Those blaming India on minority issues have no clue about ground realities: FM Sitharaman

She said the notion that across the board in India, violence against Muslims is happening is a fallacy.

Published: 11th April 2023 10:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th April 2023 10:19 AM   |  A+A-


A file photo of Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman used for representative purposes only. (Photo | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)


WASHINGTON: India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world and those blaming the country on minority issues have no clue about the ground realities, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said.

Addressing a Washington DC audience during a fireside chat at the Peterson Institute for International Economics on Monday, Sitharaman said the Muslim population is only growing in numbers in India.

"If there is a perception or if there's, in reality, their lives are difficult or made difficult with the support of the State, which is what is implied in most of these write-ups, I would ask, will the Muslim population be growing from what it was in 1947...The contrast can be sharper as opposed to Pakistan, which was formed at the same time," she said.

Sitharaman said violence prevails against Muhajirs, Shias and other minority groups in Pakistan, whereas, in India, every strand of the Muslim community is doing its business.

"India was divided into two Pakistans. Pakistan declared itself an Islamic country but said minorities will be protected. Every minority has been dwindling in number, or decimated in Pakistan. Even some of the Muslim sects have also been decimated," she said.

She said law and order is a state subject in India and each province has its elected government that takes care of the law and order in those states.

She said the notion that across the board in India, violence against Muslims is happening is a fallacy.

"It cannot be so. Each province and its police are different. They are run by the elected governments in those provinces. So, that itself tells you how these reports have no clue of the law and order systems in India," the finance minister said.

"To say it's all the blame of the government of India. I would like to say then, between 2014 and today, has the population dwindled, has the debts been disproportionately high in any one particular community," she said.

"I would rather invite these people who write these reports to come to India. I'll host them, let them come and travel alone to India and prove their point," Sitharaman said.

Around 62 per cent of the world's Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region (from Turkey to Indonesia), with over one billion adherents.

The largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia, a country home to 12.7 per cent of the world's Muslims.

'Want WTO to be more progressive'

India wants the World Trade Organization to be more progressive and listen to other countries, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said asserting that the WTO needs to give more space to the countries which have something different to say and not just hear.

"I would like the WTO to be a lot more progressive, a lot more listening to all countries, to be fair to all members," she said during the chat. 

"I, fortunately, unfortunately, spent some time with the WTO in my capacity as a commerce minister of India between 2014 and 2017. It has to give more space to hear voices of countries which have something different to say and not just hear, but also somewhat heed because today's message for the WTO should be to have greater openness," Sitharaman asserted.

"In fact, I'm not quoting, in the context of WTO, but it might be useful to recall the words of US Commerce Secretary (sic), Katherine Tai. She had recently spoken and I was very, very impressed if I can use that word, about what exactly is the traditional trading approach. What exactly is liberalizing the market? What would it actually mean in terms of tariff reduction?" she said.

"It is true now, countries do look at it. It is a time when countries are looking at what extent to which you would want to have market liberalization. It has had cost repercussions for the US economy, and that's exactly what the US Secretary of Commerce has said. And if that's something that the United States Commerce Secretary feels, I felt the same in 2014 and 2015. Probably my articulation was never getting a space in global media. But many of the global south countries do have the same feeling," she said.

"What exactly is this? How far is liberalization? To what extent tariff reduction? We in India for all the less developed countries, the global South, if you would ask them would have a similar opinion as the US Commerce Secretary. But in India, we've already extended to all the least developed countries, quota-free, tariff-free trading policy," she said.

"So any country, let's say from Africa or anywhere else, the Pacific Islands or countries which are aspirational, low-income countries can export to India without any of these restrictions. So, where it is possible, we are opening up, but at the same time, we need to look at how India's become remanufactured almost because if you go through the MFN route, you end up opening up for the efficient ones in the market, and that may not be your country. Manufacturing abilities of communities have all gone for a toss, not just in India, but I suppose in many countries as well," she said.

The finance minister wonders how a country gets its manufacturing back if it only have to constantly liberate its market. 

"India's attempt to talk to the WTO, talk in WTO have all faced with just no moment. The other classic example, which is in the minds of many of the emerging market countries is the electronics transmission-related wall. Isn't that since 1998, all of us are sitting and watching that you can't do anything on the customs route for so much that is happening in the electronics business. It's hitting the kind countries very differently," she said.

"Since 1998, there has never been a need for reviewing it. All that I'm asking is that. And why wouldn't every ministerial conference, which happens, ever, ever, ever take up this for discussion. It doesn't take. The moratorium continues. So, it shouldn't be difficult for you to appreciate. So when countries will have to speak at the WTO, it has to be on very many issues on which decision has not happened for over decades," Sitharaman said.


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