India’s Communal Politics Has Irked Muslim Nations. It’s Time To Course-Correct
What will India do if besides Pakistan, other nations also start summoning Indian envoys over anti-Muslim violence?
New Delhi seizes every opportunity to summon the Pakistani envoy to the Ministry of External Affairs to lodge a protest whenever a Hindu is targeted or a temple attacked in the neighbouring country. Fortunately, cases of Hindus dying at the hands of extremists in Pakistan are few and far between, unlike India, where Muslims are being killed by Hindutva vigilantes, and even security forces, alarmingly frequently.
A report in Time magazine “Is India headed for an anti-Muslim genocide?” sums up how dangerous India has become for its Muslim citizens. Constitutionally, we are still secular, but Muslims are under siege from all sides as we degenerate from a democracy to an ethnocracy, in the ranks of Israel, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
Muslims Have No One To Turn To in India
Islamabad, too, summons New Delhi’s envoy to express its displeasure at the killing of Muslims in India. Recently, India’s Charge d'Affaires, Suresh Kumar, was called to the Pakistan Foreign Office to hear Pakistan’s “grave concern” over the killing of two Muslims during an eviction drive in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Assam’s Darrang region.
I am told that Pakistani diplomats served Kumar tea and biscuits and made him watch the widely-circulated, stomach-churning video of the gunning down of a malnourished agitated Muslim armed with a bamboo stick by the large police force deployed in Darrang — and the ghoulish desecration of his corpse by a photographer, Bijoy Baniya, who was embedded with the security forces.
The moot question is, what will New Delhi do if besides Pakistan, other Muslim countries start summoning India’s high commissioners and ambassadors to lodge their protests against rising anti-Muslim violence, which has become a norm under the RSS-BJP patronage and is showing no signs of abating?
The anxiety or worry of Muslim nations would surely be no less legitimate and well-founded than our concerns for the safety of Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, or our advocacy of the Tamil and Madhesi cause in Sri Lanka and Nepal, respectively.
India would be as answerable as nations where Hindus are at the receiving end. Of course, there is no comparison between the vulnerability of Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan and Muslims in BJP-ruled India, where competitive majoritarianism has turned them into sitting ducks with no one to turn to except liberal Hindus, who are themselves being targeted by Hindutva forces.
A Growing Outrage
Whether Muslim nations — besides Pakistan — start summoning India’s envoys or not, the outrage is currently evident in Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, triggered by the Darrang video of Baniya stomping on the Muslim victim’s body and the police purposefully endorsing his depravity by hitting the man with a hole in his heart with a lathi, even as multiple cell-phones captured the bigoted bestiality in a display of solidarity.
Public intellectuals, lawmakers and clerics in the three Gulf nations have issued appeals to boycott India and Indian goods to protest “atrocities committed by Indian authorities and Hindu extremist groups against the Muslim community”.
The hashtag “India kills Muslims” is trending across the region, which is a blot on our foreign policy canvas and a cause for celebration in Pakistan.
Importantly, there could be consequences for the Indian diaspora, too. We will be hit very hard economically if the Middle East firms pack off Indians. This is evident from a tweet by Kuwait’s Abdul Rahman Al-Nassrm, who has over 3,18,000 followers. He wrote, addressing the Narendra Modi government: “There are more than 3 million Hindus in the Gulf, they bring billions of dollars to India, and we treat them with respect, so why are our brothers in India being killed just because they are Muslims?”
Last year, too, there was a backlash against outrageous anti-Islam social media posts by Hindutva-fired expatriates in the Middle East, accusing the Tablighi Jamaat of worsening India’s COVID-19 pandemic. They were toeing the official RSS-BJP line. But in an unprecedented intervention, Princess Hend Al Qassimi, a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced that anyone “openly racist and discriminatory in the UAE will be fined accusing made to leave”.
Several Indians were sacked after Al Qassimi’s warning: “You make your bread and butter from this land which you scorn and your ridicule will not go unnoticed.” She was backed by other royal family members, corporate figures, professionals and human rights activists. Sheikh Abidi Al Zahrani, a Saudi religious scholar, demanded an inventory of “militant Hindus” in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, who were “spreading hate against Islam, Muslims or our beloved Prophet” under the hashtag “Send Hindutva Back Home”.
An appeal by Modi, although half-hearted, cooled down matters temporarily. But India’s descent into a Hindu Rashtra will inevitably strain our relations with Muslim nations, as the escalating outrage over the Darrang video demonstrates.
Significantly, the anger in the Muslim world is mixed with admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and what India used to be until 2014.
The response to the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 and the February 2020 anti-Muslim violence in Delhi revealed a division among Islamic governments, which remains unchanged even today. There was no condemnation by Arab monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, whose kings and princes are photographed hugging Modi and conferring their highest awards. The rulers, of course, are out of sync with their subjects, whose opinion doesn’t influence the kingdoms’ foreign policy.
Public Opinion in Muslim-Majority Democracies
But public opinion matters in Muslim-majority democracies like Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, where elections are held. As these governments are answerable to voters, they regularly call out New Delhi’s anti-Muslim policies, issue statements condemning India and summon our envoys to lodge their protests. Tehran has issued scathing statements against “Hindu extremists” but is far too important for New Delhi to pick up a fight with. But India has hit back at Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey using export-import as a weapon.
Under President Ashraf Ghani, Muslim Afghanistan never took on India, although the country witnessed massive anti-India demonstrations and special measures to shield our embassy in Kabul. The Taliban, obviously, are a different kettle of fish that India will have to cope with now. So far, they have been conspicuously silent.
Predominantly, Muslim democracies such as Bangladesh and Maldives refrain from speaking up for India’s Muslims. Sheikh Hasina is terrified of India’s stranglehold on Bangladesh and would go to any lengths to remain in power. Like all other Bangladeshi Prime Ministers, Hasina lives in constant fear of being toppled by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) if she displeases India.
Tablighi Jamaat Muslims Were Scapegoats
But what ordinary Bangladeshis think of the RSS-BJP regime is evident from the anti-Modi protests during his March 2021 visit, which resulted in the killing of 16 demonstrators in police firing ordered by Hasina to retain power at any cost. The Maldive’s masses, too, are not enamoured of Modi because of his government’s anti-Muslim agenda, unlike President Ibrahim Solih, who still prefers Modi over China’s Xi Jinping.
Besides targeting Indian Muslims, last year, the Modi government zeroed in on Muslims from across the world who had come to India — on visas issued by the Indian government — for attending a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi. The Ministry of Home Affairs picked up 2,550 Muslims from 45 countries for violating COVID-19 norms.
They were held in detention for months on trumped-up charges. Ultimately, nothing was proved against them and they were freed unconditionally.
Exposing the Modi regime’s strategy of blaming overseas Muslims — and by implication, Indian Muslims for the pandemic — a Bombay High Court Division Bench of Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar said: “It appears that the Government acted under political compulsion and police also did not dare to exercise powers given to them under provisions of procedural laws and substantive laws. A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is a pandemic or a calamity. The circumstances show that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats.”
India's Rapid Descent
Diplomats of as many as 45 countries fighting to get their nationals released from illegal detention realised the magnitude of the Modi government’s anti-Muslim apartheid. They saw our true colours. One of the worst-affected countries was Bangladesh, despite Modi and Hasina proclaiming in unison that India-Bangladesh relations have entered a “golden period”!
Even as India’s reputation is badly tarnished in the Muslim world, it is hard to predict whether Islamic governments will ever seriously take up the cudgels for India’s Muslims.
Many monarchies are embracing Israel with open arms under the US influence. But there are ominous signs of the emergence of a boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS)-like movement against India, along the lines of the worldwide anti-Israel initiative, if the brakes are not applied on our descent to ethnocracy from a well-respected democracy.
(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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