BJP’s Islamophobia boomerangs as Islamic nations seek apology

MEA’s hasty firefighting efforts fail to cool tempers

Politics

June 6, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

BJP’s Islamophobia boomerangs as Islamic nations seek apology

The Indian external affairs ministry tried to distance itself from Sharma and Jindal, calling them ‘fringe elements’(Photo: Facebook)

A day after BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s Islamophoic remarks against Prophet Mohamed backfired on India with several Islamic countries taking strong exception to it, the Indian government, notably the Ministry of External Affairs, has been trying hard to cool the tempers and bury the controversy, going to the extent of calling the spokespersons of the ruling party ‘fringe elements’. But the government’s attempts fail to convince many nations that insist on a total apology by India. Irrespective, the incident has severely dented India’s image, especially that of Narendra Modi in many parts of the world.

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It is a sight that few in India, leave alone the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, would have expected to see in a country that has been very friendly to India for the past several decades, ever since the two established diplomatic relations. Photographs of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on garbage bins in the emirate of Kuwait with boot marks on his face, in a clear sign of rejection.

The pictures went viral on Twitter on Sunday amidst sharp backlash against growing Islamophobia in India, especially in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, across various Islamic countries, notably the Gulf Cooperation Council countries like Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as Iran and other countries.

In a rare event, the Indian envoys to many of these countries were summoned by their foreign ministries and handed a sharp statement rebuking the insults heaped on Prophet Mohammed by spokespersons of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal. Qatar was the first to summon the Indian ambassador and gave him a strongly-worded note seeking a public apology for the statements made in India. Soon, Kuwait followed suit and so did Iran, while Saudi Arabia issued an equally critical statement.

Though the Indian external affairs ministry tried to distance itself from Sharma and Jindal, calling them ‘fringe elements’ and saying that Indian government respected all religions and condemned any statements against any religious personality, it failed to wash with the Islamic nations that expressed concern over the fact that the people making the statements were the official spokespersons of the ruling party.

The news about the insults spread like a wildfire across the GCC nations with calls for boycotting India as well as Indian products. Stores in various countries also began removing Indian products form their shelves in response.

Harried by the unexpected turn in the events, since both Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal had made the statements over a week ago, the government and the ruling party beat a hasty retreat, suspending Sharma from the primary membership of the BJP and expelling Jindal from the party for six years.

Despite the ‘action’, the controversy has continued to snowball as the GCC Secretariat, the Organisation of the Islamic Countries or Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, that brings together 57 Islamic countries, attacked India for the statements. ‘‘These cases of defamation are part of a growing spate of hatred and defamation of Islam in India and systematic practices against Indian Muslims, particularly in light of a set of decisions to prohibit the use of hijab in educational institutions in some Indian states, including demolition of Muslims’ properties and growing violence against them,’’ the OIC said in a statement.

It asked the ‘Indian authorities to decisively address these incidents of defamation and all forms of insult to the noble Prophet and Islam and to bring those who incite and perpetrate violence against Muslims to justice and hold those behind them accountable’. It asked India to ensure the safety, security and well-being of Muslims in India and protect their rights as well as religious and cultural identity, dignity and places of worship.

Taking the stakes higher, the General Secretariat asked the international community, in particular, the United Nations mechanisms and the Human Rights Council’s special measures, to take necessary measures to challenge practices targeting Muslims in India.

The OIC has historically been inimical to India and its stance on various issues, notably Jammu and Kashmir, has mirrored that of Pakistan. Thus, while in the past India could afford to dismiss OIC’s statements as something that was dictated in Islamabad, it would be near-impossible to dismiss the latest criticism since it is based on the venom vented out by India’s ruling party and hence nearly impossible to cover up or dismiss it.

India’s image stained for long

The backlash against India has already tarnished Indian image in countries that have historically been allies and with whom India enjoys decades if not centuries old relations and which are also home to nearly half the entire Indian diaspora, close to 17 million. The Indian diaspora, most of it in the GCC countries, is responsible for remittances of close to USD 90 billion a year, roughly a third of the total revenues of the Indian government every year. Besides the remittances, these countries are also important trading partners and notably source of oil and gas, as India buys over half of all its petroleum products from the region.

Most importantly, the general view of India has always been a very positive one, of that of a friendly, tolerant and culturally diverse country where people belonging to every religion in the world live peacefully and amicably together.

Indian leaders, too, have historically been looked upon with admiration and awe across these countries, notably as India advocated the Palestinian cause for decades and since it promoted the idea of decolonisation and independence, right from the days of the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Never has any Indian leader been publicly humiliated in these countries, like Narendra Modi is being today.

It may be shameful for India and all Indians to see the image of their country and their PM tarnished like this, but it should not have come as a surprise to anyone. This was coming and had been coming for a while. The rising number of incidents targetting Muslims – ranging from mob-lynching to falsely imprisoning thousands of them on fake charges and now the summary demolition of Muslim homes for their alleged crimes – has not gone unnoticed and has slowly been eroding India’s credentials as a democracy and a multi-cultural country. To undo this damage, India and the BJP would need to do much more than a rap on the knuckles of its officials. Until that happens, India would continue to slide in the eyes of millions of residents of these countries.

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