NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has called for unity and religious harmony after an international outcry over increasing Islamophobia in the country.
The Muslim outreach attempts began after influential figures in the Arab world objected to the government blaming an event organized by the religious missionary group the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) for “contributing to a 30 percent rise in the coronavirus cases” in India.
On Sunday the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s paternal organization and masthead of Hindu rightwing nationalism, called upon people to “come together and fight the menace of coronavirus jointly.”
“All 130 crore Indians are our family,” said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. “We are one. We should not blame the entire community for the mistake of a few individuals. People who are more mature in both communities should come forward and start a dialogue to remove prejudices among people’s minds.”
A day earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted Muslims on the start of Ramadan.
“I pray for everyone’s safety, well-being and prosperity,” he tweeted. “May this Holy Month bring with it abundance of kindness, harmony and compassion. May we achieve a decisive victory in the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and create a healthier planet.”
Blaming TJ placed New Delhi’s carefully cultivated relationship with the Middle East under the microscope after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly disapproved of hate speech by Indian nationals accusing the missionary group of deliberately exacerbating the pandemic.
Princess Hend Al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, reprimanded an Indian expatriate in Dubai for targeting Muslims and blaming the TJ for the spread of the outbreak.
She shared a UAE law which banned hate speech, adding that anyone who was “openly racist and discriminatory” in the UAE would be fined and made to leave.
She further stressed the need “to reject hatred and replace it with love on earth to live together.”
On Friday, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar called his counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and reassured them about the situation in India.
“Pandemics further highlight the need for international cooperation,” he tweeted after the talks. “Few better examples than our relationship with #UAE. Applaud the generosity of spirit and clarity of policy that has characterised its approach. Thank HH @ABZayed for the warm conversation.”
Analysts said that such strong reactions from the Gulf countries were “causing anxiety” in the government.
“This is the first time in many years that we are witnessing a trenchant reaction coming from the Arab world about the happenings in India,” Sanjay Kapoor, editor of English magazine Hardnews, told Arab News. “It is unusual and is causing anxiety in the government as well amongst all those who do business with the Gulf. Modi has to be wise in how he deals with the Arab world, not just due to the remittances that the workers send, but much of its politics in that region is linked to the support that Saudi provides.”
Prof. Sujata Ashwarya, of New Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia University, said that the growing Islamophobia in India undermined the positive image of India in the Muslim world.
“The consequences could be grave,” she told Arab News. “Once you lose your touch, it is difficult to get that back easily. Soft power is the twin of hard power.”