Course Correction Against Religious Offenders Needed
BY KAVYA DUBEY
As Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal were made to relinquish their BJP posts due to their comments that amount to offending socio-religious sentiments, and the salvo of diplomatic reprimands that followed, we have before us very clearly indicated twin aspects of statehood and nationhood – of state and society; and of one country in a world of many. The comments directed at the Prophet crash-landed very badly on India’s image, necessitating understanding the domestic and international impact of such a stunt.
A tip of the iceberg of the impact was the embarrassment when the Indian Vice President was visiting Qatar, and the Indian Ambassador was summoned and a public apology from India was expected.
It is very relevant what Qatar said: “Allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment, constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalization, which will create a cycle of violence and hate.”
In the larger interest, it needs to be remembered that India is a part of the world and cannot exist in isolation. It is thus important to maintain cordial relations with countries of partnership, especially given that Islamic countries are a major source of fundamental drivers of the economy-fuel being the primary one.
The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE, and India’s trade with this stood at $ 87.36 billion in 2020-21. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been steadily developing a deeper rapport with these countries since he took over.
Reaching out to Islamic nations is in fact an extension of Gandhian values of fraternity and humanity given his role in the Khilafat Movement for the cause of the Ottomans.
From the strategic perspective, the mutual desire for political stability, peace, and security in the region bind India and GCC together, creating opportunities for greater cooperation. Millions of Indians reside and work in the Middle East and send in sizable remittances.
The ties with the UAE deepened to a cultural level when Modi attended the ceremony of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi in 2018. Yet, in the turn of events, the UAE standing in opposition to India, along with other Gulf countries, due to the controversial statement is a firmly conveyed message. This can also lead to undoing some recent diplomatic successes with UAE and the GCC nations.
Yet, when China is accused of committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide in its north-western Xinjiang region – which has the Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups – the mighty world does not see it as a problem worth vocalizing. Arguably because China is economically in a place to have its own way with the world; also, because the nation’s domestic affairs are carried out in a strictly domestic manner and without proactively bringing it on the global stage.
This is probably where Nupur Sharma missed the point. While religious bigotry is not exclusive to any one side, the stage at which offensive thoughts are vocalized matters a great deal and goes beyond the purview of right and wrong. However, it is difficult to overlook that Nupur Sharma (and not the BJP government) is at the receiving end of all the flack as she is a woman, hence a soft target.
When local-level groups turn verbally violent against a community, irrespective of religion, as it often happens with mobilized unemployed and indoctrinated youth for propaganda, nations of the world are unaffected. But when an office-bearer of a government that has with it a massive mandate of the electorate falls for such misconduct, it goes out as the voice of India and not that of just a person.
One may be free to say things in restricted spaces, irrespective of religious affinity, but a public forum, especially one with international reach, calls for more mindful conduct. Since offensive comments along lines of religion are not uncommon, it is important to set a precedent in taking to task the offenders at the prominent levels so that acting against offenders at local levels is less difficult.
India is watched for increased religious polarization since the BJP rose to power under Narendra Modi. The past few weeks have been particularly spotlighted for creating occasions for religious disharmony by way of threatening vandalism to mosques for the sake of temples that were previously vandalized and demolished in their locations.
Relegating the national spokesperson of the ruling party to a “fringe element” is no escape from the quagmire the Indian government has driven itself into. As a secular state, religion must be kept at a distance to not overshadow the functioning of the state. Besides, the government ought to give its people a greater choice of pursuits than merely religion and cultural jingoism.
If only this occasion is taken as lesson to mend the ways of “toxic politics”, as dubbed by experts, can we look forward to some “achche din!”