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Is India’s honeymoon with the Gulf countries getting over?

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi receiving the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at 7 RCR, in New Delhi(Photo PIB)

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Gulf fall out of the Covid-19 on India is the repatriation of the Indian workers working in the Gulf region. India is making a major evacuation plan involving its Navy, Air Force and Air India to take back Indians facing job loss due to plummeting oil prices and continuous lock down due to Covid-19. Such operation of taking back some 20 lakh people is expected to take place sometime after May 3 when the lock down ends in India.

The Gulf countries have made it clear that it would not to renew visas of Indian migrants that have expired during this pandemic period and have to leave their country. They have also made clear to restructure its ‘cooperation’ and ‘labour’ relations with India after the pandemic is over. These include imposing strict future restrictions on the “recruitment” and introducing “quota system” in the recruitment process. It is also said to have terminated the MoUs signed earlier in this regard.

It looks the fall out of Covid – 19 and the carefully crafted ‘political project’ in India has cast an evil shadow on the Indians working in the gulf region. It is estimated that about eight million Indians are working in the Gulf region, with about 3.2 million in the UAE alone. It appears their honeymoon with the gulf region is getting over.

How far the Hindu zealots spread of Islamophobia  is responsible to it can be debated but the conspiracy of silence of the ruling elite in India to reign in these radicals gives the impression of condoning the acts of Islmophobia even at the expense of India’s historic ties with the Gulf region.

Ever since the world got riddled with Covid-19 epidemic, in India the novel virus took a communal turn. Muslims and Islam has become a subject of rebuke and the entire community was held responsible for the spread of the unseen virus. The tweets on social media, the reports on television, newspaper and websites were all awash with linkage of the pandemic with the Muslim community.

These angry comments targeting Muslims were largely due to the linkage of the Covid-19 with Tablgi Markaz congregation in New Delhi. The hate orchestra was played in the full volume and all and sundry took a pot shot on Muslims and Islam.

There was a complete silence of the Indian ruling elite on the untimely rise of Islamophbia in the country. They instead of given stern warming to the hate mongers chose conspiracy of silence that endorsed the hate mongering industry flourishing in India.

Professor Ashok Swain, who is at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University says; “Islamophobia has reached its peak in India with the increasing rise of Coronavirus crisis. This is not just a primordial reaction of a society, but a very well planned and finely executed political project of the ruling elite.”

Professor Swain attributes this to the mismanagement of the government in handling the pandemic and the serious economic crisis India faces. He goes on to say; “India’s Hindu nationalist regime aims to give the coronavirus crisis a communal color, which will give it an escape route from its abject policy failures and also at the same time the increasing anti-Muslim environment that will bring much political benefit in the future. Coronavirus has brought a very serious crisis for India, but for the Narendra Modi regime, it has also provided a powerful political opportunity.”

This ‘Islmophobia project’ of the ruling elite in India took a new turn, when the exchanges between Hindu nationalists and some sections of the Gulf’s elite – royal family members, business persons, professionals and human rights activists etc started playing a ping pong game on the social media. The exchange of unsavory words by few Indians caught the attention of the Arab world as they saw a new face of India that is abusive of Muslims and Islam.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a federation of 57 Muslim nations came up with a statement condemn the developments in India in chose the harsh words; “the unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India, maligning Muslims for spread of Covid-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination and violence with impunity is highly deplorable.” It called for a special session of the OIC to deal with the problem of Islamophobia emanating from India that otherwise was supposed to meet in April in Islamabad on India’s new stand on Kashmir.

Similarly, Kuwait a member of the ‘Arab League’ which comprise of 22 Gulf States has called for an emergency session to deal with problem of anti-Muslim anti Islam propaganda going on in India.

The reasons of such Arab annoyance was the patronage given by the Indian ruling elite to  churn out anti-Muslim propaganda, disseminate fake news, abuse Muslims through hundreds of messages on social media that all looked like a ‘well-crafted’ state project.

To the Indian the ruling elite when this ‘political project’ looked slipping out of control, it engaged in damage control exercise. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held telephone conversation with the leaders of the Gulf countries reminding them that India continues to be secular and pluralistic country. This was followed-up by India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar who talked to the Foreign Ministers of Gulf region and committed that India is not on the throes of any rhetorical shift.

Prime Minster Narandar Modi tried to clarify the controversy building around Covid-19 in India with a tweet on April 19. “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, color, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.  We are in this together,” Modi said.

Reading between the lines of Modi’s tweet, the most glaring omission was his total silence to shut the hate shops in India and reign in the Hindu zealots in the country.  The tweet was more to placate the paranoid Gulf audience that had no impact on the Hindu radicals in India.

It is for the first time the Gulf countries have woken up to the scourge of extremist Hindutva ideology in India. So fat they had never paid any attention to faith based relationship. In fact in their ties with India, faith hardly played any role. Among the eight million Indian who work in Gulf region there negligible percent of Muslims and the lion share of gulf remittances that come to India goes to Hindus homes.

It is not as if the Gulf region does not know of the periodic communal conflagration that occurs in India but so far they have viewed them as an aberration in a large and diverse nation as India.  Even in the current tweet ping pong game, the responses from the Gulf side are of anger, dismay at the developments in India and not of any bad blood.

Nonetheless, the recent exchanges of tweets have exposed the Hindutva ideology in its full nakedness to the Gulf public. It has planted the seeds of suspicion in their minds and future ‘cooperation’ and ‘labour’ relations with India will no more be shaped by the traditional parameters that guided India’s century old ties with the Arabs.

Now that the Gulf region has become familiar with the agenda of Hindutva adherents, it is difficult to assume that the ties with the region will be the same.  The challenge before India’s ruling elite is to make sincere efforts to re-cement the centuries-old ties with the Gulf region.

And the first thing to do in this direction is to stop aiding and abating the Hindutva cadres who are asked to spew venom against the Muslims and ask for closure of all the hate factories built in India.  If India’s ruling elite continues to pursue its agenda  as its doing mow it would certainly impact the India-Gulf relations.

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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