Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is it course correction or temporary halt in rhetoric?

Iranian foreign minister with Indian PM

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian could meet Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Indian foreign minister Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in a matter of hours on Wednesday. He is such an important visitor at this point in time.

Iranina foreign minister was the first dignitary to visit India from Islamic world after the official spokesperson of the ruling Party Nupur Sharma made controversial comments about Prophet Muhammad. Nupur Sharma and BJP’s social media head Naveen Kumar Zindal who was removed from the party created a huge crisis for the government and the party which engaged prime minister and foreign minister in firefighting and damage control exercise.

Venkaiah Naidu’s embarrassment

Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and other Gulf countries condemned the comments made about prophet Muhammad. Qatar has demanded apology from Government of India. It so happened that Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was on a visit to Qatar when this controversy exploded and a scheduled dinner in his honour was cancelled for whatever reason. In his meeting with Doval, Hossein Amir – Abdollahian raised the controversial remarks. Doval reportedly said that Nupur Sharma and Naveen Zindal  would be taught a lesson. “Tehran and New Delhi agree on the need to respect divine religions & Islamic sanctities and to avoid divisive statements,” the Iranian foreign minister tweeted. However, the Indian foreign minister has denied that the visiting Iranian foreign minister raised the issue. The Iranian readout was pulled away, said Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Amitabh Bagchi.

When Muslims in Kanpur called for a bandh in protest against the comments made by Nupur Sharma in a national TV debate, they were confronted by another group and stones were pelted by both the groups wounding about 50 persons. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Aditynath talked about using bulldozers against the protesters.

Before that, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about attacks on minorities in India throughout 2021 and said there is no religious freedom in India. Jaishankar was furious about Blinken’s comment and spoke about the rights situation in the US and the school children being killed. He said he does not want to be lectured. He said India knows how to conduct itself. This has been the refrain on the part of Indian foreign minister. Whoever raised the rights issue or religious freedom in India he would mount a counter attack. If somebody describes him as arrogant, he would say it is not arrogance but self-confidence which the previous Indian regimes were lacking. All this was alright till the other day. Modi’s government or Yogi’s dispensation can ignore the voice of Indian Muslims and talk of bulldozers. It can even defy the US and go for counter attack. It can criticise Pakistan and the Organisation of Islamic Countries. But when it comes to Gulf countries, India had to bend backwards and try its best to control the damage. Why?

How important are the gulf countries for India?

Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and other Gulf countries are very valuable to India for strategic as well as economic reasons. Besides suspending Nupur Sharma and sacking Naveen Zindal, BJP high command has asked all its spokespersons and leaders who appear in TV debates not to talk loosely about religion or respond carelessly to controversial issues. The government has also started taking action against those BJP leaders who crossed the limits in their comments or speeches attacking Islam or Muslims. For effect, the Delhi police have filed a case against Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM for hate speech. He countered it with eleven points of his own.

This atmosphere of hatred was not there during Vajpayee-Advani era. Although Vajpayee spoke of Rajdharma when riots took place in Gujarat under Narendra Modi’s watch, Atalji did not succeed in invoking the dharma. Here Narendra Modi himself crossed the limits in his election speeches. He spoke about power supply to shmashaan and khabarasthan during UP elections in 2017. He said during Jarkhand elections that the protesters can be identified by their attire. Amit Shah came to Hyderabad and blamed TRS for entertaining the MIM, the party of descendants of Nizam.

She might have thought bosses would like it

Nupur Sharma must have thought her top leaders would not only approve but appreciate her for her comments on Muhammad. Otherwise, she would not have said what she said. Now, nobody would talk about the prophet.

Is it course correction on the part of the BJP or a temporary and tactical interval to anti-Muslim rhetoric? From two seats in Lok Sabha in1984 to clear majority that the BJP got in 2019, Advani had to lead Rath Yatra, Babri Masjid had to be felled, Ayodhya temple construction had to be commenced in order to consolidate the Hindu vote. To further improve the consolidation exercise, Muslims had to be attacked, humiliated and isolated. This has reached a limit beyond which the exercise cannot go. Even then, BJP has absolute majority only in UP. In all other States it is in power, it does not have majority seats on its own, except in Uttarakhand. It is in alliance with other parties it formed the government or through the defections from the Congress as it did in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Modi years have been divisive

In the last eight Modi years, the foreign policy was different from domestic policy. We hate Indian Muslims but love Muslims in the Gulf. Gulf Cooperative Council has six countries. The total number of Muslims living in the countries is not more than two percent of the world Muslim population.  More than 80 lakh Indians are working in these countries. Their remittances to their parents and siblings back home are considerable. But these six small countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Behrain) are super rich and have a lot of value for India. Under Modi’s watch the trade between India and the gulf countries has grown exponentially. India’s trade with UAE (United Arab Emirates) alone is anywhere between 90 to 100 billion dollars. These countries which are on the western side of Pakistan are of much bigger value to our neighbor. Pakistanis are given employment and the remittance they send to Pakistan make a difference to that country’s economy. Whenever there was a conflict between India and Pakistan, they used to blindly support Pakistan. But as Pakistan got diminished politically and economically and India rose in both ways, the Gulf countries also adjusted themselves with India adopting a balanced approach. The relationship between India and the Gulf countries has been flourishing. The growth started with Vajpayee and consolidated during the rule of Dr. Manmohan Singh. It has made new strides under Modi’s dispensation.

Implement the slogan whole heartedly

As against this background, the best course available to the BJP is to stop the divisive policy and try to unify all the forces, for a change. Modi has reached a stage where he has votes at places where there are no BJP workers. Instead of ‘todo,’ the policy of ‘jodo’ might give better results. Make senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad or Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan the new president in July elections. It would answer many questions raised by Gulf countries. Treat Muslims in the country on par with Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. Talk about growth and development. Practise inclusive politics. Implement the oft repeated Modi’s slogan, Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas aur sab ka vishwas. One should truly believe the slogan and implement it whole heartedly. Modi will become popular in South India as well. Only Modi, a strong leader who has mass following, can make such a huge course correction. It will be good for Modi, for the BJP and the country.

K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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