West indian countries

Gulf countries must appreciate India’s action

The move by a host of Islamic nations regarding the unfortunate Nupur Sharma incident has stirred up a wasp nest in India and triggered a wave of emotions. A cocktail of shame, embarrassment, anger and helpless distress swirls through the air. And the usual suspects – the anti-Modi groups – beat their chests and lament aloud that our international image has taken a beating, while secretly gloating over the BJP’s downfall.
A disgruntled ex-BJP leader, a political lightweight who owes his notoriety to the party, morally asserted that “India‘s image has now collapsed”. He claimed (Mask withdraws, Indian Express, June 11, 2022): “The outrage in Muslim countries with whom we have had very cordial relations so far obviously cannot be taken lightly. It has shaken India’s position in the concert of nations and caused serious damage to our image of liberal and secular democracy. The cat is finally out of the bag because we are no longer a secular, liberal democracy; we have become, under Modi, a “Hindu Pakistan”. Oh good? Pakistan is a country that has largely eliminated minorities while India has 230 million citizens from the minority community.
So why do we need to be ashamed or embarrassed? And does a single incident erode our credibility as a secular liberal democracy? Why do such conclusions float? As Indians, we suffer from a deeply rooted flaw in our psyche; a deep lack of self-esteem, a basic lack of self-confidence that stems from not knowing who we are. A direct effect of having been subjected to oppression for over a thousand years. So much so that even when nations with a combined moral quotient of zero utter negative remarks about us, we go giddy, lose our temper, and submit to an endless bout of self-loathing. Nothing illustrates this phenomenon better than our response to the current controversy.
First, the aberration of one person even if the individual belongs to the ruling party cannot indict an entire nation and people. Second, the government acted to rectify the impropriety by affirming its respect for all religions and suspending the errant official. Nupur Sharma also apologized for her mistake.
Next, let’s take a closer look at those Muslim countries that are harassing India on morality. These include Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Bahrain, Maldives, from Malaysia, Oman, Iraq and Libya.
The majority of them designate Islam as the official religion; a caveat that automatically relegates all other religions to second-class status. When we dig deeper into these countries’ track record on religious freedom, some shocking details emerge. Countries like Saudi Arabia ban the construction of non-Muslim places of worship; in some other Gulf countries, non-Muslims must seek government permission to establish places of worship.
Some of these countries do not even grant non-Muslims the basic courtesy of dignity in death. Kuwait and Qatar do not allow cremations, forcing non-Muslims to transport corpses out of the country to their place of origin. Other countries like the United Arab Emirates have only three centralized crematoria, which involves transporting corpses over considerable distances. And Qatar is the country that openly reiterated and endorsed MF Husain’s blasphemy against the Hindu gods by honoring him with citizenship.
Despite all the criticism the current government has faced both at home and abroad and despite all the rhetoric of “Hindu hyper-nationalism”, India remains a quintessentially liberal democratic country that treats all its citizens in the same way. The fabricated narrative of Muslim persecution is nothing more than an illusion; a false campaign of slander often politically and ideologically motivated and far removed from reality. Muslims have the same rights as any Hindu. They have access to the same educational institutions, the same employment opportunities, the same health facilities and benefit from the same ration cards as Hindus. They can build their own mosques and pray there without any problems.
Apart from some Muslim-majority countries, the rest of the world responded with studied silence; a silence that says we’ve been there and won’t be swayed by the violent outbursts that unfolded in the streets. A few scattered reports have emerged, mostly written by Indians or authors of Indian descent with a known anti-Hindu or anti-Modi bias.
Rana Ayyub in an article titled World Finally Responds to India’s Descent into Hate (The Washington Post, June 7) wrote: has remained silent as India’s democracy descends into hate and is humiliated by the backlash international…. The country of Mahatma Gandhi, Abul Kalam Azad and Rabindranath Tagore is being reduced to a caricature of hate on the world stage.
Debasish Roy Chowdhury writing in Time claimed that “the state apparatus is increasingly designed to torment and brutalize Muslims”. He seemed to be happy that Afghanistan scolded India. He sarcastically commented, “It takes considerable talent to be called ‘fanatics’ by the Afghan Taliban government.
We should not be ashamed of countries with questionable records on religious freedom. Nor can we be undermined by the fanatics among us. We must be confident and responsible to ourselves alone as bearers of an ancient moral civilization.
Regarding the issue of trade, the Gulf Cooperation Council (composed of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) is a major trading partner with exports of $44 billion and imports worth $110 billion (2021-22). About a third of India’s crude oil needs (Saudi Arabia 18%; UAE 9% and Kuwait 5%) are supplied by the Gulf countries.
On the other hand, it is the Gulf countries which are heavily dependent on India for their food needs. Specifically, India accounts for 84%, 91% and 80% of the rice needs of Qatar, Kuwait and Iran. So, vulnerability due to trade disruption goes both ways and both sides will think long and hard before upsetting the apple basket. Relations between India and the Gulf countries remain strong, unaffected by a misguided remark that prompted swift action against the errant BJP member.
The most disturbing aspect of this imbroglio is that it has encouraged terrorists to come out and threaten India with attacks. Moreover, he encouraged anti-social elements. Calls for beheadings on national television became common, street riots broke out in several cities, and obscene calls for Hindu genocide were made.
The Gulf countries must also step up. Having publicly voiced their disapproval, they must not allow the narrative to be hijacked by radical fundamentalists. This will only serve the goals of the extremists on both sides. To put this question to rest, it may be wise for them to salute the actions of the Indian government and recognize India as a truly secular nation.


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