DUBAΪ: India’s government under Narendra Modi faces arguably its toughest diplomatic test in his nine years as the country’s helm, as the Islamic world seethes with anger and Muslim countries express outrage at following derogatory remarks made by a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) official about the Prophet Muhammad during a recent televised debate.
While at least sixteen Islamic-majority countries voiced their objections through tweets, official statements and summonses from Indian diplomats, the BJP was forced to suspend Nupur Sharma, the party’s national spokesperson, and expel a another official for screenshotting his offensive comment in a tweet.
Earlier demonstrations in the northern Indian city of Kanpur to protest the remarks left more than forty people injured when the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, a pure Hindu nationalist and hard, went after the demonstrators.
Nupur Sharma’s remarks, made on May 27 during a televised debate on a court dispute, gained momentum when a journalist as well as a fact-checker shared on Twitter an excerpt from his about.
After his dismissal, she wrote that she was withdrawing her remarks “unconditionally” and that it was “never her intention to hurt anyone’s religious feelings”. But many considered his apology too late.
A number of retired Indian diplomats have since spoken out about the incident, warning that the crisis in India’s relations with the Islamic world is grave, and they have urged the Modi government to do some soul-searching instead of licking their socks off. the wounds.
According to the former diplomats, the Modi government should realize that it cannot continue to do whatever it wants at home with impunity and maintain good relations with Islamic or Western countries.
“Time and time again we have witnessed abuses against India’s Muslim community and attempts to erase the country’s Islamic heritage. The tradition is that other countries do not interfere in the internal affairs of another country, but abusing the Holy Prophet is a line not to be crossed,” Talmiz Ahmad, an Indian diplomat at the retired, author and political commentator.
“At some point, people overseas will say, ‘Enough is enough!’ I believe that moment has arrived. You cannot persecute a community in your country and pretend that you have a high moral stature abroad. It doesn’t work that way.”
India’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the offensive tweets and comments “in no way reflect the views of the government. These are the opinions of fringe elements.”
The ruling BJP’s first task is to defuse what the Indian opposition sees as a diplomatic crisis for which it is responsible.
Calling for “respect for beliefs and religions”, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it “reaffirms its continued rejection of prejudice against symbols of the Islamic religion, and refuses to prejudice all religious figures and symbols” .
The ministry welcomed the action taken by the BJP to suspend Ms. Sharma from her post.
Qatar has demanded that India apologize for its ‘Islamophobic’ comments and summoned the Indian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, on the second day of an official visit by Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and a business delegation aimed at boosting trade.
Kuwait also summoned the Indian ambassador, while a supermarket in the Gulf state pulled Indian products from its shelves in protest at the remarks. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Iran are among the other traditionally pro-India Middle Eastern countries that have made their objections known in various ways.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque condemned Ms. Sharma’s remarks, calling them a “genuine terrorist action that contributes to pushing the whole world into devastating crises and bloody wars”, and urged the United Nations to take action to protecting minority rights in India amid what she describes as “increased hatred and abuse of Islam in India and against Muslims.”
To put the official condemnations into context, Javed Ansari, a leading Indian political reporter and commentator, told Arab News: “The Prophet Muhammad is the most revered and sacred figure in Islam. It was he who spread the word of Allah and laid the groundwork for religion. That is why Muslims all over the world, including in India, refuse to tolerate any derogatory remarks about him. While they accept the right to freedom of expression in principle, they believe that this freedom does not give anyone the right to insult or make derogatory remarks about the Prophet. They consider that their feelings and their beliefs should be respected.”
For the Indian government, the danger of letting the anger of the Muslim world fester cannot be overstated. Annual trade between India and the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) amounts to 87 billion dollars (1 dollar = 0.93 euro). Saudi Arabia is the second largest oil exporter to India, after Iraq, while Qatar supplies 40% of India’s natural gas needs.
On a macroeconomic scale, according to Ahmad, remittances from the Indian community in the GCC countries generate revenues that cover more than a third of the Indian government’s annual oil import bills. He describes India’s ties with the bloc, which span trade, logistics, energy and investment, as substantial, adding that for New Delhi the real danger lies not in a boycott of Indian goods, but in a possible negative impact on the recruitment of Indian workers.
An estimated 8.5 million Indians work in the GCC bloc, making up the largest expatriate community in each member country. Every year, they send some $35 billion in remittances that support 40 million of their family members in India. It is estimated that every Indian employed in the Gulf has at least four or five people who depend on his earnings abroad.
Mr. Ahmad points out that relations between the Gulf and India go back five thousand years, and he indicates that the diplomatic backlash was unlikely to damage long-term India’s ties with the Arabian Gulf and other Muslim-majority countries.
“Indians are the first community in the GCC and the majority community in some countries, and this is because we have chosen accommodation and moderation, and completely rejected any involvement in local politics. This is the strength of the community,” says Mr. Ahmad.
“I personally think that the shooting will be corrected. Some advice and warnings have been given. I think the turnaround is on track and likely to work for both sides to mutual benefit.”
That said, Talmiz Ahmad, India’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE from 2000 to 2011, adds: “In the Gulf, we have some of India’s dearest friends. I wish their senior leaders and diplomats had quietly advised some Indian officials that bilateral relations will suffer negative consequences if continued abuses are directed against a certain community in the country.”
For his part, he says, “India’s ruling party should thoroughly review its domestic policies and convince India’s friends in the Muslim world that adequate measures are being taken. We have to go back to the scenario of India as a pluralistic, multicultural and moderate, democratic and flexible nation.”
On the other hand, Mr. Ahmad believes that India is fortunate to have as Foreign Minister “a great intellectual and a very experienced diplomat, who is highly respected in the world and in his country” like Dr S. Jaishankar.
“I am confident that he will inform the powers that be that it is impossible to separate domestic policy from foreign policy. One depends on the other”, he underlines.
Looking to the future, Talmiz Ahmad says: “Our foreign and domestic policies must be synchronized. We must return to the fundamental principles of this nation, which are pluralism, multiculturalism, moderation and flexibility.
This text is the translation of an article published on Arabnews.com