What words of caution from Indian liberal platforms and street protests in Kanpur and elsewhere could not do was achieved in a jiffy by West Asian and other Muslim nations strongly condemning the remarks made against Prophet Muhammad by two BJP spokespersons.
At last count, at least 15 Muslim nations registered their protest. The BJP has rightly taken action to calm the hurt. The two spokespersons have been expelled and suspended from the party and such ideologues have been denounced as “fringe elements”. India has had strong trading relations with many of these countries, which are now at risk. The protest in the Arab world has also quickly snowballed, with shops pulling Indian goods off their shelves.
Delhi’s diplomatic firefighting has mainly been spurred by the serious economic implications. Trade data shows the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been India’s third, fourth and fifth largest trading partners in the previous financial year. The share of Persian Gulf countries in India’s crude oil imports has hovered around 60% over the last 15 years. As many as 13.5 million émigré Indians in these countries not only financially support their families back home, but also fire the wheels of the Indian economy. The Gulf accounts for over half of this émigré population. Remittances from India’s offshore citizens is a whopping $83 billion annually, and is the largest in the world.
It is therefore unfortunate that BJP ideologues, in their enthusiasm to consolidate their Hindu vote bank, continue to play with fire. The worldwide Muslim population at 2 billion constitutes nearly 25% of the globe. We’ve always had good relations with West Asian countries and Indians are a significant minority in these countries. If the perception that Islam has been insulted grows, we will be risking their lives and livelihood. Though the Union government is doing its best to repair the damage, it is difficult to believe the rampant Islamophobia is emanating from just ‘fringe elements’. Targeting the Muslim minorities at such a scale cannot happen without Central support. Intolerance against minorities can have a blowback that may prove costly in the long run.