Some remarks, clearly avoidable, made in a TV channel by a BJP spokesperson in reference to Prophet Mohammad kicked off a storm. It also incurred the wrath of several Islamic countries. The reactions are coming in terms of summoning Indian ambassadors, avoiding official meetings, and boycotting Indian goods. The Government of India has clarified its position. The Bharatiya Janata Party has disowned the spokesperson making those comments. The law enforcement agencies have swung into action to contain the fallouts and punish the guilty by registering FIRs from both sides — against the person who made the remark,and against those issuing death threats to the offender.
Under normal circumstances, the leadership in India and in the countries in reference should have let the controversial episode rest as the legal procedures are taken to a logical conclusion. But that is not to be. Politics in any country including India is charged with emotions, polarisation, vindictiveness, and baying for blood. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs, managed, rather mismanaged by the leadership that be.
However, since the issue has resumed international dimension, I would like to focus in this piece on the differential approach of Islamic countries, at least a prominent few, to India and China. Both countries in the Asia-Pacific are viewed as rivals which is not untrue. Yet, the question to investigate is,why India and China elicit highly disproportionate reactions from the Islamic world.
To illustrate the above, India, of late, is being portrayed as being polarised on the lines of religions and ethnicity. This is more so after the BJP came to power with a majority since 2014. This perception however is debatable and is being vigorously contested in the political domain in the country. The BJP-led government is claiming to take everybody along the path of progress and prosperity (SabkaSaath, Sabka Vikas), whereas the Opposition parties strenuously contest this accusing BJP of being partisan, and sectarian. Such political controversies and ideological contests are not uncommon in democracies. Factually though, there is no widespread violence in the country despite some contested structural changes.
But look at Communist China, the persecution of religious minorities is deep and distressing; be it Tibetan Buddhists, Christians or Uyghur Muslims, all of whom have been systematically repressed and subjugated by the Communist Party of China. In particular, rampant abuse of and inhuman treatment to Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province has shocked the human conscience. What is more, Beijing’s so-called ‘re-education’ is diabolically repulsive; aimed at eradicating Islamic beliefs of the Uyghur community and at changing the demographic composition in the region.
In re-education camps, Uyghur detainees are given formal training in political, religious and nationalistic beliefs decreed by CCP. A Uyghur can be placed in these camps for the most trivial and in offensive reasons like reciting namaaz, having a Muslim name, sporting a long beard, simply believing in Islam, and visiting relatives outside China. To top it all, Uyghur Muslims in these camps are forced to consume pork, drink alcohol, praise CCP and its leaders specially Xi Jinping, march with the Communist flag and denounce each and every belief which is considered a threat by CCP.
Intriguingly, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Pakistan and Turkey, who claim to be champions of Islam have not protested, not spoken a word. Is it not that these countries regard their economic relations with China more important than defending the human rights of the Uyghur Muslims?
After the twin-tower attack in New York, there were worldwide efforts to curb terrorism. As a result of such collaborations and consensus, some Uyghur separatist movements like ETIM, TIP, ETLO and so on, were labelled as terrorist groups by the UN and the US State Department. The CCP grabbed this opportunityto suppress the growing Islamic radicalisation in Xinjiang province. Furthermore, CCP treated every form of dissent against the PRC as an act of extremism. In imitation of the “global war on terror”, Beijing launched its own “peoples’ war on terror” in 2014 which was nothing but institutionalised persecution of Uyghur Muslims.
Surprisingly, the human rights violations and despicable acts of torture of Uyghur religious activists, did not draw any sharp reaction from the Muslim world.While they talk about Palestine and Kashmir, and the persecution of Muslims in India, they did not talk about the sufferings of Uyghurs in China. When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was questioned about the Uyghur persecution, he said, “Frankly I do not know much about it.” Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan shockingly claimed that Uyghurs live happily in Xinjiang. Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested that, “China should not be antagonised as it is beneficial to us”.
The comment by Mahathir is the crux of comparison in this piece. India becomes an easy target because of its weaker economy than China, and secondly, New Delhi, not projecting or marketing its democratic credentials. Let us be crystal clear that India can compete with China only by catching up with China with a rapidly growing economy, and consolidating and canvassing its democratic politics based on human rights, social justice, pluralism, equality, freedom and accountability.
Looking at these two determinants of India’s foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis China, and of course, rest of the world, the growth rate of GDP has been consistently declining since 2016 despite the assertions to the contrary. Prime Minister Modi’s announcement in 2019 of India hitting a $5 trillion economy by 2024 could not be achieved without major reforms. From 2019 to 2024, the economy needed to grow at 14.8 percent to reach the promised target. It has not been anywhere near it.
What the Indian economy needs today is a fresh policy based on clear targets and priorities.It needs a strategy to achieve those targets, and a creative resource mobilisation plan. Without economic growth and distribution leading to alleviation of poverty, India would not achieve its aspiration of becoming a major power, let alone countering China, and attracting equal world attention as that of Beijing.
The second imperative is consolidation of democracy, which is the USP of India’s foreign policy. In every country, democracy is based mainly on four pillars – free and fair elections, a Constitution, abided by all citizens, integrity and independence of the institutions, and finally the accountability of those in power. Mere elections are not adequate for democracy.
To conclude, the cascading complaints by the Islamic countries against comments made by a light-weight spokesperson of BJP, the ruling party, point to the fact that they do not treat India with awe as they do to China. This is the lesson New Delhi must draw from this avoidable unsavoury episode of a TV talk-show last week.