FOR long, the Sangh Parivar in India has used Pakistan as a punching bag, while also lambasting Muslim emperors and sultans that ruled the subcontinent centuries ago. But when officials linked to India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party publicly started attacking Islam’s sacred figures, a red line was crossed.
The vile comments directed at the Holy Prophet (PBUH) coming from two BJP spokespersons were no mere slip of the tongue. They were the result of decades of anti-Muslim poison spewed by the hard right in India; now the anti-Islam discourse has been mainstreamed, with people in power feeling free to attack the revered figures of other religions to please their rabid vote bank.
The reaction from many Muslim states has been swift against the outrage. Kuwait, Qatar and Iran summoned Indian diplomats to register their protest, while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have also issued stern denunciations against the provocative statements.
Read: India’s demonisation of Muslims
For its part, the BJP has expelled one character in this sordid saga, while suspending the other. It has also issued a lukewarm clarification stating that it “is strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion”. If this were so, hard-core Muslim-baiters and demagogues, such as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the Indian home minister, would not be key cogs in the ruling apparatus.
The prime minister of India himself has a dark communal history, as the ghosts of Gujarat will testify. Moreover, the reaction to the comments has been disingenuous on part of the Indian state. While responses to the controversy by Indian missions in Kuwait and Qatar were conciliatory, distancing themselves from the “offensive tweet”, the Indian external affairs ministry’s reactions to the OIC generally and Pakistan’s concerns over the matter were combative and thoroughly undiplomatic.
Perhaps the feeling in New Delhi is that the billions of dollars worth of trade and remittances from the Gulf states cannot be lost over the controversy. Already there are campaigns underway in the Gulf calling for boycotts of Indian goods.
All religious minorities in India, including Christians and Dalits, have been feeling the heat as Hindu extremism has gained strength. But Muslims have been on the receiving end of the most hateful campaigns, with their loyalty to the state questioned, their cultural and religious practices restricted, and now their sacred figures attacked.
With the latest provocation, the Sangh Parivar is playing with fire. Already there has been violence in some areas, and unless efforts are made to rein in the hate-mongers, especially those who enjoy political and official patronage, the situation can deteriorate very quickly.
The international community, especially the Muslim world, needs to continue to call out India for its anti-Muslim and anti-Islam provocations. Perhaps sensitive to censure by foreign states, and fearful of damage to economic ties, New Delhi may change its attitude and seriously address these reprehensible incidents.
Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2022
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