How Hindutva hatred is jeopardising India’s Gulf ties (Part-VIII)


DM Monitoring/
Talmiz Ahmad

Even as GCC countries have increased their investments in India, Indian corporations too have expanded their presence in the region in the infrastructure and energy sectors. Thus, the UAE has over a hundred nationalities, with Indians being about 55% of the total. All GCC countries, except Saudi Arabia, have temples and churches as well as burial and cremation grounds for non-Muslims. Even in Saudi Arabia, which is founded on an affiliation with the narrow and rigid Wahhabi doctrine, faith has generally been an instrument for the assertion of political authority rather than reflecting a serious commitment to belief. On the one occasion when the kingdom banned the recruitment of Sikhs in the early 1980s (which was quickly reversed under diplomatic pressure), there has never been any bias in favour of Muslims in local employment. Hence, reflecting India’s population, the majority of Indians in the Gulf in different categories, including the tycoons, are non-Muslims.
At this point, it would be useful to place the recent acrimony in perspective. There has been no comment from GCC official sources. All told, there have been only a few hate messages from Indians resident in the Gulf. From the GCC side, the responses have been few and restrained: anger has been directed at specific sources of the tweets and collectively only against extremist Hindutva elements. There has not been a generalised critique of India; unlike the Hindutva messages, there has been no communal content in the GCC tweets. In fact, the GCC responses have expressed anguish at what they see as the betrayal of India’s time-honoured values – accommodation, moderation, respect for women, etc.
India is seen as unique among developing countries in that: it is a democracy; it is a secular and pluralistic society, where both personal law and civil codes co-exist, the latter even providing for cross-communal marriages; it has a free press and an independent judiciary; and, within this framework of democracy and pluralism, it has made great strides in economic and technological achievement.
It will surprise India’s zealots to learn that the Indian “model” has evoked extraordinary respect and admiration across the region over the last several decades. It is not as if the region did not know of the periodic communal conflagrations in India; but these were viewed as aberrations in a large and diverse nation.
Thus, there were no public criticisms of India from official sources after the destruction of Babri Masjid and the subsequent riots.
When this writer, as Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2002, attempted, under government instructions, to explain the post-Godhra violence to a senior Saudi minister and royal family member, the latter said no explanation was called for; this was an exceptional episode. Saudi Arabia had full confidence in India’s commitment to its essential values of pluralism and accommodation of all its diverse communities. Still, there is no room for complacency. The hate messages that proliferated in the Gulf did not originate in the region; they were churned out in India where a hate industry is in full swing, disseminating fake news and abuse through hundreds of messages on social media that are then enthusiastically and mindlessly repeated by its cohorts. What the recent exchanges have done is to expose Hindutva in its full nakedness and ugliness to the Gulf public. It has planted the first concerns that India might no longer be shaped by its traditional values, that the India they knew and cherished is perhaps withering away before their very eyes.
The UAE prides itself as an exponent of moderate and “enlightened Islam”, but Islam remains an important factor in its foreign policy. As Giorgio Cafiero has noted: “In what is called the ‘geopolitics of religious soft power,’ the UAE utilizes Islam to strengthen its regime’s legitimacy, compete with rival states’ visions for Islamic leadership, and project an image of moderation and tolerance before global actors, namely Western countries.
Along with Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, the UAE has sought to present itself as a purveyor of “moderate Islam” that stands firmly against extremism.” Unquestionably, domestic considerations heavily influence the UAE’s use of Islam in its foreign policy. At the heart of the Emiratis’ reasons for utilising religion in this manner is the Abu Dhabi regime’s fears of political Islam fuelling change in the Emirates. Now that the region has been made familiar with the ideology, agenda and aggression of Hindutva adherents, it is difficult to believe we can go back to business-as-usual. Can Modi’s persona continue to radiate across the Gulf’s firmament while the Muslim community at home is being demonised, abused and violated?
The challenge before Modi and his colleagues is to sincerely and robustly confront the hate and abuse being spewed by their cadres at home that are then impacting attitudes and mind-sets in the Gulf and are jeopardising the centuries-old ties we have enjoyed with this region. There is a sharp warning coming in from the Gulf – alongside several other sources. But are there listeners in Delhi?