How India treats its minorities is now part of global chatter and the blowback was waiting to happen
Autocratic Governments and rulers were forced to react because Islam was targeted and a red line was crossed. Arabs may have their own rivalries but on this issue they were bound to be together
The ruling dispensation in New Delhi is a textbook case. A textbook long written and applied in Europe to devastating consequences. What does that textbook say? It says that sooner or later, a man with the illusion of grandeur will play a hand that doesn’t reflect the strength (or the lack of it) of the cards he holds. Bharatiya Janata Party played that hand last week.
The blowback that has come from Persian Gulf countries concerning some of the unpleasant remarks made by two of the important functionaries of the Party vis-à-vis the prophet of Islam did catch both the Party and the Mandarins unaware. After all, eight years of this regime has been eight years of the application of unbridled, uncontested power.
People are surprised that Arab countries that kept virtually quiet on the unimaginable oppression of India’s Muslim minorities have spoken individually and in unison when it came to defending the honour of the Prophet.
However, both the party and the mandarins were assured of their invincibility in the light of past inactions by the Muslim countries. Not merely inaction, they took a step further by handing over their top civilian awards to Narendra Modi amidst India’s brazen attempt to disenfranchise its Muslim population through the CAA and the NRC. So, what changed?
To understand this, we need to first deconstruct the word “Arabs.” Khalijis, Levantine, North African or the Maghreb are different people with different cultures, ethos and motivations. And there are variations even within these geographical groupings.
Except for the Khalijis, all Arabs worry about the plight of Muslims in India except probably the Egyptian regime. As a correspondent who has extensively travelled and reported from the Middle East, and who is constantly plugged into the chatter there, let me assure you that not only are they worried, they are voicing it too.
But because Indians operate in Anglosphere social media while the Arabs do so in Arabic, we often miss this chatter. However, these countries don't have the economic or diplomatic pull to do anything about it. This doesn't mean they are oblivious. There is palpable anger in the populace.
Then we have the Khalijis. Some Indian Muslim commentators go as far as to say that Arabs don't care about the plight of Indian Muslims because they consider “us” inferior. Yes, they do consider Subcontinent Muslims inferior. However, that explains just a part of it. Please tell me why haven't these Khalijis, GCC countries, ever stood for the Palestinians who are fellow Arabs and mostly Sunnis at that? Why are most of the GCC members falling over each other over normalising ties with Israel?
Even within the GCC, one needs to differentiate. Kuwait and before the old ruler became senile, Oman, are different. Their population do keep speaking about the plight of Indian Muslims even if their governments don’t. UAE, Bahrain and Saudis are different beasts altogether. But even among them, the general population, Shias of Bahrain and Shias and some Sunnis among Saudis, do raise their voice both on the treatment of Indian Muslims as well as against the normalisation efforts with Israel.
The only exception is the Emiratis. There, both the regime as well as the people haven’t stood ever for anyone and it shall be like that in the days to come. This time too they were the last one to react. And no, this is not because the population is repressed. This is because the population is also on the gravy train that these not-speaking-up-for-the-Palestinians or Indian Muslims bring.
Because had oppression and suppression of political voice been the issue, Morrocans wouldn't have publicly defied their treacherous monarch in standing up for Palestine.
This brings us to Qatar. Why was it Qatar who spoke first and opened the sluice gate? One can rest assured that this speaking up for the honour of the Prophet doesn't come naturally to them. It is also an act.
There is a tussle going on inside the Islamic World where countries like Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Malaysia want to make a break-away grouping undermining Saudi’s iron-like grip on the OIC. Pakistan was also initially enthusiastic about joining this grouping but one threatening phone call from Riyadh made Imran Khan develop cold feet.
Qatar’s intra-GCC squabble with Saudi and Bahrain makes her suspicious in the eyes of other Khalijis. That it was Qatar that stole a march here made other Khalijis wake up from their stupor. Saudi’s condemnation came 18 hours too late. OIC’s official condemnation came even later. They have spoken up because they want to preserve the veneer that they are still the leaders of the Islamic World.
But the real question is, how it will go from here. The genie is out of the lamp now. For the time being, things will be back to normal. However, that would not be the case in reality. Hindutva zealots' penchant for attracting attention means that how India treats its minorities is now a global chatter. One example is the vile sycophantic and bigoted comments Indians leave on the social media accounts related to Israel and IDF.
Arabs and other liberals who visit there have stopped giving India the benefit of the doubt. Messages are so overwhelmingly bigoted against Palestinians and sycophantic towards Israel that these Arabs and liberals have come to the conclusion that these Indians are not the fringe; that this is an unadulterated India without the veneer of Gandhi, Buddha and Bollywood.
It is a matter of time before such backlashes from the wider Arab and Muslim World shall become a daily routine. Then Modi and his ilk would not be able to dismiss their cadres as “fringe elements.” The chicken shall come home to roost.