Classical Music Lover Who Cared For Hindu Temples: The Deep India Connect Of Oman’s Late Sultan Qaboos
Yesterday, India declared national mourning day to honour the memory of Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who died on 10 January at the age of 79.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said served as the Sultan of Oman from 23 July 1970 until his death, and has become the longest-serving leader in the Middle East and Arab world.
India Oman relations
In a brief released in September 2019 by the Indian government on the relations, it was stated:
“India and Oman are linked by geography, history and culture and enjoy warm and cordial relations, which are attributed to historical maritime trade linkages, intimacy of the Royal family with India and the seminal role played by Indian expatriate community in building Oman, which is acknowledged by Omani Government”
Apart from political, strategic, economic and cultural relations, the brief also hailed the people-to-people ties between India and Oman.
One of the cornerstone figures for booming India-Oman ties was the late Sultan. His connect with India was forged on a personal level when he was a student in Pune.
Sent by his father, who was an alumnus of Ajmer’s Mayo College, Sultan Qaboos took admission at a private institution in Pune, where he was taught by Shankar Dayal Sharma, who later became India’s president.
The Sultan over the years maintained deep respect for his teacher Shankar Dayal Sharma and broke protocol to organise a grand welcome during his visit in capacity as the President of India.
“He has very fond memories from his student days…and that is the reason he has been very generous towards the Indian community and India’s requests for help”, an Indian Diplomat was quoted as saying at the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with the Sultan back in 2018.
During this visit, the Sultan made another personal gesture by sending breakfast made in the royal palace for Prime Minister Modi.
Known to be extremely generous towards Indians, the Sultan loved classical music and personally participated in an orchestra as a drummer when the music played during former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in 2009.
This personal connect transcended into a diplomatic bonhomie with India and the Sultan gave Indian Navy access to the Duqm port. The defence partnership also extended to India supplying rifles for the Sultanate's security.
A friend of Hindus, the Sultan gave citizenship to at least a 1,000 of them and personally cared for two temples in Oman. Prime Minister Modi during his official visit to Oman also visited a 250-year-old Shiv temple in the country.
The Life Of Sultan Qaboos
The deepening of India Oman ties occurred under leadership of Sultan Qaboos.
When Qaboos was born in 1940 in the southern provincial capital of Salalah, Oman was relatively untouched by modernity and existed in relative isolation.
As the only son of the then Sultan of Oman of Al-Said dynasty that had ruled for centuries, Qaboos was sent to Britain for his education. He attended the elite Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and graduated in 1962. He also served in a British infantry battalion in Germany.
Before returning to his home-country in 1966, Qaboos also learnt local government subjects in England and did a world tour.
Upon his return, Qaboos’s ambitions and ideas started clashing with that of his father, and he was put in a virtual house arrest by the Sultan.
Qaboos acceded to the throne on in July 1970 following a successful coup against his father. The coup was said to be "planned in London” and sanctioned by the British government.
The first challenge in front of the new Sultan was Dhofar rebellion in the south - a Marxist-Leninist insurgency supported by Chinese and Soviet weaponry. Heavily armed, the communists controlled the entire Jebel region by 1970.
As soon as he came to power, Qaboos began to incorporate the Dhofar with the rest of the Oman. He formally incorporated it into Oman as the "southern province".
He offered a general amnesty to those rebels who decide to come aboard, and strong military action against the rest.
At this time, the communists were also receiving support from other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia who had territorial disputes with Oman.
Qaboos started deft diplomacy for having Oman recognised as a genuine Arab state with its own legal form of government, and ending the support to the communist rebels. In this, he was helped by the communists’ secular or materialistic teachings against Islam, brutal killing of Muslim clerics, that were alarming other Arab leaders.
When Qaboos took over, Oman’s military was outnumbered, poorly equipped and no match for the communist rebels. He started a plan of administrative and military modernisation.
Within hours of the coup, British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers were flown into Oman to bolster the counterinsurgency campaign. The British “heart and minds” campaign successfully used Islam and traditional tribal values and customs against the communists .
Many rebels defected to the side of the Sultan and were organised into irregular units, trained by British Army Training Teams. While these teams gave themselves names related to Islam, the communist groups were named after communist ideologues like “Ho Chi Minh” or “Che Guevara”.
Qaboos worked on building a relationship with Shah of Iran, and as China also established relationship with the latter, the support to rebels dwindled. The Shah of Iran also provided military support to Oman. The defeat of the communists became certain at this point.
The success of Qaboos’s diplomacy was also visible in Oman maintaining a neutral position between the West and the Gulf, as well as the Shia-Sunni axis. In different crises, Qaboos was frequently sought as a mediator.
Oman served as the back channel for talks between the United States and Iran in the lead-up to a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, and didn’t join the Saudi coalition in the war in Yemen.
Qaboos also established working relations with Israel, against the current of the times. In April last year, Oman had said that Arabs must take initiatives to make Israel overcome "fears for its future" in the region.
While Oman is predominantly Muslim, Qaboos granted freedom of religion and allowed the construction of four Catholic and Protestant churches in the country as well as several Hindu temples.
He used the earnings from the oil exports to build infrastructure. While Oman had just a handful of primary schools and some 8 km of paved roads when he sat on the throne, he turned it into a modern state with well over 1,000 schools and a massive highway network.
Qaboos was intensely private, and concentrated power in his hands. He held every top post, from the commander of the armed forces to the finance minister.
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