India Faces Arab Backlash – ‘Hot Mic’ With Nidhi Razdan

Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.

There is outrage in the Arab world over derogatory comments about the Prophet made by BJP spokespersons, who have now been suspended from the party. Over the weekend, three Arab countries summoned India’s envoy to issue a strong protest – Qatar, Kuwait and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Oman have condemned the comments of the BJP leaders very strongly as well. India has very good ties with all these countries. So the protest is a big setback to these carefully cultivated relationships, which are both strategically and economically important.

Qatar was the first to issue a very strongly worded statement saying that it is expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the government of India, pointing out that allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalization, which will create a cycle of violence and hate. This was followed up with a strongly worded tweet from the assistant foreign minister of Qatar, who said that, “the Islamophobic discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity and coexistence. Unless officially and systematically confronted the systematic hate speech targeting Islam in India will be considered a deliberate insult against 2 billion Muslims.”

In its statements, the Indian embassies in Qatar and Kuwait conveyed that these are not the views of the Indian government, but of fringe elements, as they put it. You have to ask, are national spokespersons fringe elements now? Having said that, the Indian embassies also claimed that vested interests have been inciting people using these derogatory comments. To make things worse, India’s vice president, Venkaiah Naidu, was in Qatar on an official trip when this controversy erupted, causing much embarrassment. So how did this issue blow up and become such a huge diplomatic story?

Well, there are two parts to this row – the first is a comment that was made on national television by the BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, several days ago, which went viral on social media and invited a strong backlash. The second is a tweet by a Delhi BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar Jindal, which made things worse and both incidents together caused a huge backlash in the Arab world. There have been reports now for the last couple of days of how superstores in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Bahrain are removing Indian products from their shelves. The issue was also the top trend on social media in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for several hours.

India has maintained good ties with Arab nations, and Prime Minister Modi in particular has prioritized India’s relationship with these countries. From Saudi Arabia to the UAE, Iran, Qatar. India has good ties with all of them. In fact, Prime Minister Modi’s first international visits this year were to the UAE and Kuwait in January. India stakes in the region are high, and this is why- Official estimates show that more than six and a half million Indians live and work in Gulf countries. In addition to this, Qatar is one of the largest suppliers of Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG to India. Close to 40% of India’s gas supplies come from Qatar. India also has strong trade relations with many Gulf countries, especially countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Or the GCC, which has its headquarters in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE make up the GCC. Official data shows that in 2020-21, the total value of India’s trade with GCC countries was worth over $87 billion, including imports worth about $60 billion. Total bilateral two-way trade for this period grew by 27% from the previous year. When it comes to its minorities, India has been on the back foot internationally no matter what the spin doctors may say.

Apart from Arab countries, just last week we saw the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking of rising attacks on people and places of worship in India. He was speaking at an event organized for releasing the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom. It’s the first time in recent memory that the US Secretary of State has called India out so publicly. In fact, Blinken brought up India’s human rights record publicly in April as well, standing right next to India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar. The Indian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to Blinken’s latest remarks, accusing the US of indulging in vote bank politics and calling them “ill-informed comments” by senior US officials. But the backlash from the Arab world in particular has finally forced some action. India’s domestic politics can no longer be linked from its international image and its diplomatic ties with other countries when there is so much at stake.

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