Narendra Modi has spent a lot of time and effort to cultivate ties with the Gulf region and India’s initiatives have been fully reciprocated by his regional counterparts. These interactions, exchanges of visits, warm expressions of personal goodwill have provided substance to the relationship in political and economic fields.
However, these efforts by PM Modi have been sabotaged by none other than his own ideological gallery of Hindutva supporters who started spewing hatred against Indian Muslims while living and working in the Arab nations, especially gulf countries.
An example came in the form of a resident in the UAE, Saurabh Upadhyaya, who heads a consultancy firm, tweeted abusive messages about members of the Tablighi Jamaat; he referred to the Tablighis alleged spitting on people as a “new form of jihad”. He ended his hateful message with: “Death to radical Islamic tabligi (sic) terrorists and other radical Islamic sons of satan.” To this he added some choice expletives in Romanised Hindi.
This triggered hostile engagements on twitter between India’s Hindu nationalists and some sections of the Gulf’s elite, royal family members, business persons, professionals and human rights activists.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Kuwait government, a royal princess of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as a number of Arab activists also called out Islamophobic hate speech by Indians seen to be accusing the country’s Muslims of spreading the novel coronavirus.
A barrage of tweets and statements from individuals and institutions in the Gulf expressing their outrage over the hateful social media posts forced the Indian government to respond.
India officially warned its citizens living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to not blame Muslims for the spread of coronavirus, the social media in Arab countries erupted against Islamophobic tweets by some NRIs living and working in Gulf.
After Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) condemned the hatred against Indian Muslims on Twitter, Indian government asked that the OIC should not try to communalise the global fight against coronavirus. The sources said there have been deliberate attempts to damage India’s ties with the Arab countries.
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi also tweeted that the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) does not see “race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking”. This, he underlined, meant that the response should attach primacy to “unity and brotherhood”. There is a common challenge that all countries and societies face; the solution therefore lies in resilience and togetherness.
Given India’s diversity, where primordial identities often become faultlines for conflicts, the PM’s message has even more relevance. A united response, laced with empathy, is the only way out.
But the problem is, supporters of the ruling dispensation themselves have engaged in divisive rhetoric and sought to pin the blame for the spread of the disease on certain communities, particularly minorities.
It would have been still understandable if Tableeghi Jamaat was blamed for its negligence in isolation but some people have used the gathering as an excuse to attack all Muslims, which, in turn, has made segments of the community reluctant to report symptoms and they see a conspiracy against them. There have been irresponsible actions in various states — including keeping Muslim patients away or segregating patients. Everyone should heed the PM’s message and stop playing politics over the pandemic.
It is also essential that the message of brotherhood and unity is spread across in this difficult time, and hatred against any one particular group is not normalized. The Hindutva hatred has not only widened the gulf between Indian Hindus and Muslims but also created fault lines between India and the Gulf Countries.