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Wednesday 29 January 2020

Iran-US war may bring to India lakhs of jobless expatriates

While at the most 1,200 Indians live in Iran, war will affect the entire Gulf region, risking people's properties, health and even lives

The spectre of the old rivalry between Iran and the US has risen again following the killing of Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps by the US forces. Neither country is in a reconciliatory mood. Tensions have increased throughout the Gulf region since this incident. This is affecting the whole world. India will be affected too. Iran is important for India in many ways.

After China, India is the only other country in the world that buys a bulk of the oil it needs from Iran. India buys about 39% of its oil from Iran from Saudi Arabia and Iran. If there is a war, then the oil vessels can be stopped. With this, the price of oil will increase in India including the whole world. If there is war, the danger will be but less to the economy and more to Indians living in Gulf countries.

At this time, around 1 crore Indians live near the Persian Gulf. There are not many Indians in Iran, but even there the number is between 800 and 1,200. But in the event of war, more Indians from Gulf countries may return.

Iran does not stand a chance in a war with the US, but if there is war, the Gulf region will witness a mass exodus. About 1 crore Indians will be affected by this.

The US has already instructed its citizens to leave the Gulf countries. Britain has increased security on its military base in the Gulf countries.

Next to Iran in numbers, most Shia Muslims live in India. That could mean domestic pressure on the Indian government to intervene at least by way of requesting the US to exercise restraint.

About 1 crore Indians live in Gulf countries. All of them face threats to life as Iran, which may be incapable of attacking the US directly, may target Arabian countries known to have friendly ties with the US. It may attack Israel too.

Even if the war remains confined to Iraq and Iran, desperate or belligerent use of chemical or biological weapons in the conflict will jeopardise the lives of civilians in the entire Gulf region.

Both US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani have rhetorically attacked each other on Twitter, with the latter suggesting it could hurt American interests in any place within its reach.

During the Gulf War of 1990, 1.75 lakh citizens of India were airlifted and brought home.

If there is a war between the US and Iran, Asian countries will feel the maximum impact. India’s geostrategic and geopolitical situations will deteriorate. Because India has good relations with both countries.

Already, the Chabahar port in Iran, which was supposed to be India’s answer to China-sponsored Pakistan’s Gwadar, is not in a position to secure its trade interests with India which has somewhat yielded under the pressure of the Donald Trump administration, reducing commerce with the Shi’ah country.

Saudi Arabia: About 41 million
UAE: about 3.5 million
Oman: about 9.50 lakhs
Kuwait: about 07 lakhs
Qatar: about 6.50 lakhs
Bahrain: around 1.50 lakhs
Iran: Between 800 and 1200
Iraq: Data of Indians not available
Total: 1 crore Indians

While not all these people of Indian origin may return home, a fraction of this population would amount to lakhs. Further, their respective employers may not all be able to pay them in the duration that they spend in India. Worse, remittances to India will slump. The country is in no shape to absorb this large workforce.

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