BJP's tactical retreat in the face of Gulf fury 

The Indian State could have used the law to discipline those creating a divide in the society by abusing the Prophet
Last Updated : 06 June 2022, 10:47 IST

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The crux of the official stand of the Indian government after it was rebuked by Qatar for the Islamophobic remarks of the leaders of the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is in these words: "Vested interests that are against India-Qatar relations have been inciting the people using these derogatory comments."

While claiming that the derogatory comments about Mohammad Sahab didn't represent the views of the Indian government, the embassy signed off by blaming the whole controversy on those who have protested against the filthy statements of the BJP leaders. It warned Qatar against these agent provocateurs and requested it to work together to defeat their design. So, Qatar and other countries should not fall prey to the propaganda of 'these vested' interests and ignore what they say.

One can see that the embassy is doing exactly what the Delhi Police had done after the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) were destroyed by violence in Delhi in 2020. It blamed persons like Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and others for misleading Muslims and inciting them using the CAA. So, the CAA was not the problem; the act of criticism became incitement by people Umar, Meeraan, Safoora, and others who had a vested interest in damaging India's reputation.

The Indian embassy, in a case where it is not facing Indian Muslims who can be beaten up, jailed and killed for questioning the government, but sovereign nations, is trying to underplay the exact cause and blame the whole development on people who criticised, protested against the hateful Islamophobic diatribe of the BJP leaders and continued to do so despite threats from the leaders and supporters of the BJP.

These critics were not addressing the gulf countries. They were asking their own governments to take action against this hateful act, which was clearly aimed at hurting and insulting Indian Muslims. By openly abusing their holiest figure, they were trying to make a point that the honour of Muslims did not matter.

The critics were ignored by the governments. In fact, their act of criticism and demand for lawful action against this hate crime by the BJP leaders was condemned. It was called an act of incitement against the poor BJP leaders who were merely using their right to free speech. The other BJP leaders claimed that by calling out their abusive colleagues, the critics had put their lives in danger.

The abusive leaders were no minions. They were deployed to present the views and opinions of the BJP, which cannot be separated from the government by the party. One of them was fielded as a party candidate against the chief minister of Delhi in the state assembly elections. She has led the students' wing of the RSS, a fraternal body of the BJP at Delhi University. The other leader heads the media cell of the Delhi BJP. They are no minions who can be ignored. The party and the government speak through them.

That is why the critics wanted the State (and also the BJP) to demonstrate that it did not own the statement of the two spokespersons. The party could have done it by doing what it has been forced to do now for fear of losing the money coming from the Gulf countries after a lashing from them. The Indian State could have used the law to discipline those creating a divide in the society by abusing the Prophet, pitching Hindus against Muslims and demeaning them.

Not only did they not do it, one after the other, their leaders also praised the abusive colleagues, hailed their act as brave, expressed solidarity with them and called for action against those who were criticising them in the public domain in legal, parliamentary and civilised ways.

Despite this inaction and cheekiness of the BJP leaders, the critics did not give up. They persisted in their duty to ask their government to take action against a crime committed in public view. Had it not been for the persistent criticism of the latest expression of Islamophobia, which the BJP practices, the Gulf countries would not have noticed it. Had it not been a campaign on Twitter and social media by some courageous journalists led by Md Zubair of the Alt News, the Indian Media would have ensured it remained a domestic affair. In fact, it was a leading TV channel that platformed the Islamophobic leader, and it was its anchor who nodded when the comments were being made and never tried to reprimand her that she was crossing the limits of civility.

All this was kosher with the Indian media. The press, which is now lamenting the loss of face of India in the international arena, kept mum. After all, abuse and hate against Muslims is now an acceptable everyday affair in India. Muslims are asked to bear with it. If they react, they are called touchy, over-sensitive and reactive.

The Prophet, however, does not belong only to the Indian Muslims. The Muslim community is international in nature, as Sarojini Naidu had admiringly noted more than a century back. The reach of Indian TV channels is also not bound by national boundaries. So, the BJP leaders' abusive voice reached the non-Indian Muslim world. And it offended their sensibilities.

The Indian government, which jails and kills Indian Muslims for demanding their rightful place in their country, cannot afford to put off the Gulf countries. The same government, which booked more than 800 Muslims and threatened to unleash bulldozers against them for their temerity to protest against their insult for saying precisely what Qatar and other States have told India, has now cowered before these countries.

The cleverness, however, cannot be missed. The senior BJP leaders have been dubbed as fringe elements. Mere suspension from the party has been presented as strong action by the government. It needs to be repeated that the State authorities have initiated no action under the Indian law. While mouthing inane claims of India being a civilisational state where diversities of all kinds are respected, the embassy came to the main point that it is important to remain alert against those who use such otherwise regular remarks to create a rift between countries like Qatar and India.

We need to know that this tactical retreat by the BJP will be used by it to create hatred in its constituents against those, if not for whom the party would not have been forced into this situation.

Whatever the BJP feels and does is a different matter, but the embassies need to remember that they are run by the money of the taxpayers of India, Muslims being part of them. The embassies should represent all voices of India and not reduce themselves to being apologists of the BJP. They cannot call the critics of the BJP and the government 'vested interests'. It is high time the foreign service regained its honour.

(The writer teaches at Delhi University)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Published 06 June 2022, 09:07 IST

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