Coronavirus: India clears air with Arab world

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, coronavirus, covid-19, UAE, India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Narendra Modi, S Jaishankar

Dubai - That the vast majority of India's 1.3 billion people have no interest in hating one another on a religious basis is a fact that seldom gets an airing.

By Bikram Vohra

Published: Sun 26 Apr 2020, 12:42 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Apr 2020, 2:48 PM

Courtesy the toxic nature of social media and the advent of fake news as an integral part of our information diet now, we are all vulnerable to believing dangerously sculpted narratives. Because there is no way to prove otherwise the repeated dinning of the mind through endless audio-visual loops do have an impact. Our latent fears get fed and the tendrils of new ones rise smokily in our mind. After all, there must be some kernel of truth in it, whatever it is.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clearly realised in these past two weeks the need to address the elephant in the room and usher it out. There was a growing fear that communal divisiveness was on a dangerous crest in India and this fear was being propelled onto the global stage.

That the vast majority of India's 1.3 billion people are too busy trying to get past the remains of the day and have no interest in hating one another on a religious basis is a fact that seldom gets an airing. That is why the holy month of Ramadan has begun peacefully in India and will continue that way. It is always the mini minority with creepy agendas that cause the suspicion and the dissension and predicate any resistance or refusal to be communal to an absurd betrayal.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar evidently took a few pages out of the UAE's tome of tolerance and advocated a reaching out. His tweet Saturday says it all: Pandemic further highlights the need for international cooperation. Few better examples than our relationship with UAE. Applaud the generosity of spirit and clarity of policy that has characterised its approach. Thank you Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, for the warm conversation today.

These diplomatic initiatives were a sensible step to take and they were fortified by nearly two weeks of telephonic diplomacy designed to deflate that communal elephant, allay any residual concerns and reiterate India's foreign policy resolve to stay committed to the Arab world. At the same time, it was the ideal opportunity to come together to combat the pandemic as a singular entity.

Ministry sources in New Delhi tell me Modi has spoken to leaders in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman as well as Palestine, Jordan and Eqypt. While 'Think West' has been the cornerstone of the business end of the conversations, Modi has frontally allayed any concerns over the communal issue and stressed the need for coordinated and collaborative efforts to combat Covid-19, not necessarily in that order.

Dr S Jaishankar has echoed his boss and had extensive talks with foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Palestine and Qatar this week. He had earlier spoken to foreign ministers of Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria.

This is good stuff. And let's be honest. It is time to ignore the rabble rousers and those who would catapult doubt and fear when what we really have to fear is this damn virus and what it has done to us. It respects no religion, no caste, no creed, no colour.

One of the promising aspects out of these moves is India's commitment ensure uninterrupted supply of food imports to the GCC markets.

Many Gulf countries have requested for essential medicines like hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol to support their national effort and India's huge and inexpensive pharma sector will supply medicines including hydroxychloroquine to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Egypt and Palestine. At the request of Kuwait, India has also deployed a rapid response team comprising doctors, nurses and paramedics to train and exchange best practices with local medical professionals.

According to sources in the external affairs ministry, both the Indian PM and his minister did not shy away from bringing up the communal issue and that was needed because there was a certain ugliness raising its head and those with specific agendas were finding traction.

Gulf countries are very sensitive to any attempts to create social disharmony and have zero tolerance in this regard. The UAE most of all and its policy stands as a testament to the power of the collective.

We are all one not just in this fight but as the human race. We do not have to make each other cry, or let anyone force tears upon us.

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