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What India’s Islam Row tells us about its place in the evolution…

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(MENAFN- Syndication Bureau) By Dnyanesh Kamat

In the month since Nupur Sharma, a former spokeswoman for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), offended Muslims around the world with derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad, Indian diplomats limited the damage – with limited success.

After 18 Islamic countries, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), condemned Sharma’s remarks, the BJP dismissed his remarks as those of “fringe elements”, not not explaining how the official spokesperson of a ruling party could represent a minority point of view.

Given the defense of the Indian government, some questions need to be probed, such as: why have these diplomatic protests erupted now, rather than during previous instances of Islamophobia in India? And how will the BJP temper its responses to future hate speech?

The answers may say as much about the future of Indian democracy and the place of Indian Muslims within it as about its place in the changing world order.

In the short term, the BJP should speak with a more conciliatory and tolerant voice. It’s not a small step. In recent years, BJP politicians and their affiliates have played on the Hindu nationalist ecosystem by failing to condemn and even encouraging attacks on Muslims. Shedding anti-Islamic rhetoric is long overdue, but whether that will translate into more tolerant policies is another matter altogether.

One of the main reasons the BJP will move lightly is that there is too much at stake if it does not. As of March 2022, India’s trade with GCC states stood at $150 billion, of which Indian imports stood at $111 billion. Additionally, the GCC is home to over 8 million Indian workers who send around $26 billion in annual remittances to India.

India has also pursued closer strategic ties with Middle Eastern countries, from trade pacts and investment agreements to joint military exercises. Apart from China, India is one of the few countries that has managed to maintain strong political and economic ties with all GCC members.

Generally, Islamic nations have remained silent on the internal affairs of India. The country’s BJP-led government has, since coming to power in 2014, pursued a series of policies detrimental to the rights of Indian Muslims – such as changes to citizenship laws, erosion of individual freedoms of Muslims and efforts to criminalize interfaith relations. wedding. And yet, these affronts against India’s 204 million Muslims have generated little protest in the Islamic world.

What makes this moment different, however, is that the BJP spokesperson’s insults were aimed at the entire religion and those who practice it – inside and outside the country.

Going forward, the BJP will have to decide whether to curtail its Hindu nationalist sentiment or, on the contrary, use this moment to further fuel the trope that Indian Muslims have transnational loyalties, as evidenced by the list of Muslim countries that have expressed anger. To opt for the latter approach would represent further corrosion of India’s constitution which, on paper at least, promises equal rights to all its citizens.

Eventually, the diplomatic crisis will explode. Criticism of India does not have the same importance in Islamic countries as questioning religious tolerance in Europe or the United States. India, like China, is still considered part of the anti-colonial global South. India has a rich history of Indo-Islamic culture, which is seen by Islamic countries as an extension of their own cultural firmaments. All of this will ensure that barring further explosions, countries protesting Sharma’s quip will continue to ignore what is happening inside India.

GCC leaders may even expand the crackdown on anti-India protests led by Indian expats in their own country, as Kuwait did last week.

Moreover, even ideological regimes like that of Tehran have been forced to backtrack on recent statements, while the government of Bangladesh has opposed them. Iran’s signing of a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement with China, despite Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs, is a stark example of how very few countries are willing to let human and religious freedoms precipitate a serious breakdown in diplomatic relations.

The sad truth is that when India and its friends in the Islamic world overcome this crisis, as they no doubt will, the result will be an arrangement similar to that which Moscow and Beijing would favor. China and Russia have long advocated non-interference in countries’ internal affairs at the expense of the West’s adherence to individual freedoms. This outcome will be the true sign of the direction in which the world order is moving.

The United States and some European countries have haphazardly championed liberal democratic values, especially when it comes to Israel. India is a power of cover in a world experiencing great geopolitical fluxes. As the diplomatic crisis between India and the Muslim world passes, left in its wake will be subtle but significant shifts in the global world order, where ethno-national states will converge on a far less liberal view of universal human rights. .

Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst focusing on the Middle East and South Asia. He is also a consultant in socio-economic development for government entities and the private sector.

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