India and the Gulf are committed to tolerance and peace

Tolerance of other religions in the Gulf explains the presence of millions of Indians engaged in nation building without any impediment to their freedom of worship

By T P Sreenivasan

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Published: Sun 12 Jun 2022, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Sun 12 Jun 2022, 11:42 PM

No words are adequate to condemn the remarks made by two former spokespersons of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which have hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world, including India. They have been removed from the party and criminal proceedings have been initiated against them. What they have done is in violation of the Indian constitution, the precepts of the Hindu faith, which sees the whole world as one and the fundamental decency and courtesy expected of civilised human beings. There should be no doubt that they will be punished according to the law.

The sense of disbelief and dismay in many friendly countries in the Gulf and elsewhere were on account of centuries of their interaction with India and the close bilateral ties they have with the country, built over a period through mutual respect.

Tolerance of other religions in the Gulf explains the presence of millions of Indians engaged in nation building without any impediment to their freedom of worship. The Swaminarayan Temple being built in Abu Dhabi will be a shining example of the traditional religious linkages between India and the UAE. Indian foreign policy itself is truly secular in nature and there has not been a single instance of religious discord in international relations.

It was after the advent of the Modi Government that the relations between India and the UAE flourished and reached the present level of political and economic relationship, making it a model for many countries. Today, there is a Quad of India, the UAE, Israel, and the US working for collective stability and prosperity.

The way India has welcomed every religion in the world and allowed them to practice their faith without any hindrance has demonstrated that relations between countries go beyond political or religious ideologies.

India and the Gulf countries are indispensable to each other and have become strong partners in trade, energy cooperation, technology, and human resources. We work together for the protection of the environment and ending the scourge of terrorism.

No wonder, therefore, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken urgent action to ensure that irresponsible comments made by two members of his party should not be allowed to disturb the edifice of peace and cooperation we have built in this region.

Millions of Indians of all religions live and work in the Gulf and they have never disrupted the political and religious harmony in their host countries. The goodwill and hospitality they enjoy enable them to be highly productive and loyal.

No disruption of their work should be permitted as it will cause damage to both sides. Their remittances support the Indian economy and their dedicated service contribute to the development of their host countries. Even rumours of disruption of their work in the wake of recent events were a matter of concern in India.

It is not unusual for problems to arise between countries because of lack of sensitivity about faiths and beliefs. I have seen pictures of Hindu deities on footwear made abroad. Many people may have felt offended, but there have been no protests or violence because such aberrations are seen as the results of ignorance. As Mahatma Gandhi taught us, an eye for an eye approach will make the whole world blind.

In international relations, domestic policies of countries play only a minor role, as it should be, but western counties tend to pass judgement on domestic issues in other countries. The US reports on religious freedom in other countries as a matter of routine, on the ground that they are based on reports in the media in those countries.

It should be remembered that in democracies, in which there is a free press, it is not unusual for media to take positions against the governments of the day and those stories must be heavily discounted.

Human rights issues are often political in nature and therefore, local reports on human rights violations should be taken with a pinch of salt. Western countries seem to understand it as they do not allow their own reports to affect bilateral relations.

It appears that the process of healing the wounds inflicted by unacceptable statements by two individuals has begun. The Iranian Foreign Minister, who visited India recently seemed satisfied that it happened out of ignorance and insensitivity rather than hostility or hatred.

The Hindu and Islamic civilisations have been living together for centuries and their unity is particularly important at the time of geopolitical instability on account of a pandemic and a futile war. A clash of civilisations is not inevitable if there is mutuality of interests based on goodwill and dialogue.

— The writer is a former Indian diplomat who served as ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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