, which today has more than 9,000 pupils enrolled there.
Time and again, we hear of Indian expats giving back to the communities that have supported them. There’s Krishnamurthy Kumar, who set up the Indian Community Welfare Committee to support Indians in local difficulties, and just last week, Siddharth Balachandran donated $136,000 to the same charity.
While we have made every effort to ensure that the names on the list are the right ones, we can’t claim to be infallible. Please get in touch to let us know your thoughts; the more names we can collect, the better next year’s list will be.
Ed Attwood is the Deputy Editor of Arabian Business.