The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s invitation to India to the upcoming 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers to be held in Abu Dhabi is a major development. Adding to the significance of India’s participation in the OIC event is the fact that Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj will be addressing the inaugural plenary as a guest of honour. This is an important milestone in India’s relations with the Muslim world. The largest inter-governmental organisation in the world, second only to the United Nations, the OIC describes itself as the “collective voice of the Muslim world.” Although the OIC invited India to participate at the Rabat conference in 1969 and an Indian ambassador attended the first session, the official Indian delegation was not allowed to participate. It was said that Pakistan’s lobbying lay behind the OIC’s withdrawal of its invitation to India to the Rabat event. Since then, the OIC had shut its doors to India. At previous OIC meetings and other international summits, Islamabad had raised the Kashmir issue in an attempt to score points against New Delhi and to get the OIC to pass resolutions criticising India on its handling of the situation in the troubled state.
The decision on who to invite as a guest of honour is the prerogative of the host. Thus, it is the UAE which decided to invite Swaraj. Its decision is the outcome of its strong ties with India. But also, India’s ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members are warming. The OIC invitation to India was said to have been given to New Delhi in January this year.
An OIC sans India was always a bit of an incongruity. India is home to 10% of the world’s Muslim population and has the world’s third largest Muslim population. The OIC’s claim to be “the collective voice of the Muslim world” rang hollow with India excluded from that supposedly ‘collective voice’. The OIC has taken a first step towards correcting that anomaly. It must follow that up with membership for India. Swaraj must use her address at the inaugural plenary wisely. She must avoid lamenting about Pakistan’s support to terrorism. Every OIC member is aware of that. She should avoid reducing India’s role in the OIC to criticising Pakistan. Instead, she should use the opportunity to draw attention to India’s strengths, what it can bring to the OIC table and the experience it can share with OIC members to address their shared challenges.