ABU DHABI // The head of Dubai's Indian Community Welfare Centre was pleased to hear about the first UAE visit in seven years by an Indian president when the news came yesterday. He already knows her and is looking forward to renewing their acquaintance.
K Kumar was among Indian expatriates who awoke to the news that the visit by Pratibha Patil, the first woman to hold the office and the 12th president of the republic, had been confirmed for November 21-23. He first met her when he received the Pravasi Bharatiya Award for helping to run the UAE women's shelter. The welfare centre is part of the Indian consulate in Dubai.
"I was really pleased and amazed when I met her, especially about the things she knew about the UAE," Mr Kumar said. "She is well aware of everything that is happening between the two countries and she was very pleased with the kind of work we were doing here."
Mrs Patil will meet with Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, during her three-day visit and will tour Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The last Indian head of state to visit the country was APJ Abdul Kalam, Mrs Patil's predecessor, in 2003. Mrs Patil, a lawyer, was governor of Rajasthan state before succeeding Mr Abdul Kalam as president in 2007.
KB Murali, the president of the Kerala Social Centre in Abu Dhabi, heard about Mrs Patil's visit while talking to members of the centre but has yet to receive official notification of her schedule. Cultural programs or a formal reception by the leaders of the Indian community can be only planned once they are made aware of her official engagements with senior UAE officials.
"This visit demonstrates a strong bond that has grown between the two countries," said Mr Murali. "Day by day, the bonds have been strengthened on all fronts, including politically, historically and culturally."
Ramesh Vishwanathan, the founder and president of the Dubai-based UAE Tamil Sangam, said it was opportunities like this that afforded expatriates to interact with Indian leaders.
"I am sure people would like to talk to her," he said. "But we are also seeing this as a significant step for the two countries."
Official visits between the two countries date back when Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, toured India in 1975. Although several heads of state from India have visited the UAE since the 1970s, including president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in 1976, it was the visit of prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1981 that remains memorable to some expatriates who have lived here for more almost four decades.
Mohan Jashanmal, the chairman of the Jashanmal group, said Mrs Patil's visit, apart from binding the two countries and strengthening ties, provided a sign of the times in that a woman was at the helm of driving relations between two nations.
"This is indicative of the change taking place," he said. "Today or tomorrow, women as powerful leaders have to be recognised, whether they are [Margaret] Thatcher, [Indira] Gandhi or Pratibha Patil."
He also vividly remembered the day he received an invite to meet Mrs Gandhi in 1981. The former Indian ambassador to the UAE, Hamed Ansari, had returned to India and returned with Mrs Gandhi as part of her protocol team. Mr Jashanmal was excited that his friend Mr Ansari had been picked by Mrs Gandhi to lead her across the country.
"We were all invited to see her," said Mr Jashanmal. "It was very exciting for me, particularly."
Mr Jashanmal also recalled the times that Sheikh Zayed visited India and in turn led to Mrs Gandhi's visit.
"When the late Sheikh Zayed had gone to India to visit Indira Gandhi, that was really, very memorable for us," he said. "This visit by the current president is a continuity of that relationship that Sheikh Zayed founded. He started by opening the doors to go to India."