Amidst The Chorus Of Criticism
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has been trying hard to strengthen trade and economic ties with West Asia for the last eight years. Even his fiercest critics have admitted that PM Modi set a milestone, as far as the Indian Foreign Policy was concerned. However, controversial comments, recently made by two senior officials of the PM’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), rocked India’s relations with the Arab World.
Experts believe that Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal’s insulting remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and Islam have done the irreparable damage that would take time to set it right. It may be noted that Sharma made the remark in a televised debate in May 2022, and videos of her statement went viral. Jindal also posted a provocative tweet on the issue. As their comments reflect a deep religious polarisation that the South Asian nation has been witnessing over the past few years, the media did not repeat those offensive remarks. Their Islamophobic remarks not only angered the minority Muslim community in India, but also the Islamic World. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Oman, Indonesia, the Maldives and the Taliban-led Afghanistan immediately issued statements, condemning the remarks made by the two BJP politicians, and also summoned Indian envoys. According to diplomats, the controversy would have a negative impact on India’s ties with the Arab World in the long-term.
Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has warned of suicide bombings in major Indian cities and provinces to avenge the insult to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). With a letter dated June 6, the AQIS threatened that it would launch suicide attacks in New Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat to “fight for the honour of the Prophet”. The letter stated: “A few days ago, the propagators and flag bearers of Hindutva – a system and philosophy hostile to the religion and Shariah of Allah – insulted and slandered the purest of beings, the most honourable after God himself, Muhammad al Mustafa, Ahmad al Mujtaba, and his noble and pure wife, the mother of the believers, Sayyidah Ayesha bint Abu Bakr as Siddeeq in the most vile and evil manner on an Indian TV channel. In response to this affront, the hearts of Muslim all over the world are bleeding and are filled with feelings of revenge and retribution.” It further said: “The saffron terrorists should now await their end in New Delhi, Bombay, UP and Gujarat. They should find refuge neither in their homes nor in their fortified army cantonments.”
According to experts in Global Geopolitics, the controversy would also have an impact on India’s National Economic Security. India has started exploring energy options after the Russia-Ukraine conflict and tightening of US sanctions on Russia. In recent times, the Modi Administration has reduced oil imports from Iran. In such a situation, India’s dependence on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait for petroleum products has increased.
Qatar has deep trade ties with the Adani Group, an Indian multinational conglomerate founded in 1988 by Gautam Adani, known as a close associate of Prime Minister Modi. Qatar Investment Authority (QIA, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund) acquired a 25.1% stake in Adani Electricity in December 2019 for about USD 450 million. Qatar has also agreed to invest in Adani Airport Holdings Limited, apart from buying a small stake in Mumbai International Airport Limited. Now, all these ventures are in jeopardy because of the controversial comments made by the two BJP officials.
India has just signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UAE after long negotiations. A similar agreement is to be signed with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC, an alliance of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, the UAE and other Gulf states, has already established close trade relations with India. During 2020-21, India imported goods worth USD 110.73 billion from the six GCC nations, while its merchandise exports stood at USD 44 billion to these nations. Thanks to PM Modi’s personal initiative, India has joined the International Forum for Economic Cooperation with the US, Israel and the UAE. Interestingly, the print media of these countries have started targeting Prime Minister Modi. A section of senior diplomats is of the opinion that as the Indian PM had presented himself as the sole face of his Government, his global image is suffering badly.
While attending the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi in 2018, PM Modi described the project as an example of India’s growing closeness with the Gulf Region. India’s relations with Iran are not as warm as before. As expected, visiting Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian raised the controversial remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made by the two BJP leaders during his meetings with National Security Adviser (of India) Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi on June 8. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Doval told Amir-Abdollahian that the Government of India “respects the Prophet, and those involved in the incident will be dealt with… in a way that is a lesson to others”.
Although PM Modi’s BJP has suspended Sharma and Jindal for making controversial comments, it seems that the move is not enough to control the damage. New Delhi would have to explore new avenues to come closer to the Islamic World.
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