Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday finally called for unity and brotherhood in dealing with the threat posed by the coronavirus. No, he did not unequivocally condemn people, many of whom his supporters and some who he follows on social media, for their Islamophobia and their abusive, hateful messages blaming Muslims for spreading the virus.
What he did was tweet, something he is remarkably good at. His tweet read, “ COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.”
The problem is that tweet has come a little too late and is too little. The immensely popular prime minister can make amends by going on national TV, another exercise he is good at, and tell people that blaming Muslims for the virus is nonsense; that ostracizing and boycotting Muslim traders and vendors is anti-national; that such behavior has shamed the country and that he would like to reassure the minority community that he and his government stand by them.
With localities having put up signs asking Muslims to keep away, with vegetable vendors being asked to produce proof of their religious affiliation and calls going out from rabid and short-sighted Hindus for boycotting shops owned by Muslims and products sold by Muslims, the situation is toxic as never before. And the least the Prime Minister can do is to at least speak to the nation, again something at which he is brilliant.
But a mild, statesmanlike tweet falls short of what is needed. Nor is the Government’s move to ship 5.5 million pills of Hydroxychloroquine to the United Arab Emirates is going to repair the damage and regain the goodwill among the people there. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also tweeted on Sunday, expressing its concern and calling upon the Indian Government to protect minorities in India.
The Ministry of External Affairs, however, has been blandly denying persecution of minorities, dismissing all such reports as false and misleading. It may however find it difficult to defend the surge of Islamophobic messages by Indians in Islamic countries and kingdoms. A backlash has already started and some Indians have also lost their jobs there.
Islamophobic messages on social media by Indians living in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries—an estimated 8-10 million of them, have been impacted by the irresponsible conduct of a few bigots that the PM has done little to admonish.
A Kuwaiti pointed out that out of 1654 COVID-19 patients there, over 900 of them happen to be Indians. But while nobody was being discriminated there on the ground of religion and are being treated in the same hospital, why is a hospital in India denying admission to Muslim patients?
Not surprisingly, a five-year old tweet by the present BJP MP Tejasvi Surya has gone viral in Gulf countries. Tweeted Noora Al Ghurair, “Pity your upbringing Tejasvi Surya, that respect for women couldn’t be instilled in your despite having India having some great female leaders”. She went on to add, “Please note if some day your government bestows a foreign ministry to you, avoid travelling to Arab lands. You are not welcome here. This will be remembered.”