What India must do to protect its ties with the Islamic world

India’s diplomatic dilemma in the face of outrage from Muslim countries – in the sequel to remarks on the Prophet by two BJP leaders, one of which was expelled and the other suspended — is unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected. It is the culmination of a series of incidents in the country over the past decade, when Muslims have been targeted and accused of fomenting violence and fanaticism – in the name of love jihad or food and clothing. Hate speech and mob lynching were other features of this community frenzy. Yet the country has not seen widespread communal violence or anti-Muslim outrage in the recent past, except for a few instances during anti-CAA agitation.

What apparently infuriated the regimes of the Muslim world this time is the text and context of the anti-Islamic slur. The BJP representatives made shameful references to the Prophet, which the regimes of these Muslim countries, regardless of the sects of Islam (as the Saudi and Iranian responses made clear), could not cope with. . Equally important was the context: the comments came from two ruling party officials in the country’s capital. That’s why they caught the eye. Yet the agencies overseeing these sensitive issues remained calm until Qatar and Kuwait intervened by summoning the Indian envoys to protest. In response to the outrage, the BJP acted quickly by suspending Nupur Sharma and expelling Naveen Jindal, both Delhi-based party officials. Later, the party also issued a notice reminding its ranks to be cautious in public remarks on religious matters.

Meanwhile, social media platforms in India and the Gulf are full of disparaging trolls and there are sickening calls to boycott Indian products. Social media is also calling for a boycott of Arab goods and services in India. But everyone knows these are knee-jerk responses. We have seen such responses in the context of tensions with China. There has never been an “exodus” of Chinese products from India although there has been a high tension campaign for several months against these products and some Chinese apps have been banned.

Activists (including a few GCC regimes) are demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologize for everything that happened. But New Delhi’s position is categorical and legitimate as the Union government has nothing to do with such unsolicited comments. More importantly, the ruling party did what it was supposed to do. Although belatedly, a case was also recorded for offending the feelings of Muslims. The Gulf regimes apparently got the message behind these measures.

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Even as the southern bloc’s engagements with Muslim countries continue – with damage control exercises at various levels – there are countermoves to intimidate the Islamic world. Obviously, the ruling party is aware of the implications of this decision for the upcoming elections in some states, besides the 2024 general elections. Therefore, the party is likely to follow a carrot and stick policy on issues. crucial policies.

The Modi government knows that its foreign policy strategy – which includes strategic negotiations with regional and international actors – would pay reasonable dividends. The response to its war strategy against Ukraine has convinced South Block that it has adequate maneuverability in global affairs. Countries in the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region have no fixed position vis-à-vis India. Delhi maintains vibrant economic and strategic ties with nearly every regime in the region, regardless of brand of Islam or relative ideological depth. This is precisely why these countries are unwilling to join the Islamabad-led chorus or go beyond passing resolutions. India’s signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United Arab Emirates and ongoing negotiations for a broader FTA with the GCC could be a revelation for the country’s critics.

Much has been said and written about India’s energy dependence and trade interdependence among WANA countries. Up to 40% of oil needs and an equal share of gas needs are met through India’s strategic cooperation with the Gulf regimes. India and the WANA regimes know that there is a community of interest in these transactions that cannot be replaced by any other segment of the global system. Equally important is the role of the Indian diaspora of over eight million people in the WANA region. “Gulf remittances” are an important part of the Indian economy, as important as Indian investment in the GCC and GCC investment in India.

India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, said the Indian diaspora is “a unique living bridge between India and the world and should be valued accordingly”. He also said that “from time to time their interests and well-being are a topic of our conversation.” New Delhi should not stop engaging countries, especially those in the WANA region, which host significant numbers. Therefore, South Block must go beyond a simple exercise in damage control.

The author, ICSSR Senior Fellow in Diaspora Studies, is Director of the Inter-University Center for Social Science Research and Extension (IUCSSRE), Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala

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