On March 18 in 2021, when everyone in India was drenched in the colours of Holi, the country’s relations with Gulf nation Kuwait took on a new hue. Both countries agreed to upgrade their joint commissions to foreign minister level during the twoday visit of Kuwait’s Foreign Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. The year also marked 60 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the 12-month festivities that were held to commemorate it. Subsequently, India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar visited Kuwait in June 2021. And one person who has been a part of the journey of both the erstwhile colonies becoming independent nations after securing freedom from British rule – India in 1947 and Kuwait in 1961 – is oldest non-resident Indian Surender Kumar Wadhawan.
At 85, he is the only surviving Indian to have seen it all. “I clearly remember both these events and recall the jubilation that had hit Delhi roads a day before India got freedom and the jubilation on Kuwait roads in 1961 and illumination as people hoped for a period of growth and stability,” remembers Wadhawan.
He was just 9 when Partition violence broke out in Nowshera Khojiyan in west Punjab, now Pakistan, and he lost his mother to it. He, along with his brother, managed to escape with a group of Sikhs. Travelling hundreds of kilometers on foot, covering mountains and crossing rivers they reached Jammu and from there were shifted to a refugee camp in Amritsar. It was here that they met their father, who had been searching for them, and they all went to Delhi.
Eight years later in 1957, when Wadhawan was only 17, he landed a job in Kuwait at an auto spare parts company and he reached the Kuwait seaport with nothing in his pocket except his dreams.
Those were the days when electricity supply was scant in Kuwait. Potable water was imported from Basra in Iraq and the country was under the British protectorate. Wadhawan was among the first few NRIs to have landed in the country. His hard work and dedication helped him gain extensive knowledge of the auto spare trade.
As Kuwait gained independence, Wadhawan was quick to spot the opportunities that a new nation offered and he quit his job to start his own venture. “I had saved Rs 13,000 at that time from my salary down the years and with that money I planned my venture,” he reminisces.
Thus “Samara Group” was formed in 1963 dealing in imported auto parts. “In a short span of time, Samara became synonymous with quality and integrity that we never compromised,” he says.
Today Samara is one of the largest distributors of auto spare parts in the Gulf and his success has inspired several other Indians to come to Kuwait and start their own ventures. The Indian community in Kuwait now stands at a million strong and Wadhawan is their undisputed leader.
Always ready to provide a helping hand to people in need, he along with his wife have undertaken several social, cultural, and humanitarian activities in India as well as in Kuwait. Wadhawan is the recipient of several national and international awards and accolades including Atal Samman and Third Abdul Muid Award from the Jamia Hamdard University.
Humanitarian first As President of an organization called Arsha Vidya Bharati, whose founder was Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Wadhawan helps provide education to under-privileged children in remote Indian villages and is spreading Indian cultural values through the teachings of vedas.
As Chairman of India Business Council, which he formed in late 1990s and headed for 15 years, he undertook several initiatives to promote business, trade, investments and other forms of cooperation and synergy between Kuwait and India.
This council has established strong institutional linkages with leading trade bodies in India such as CII, Ficci, Assocham as well as Kuwait Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
IBC hosts a series of events every year at Pravasi Bhartiya Divas. Wadhawan has been at the forefront of fund raising whenever natural calamities have struck in India, be it the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 or the tsunami in 2004 or the Covid pandemic in 2020-21. In 2006 when the late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah (2006-2020) visited India on his first overseas visit, Wadhawan led a strong delegation of Indian businessman to New Delhi to welcome the Amir and his entourage on behalf of the Indian community in Kuwait. him, India does have a strong emissary in Wadhawan and his imprint on ties with Kuwait will take the bilateral relations to a new level.