Amid the chorus of criticism from the Islamic world against the remarks made by now suspended or Our BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal – with Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issuing statements – India rejected the OIC’s comments as “unwarranted and narrow-minded” and said Pakistan’s criticism was ironical, given its own record with minorities.
Pakistan joined three other Islamic countries in summoning the Indian envoy to mark their displeasure. Bahrain too commented on the controversy, but appreciated the action taken by the BJP against its two leaders.
While the Indian government refrained from responding to any of these criticisms publicly, it responded to the comments made by the OIC. The General Secretariat of the Jeddah-based body of 57 countries had strongly condemned the “abuse of the Prophet Muhammad” by officials of India’s ruling party.
The OIC expressed its “strong condemnation and condemnation of the recent insults issued by an official in the ruling party” in a statement on Sunday. “These abuses come in the context of the escalation of hatred and abuse of Islam in India and in the context of the systematic practices against Muslims and restrictions on them, especially in light of a series of decisions banning headscarves in educational institutions in a number of Indian states and demolitions of Muslim property, in addition to the increase in violence against them.”
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Responding to media queries regarding the OIC statement, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement, “We have seen the statement on India from the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Government of India categorically rejects OIC Secretariat’s unwarranted and narrow-minded comments.”
Bagchi stated that the Indian government “accords to the highest respect to all religions.” He mentioned that the “offensive tweets and comments denigrating a religious personality were made by certain individuals. They do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India. Strong action has already been taken against these individuals by relevant bodies.”
Further, he also said that it was “regrettable that OIC Secretariat has yet again chosen to make motivated, misleading and mischievous comments. This only exposes its divisive agenda being pursued at the beheest of vested interests.” He urged the OIC Secretariat to “stop pursuing its communal approach and show due respect to all faiths and religions.”
A day after Pakistani Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif criticized the comments made by the saffron party leaders, its foreign ministry summoned India’s Charge d’Affaires, India’s top diplomat in the country, to convey the Pakistani government’s “categorical rejection and strong condemnation of the highly derogatory remarks made by two senior officials of India’s ruling party BJP about the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that the Indian envoy was “told that these remarks are totally unacceptable and have not only deeply hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan but of Muslims across the world.” He was also told that Pakistan “deplores the belated and perfunctory disciplinary actions taken by the BJP government against the said officials, which cannot assuage the pain caused to the Muslims.” It also expressed “the alarming rise in communal violence and hatred against the Muslims in India.”
“Pakistan calls upon the international community, including the United Nations and OIC, especially their human rights machinery, to take cognizance of and stop the dangerously rising ‘Hindutva’ inspired Islamophobia in India, and prevail upon the Indian authorities to prevent the systematic human rights violations against minorities in the country,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.
Responding to the statement on Monday, Bagchi said that the “absurdity of a serial violator of minority rights commenting on the treatment of minorities in another nation is not lost on anyone. The world has been witness to the systemic persecution of minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Ahmadiyyas by Pakistan.” He repeated that the Indian government “accords the highest respect to all religions,” which, he added, “is quite unlike Pakistan where fanatics are eulogized and monuments built in their honour.”
“We call on Pakistan to focus on the safety, security and well-being of its minority communities instead of engaging in alarmist propaganda and attempting to foment communal disharmony in India,” he said.
On Sunday, Qatar, Kuwait and Iran – three nations with which India has had close ties for decades, if not longer, in the Gulf region – summoned Indian ambassadors to their countries to register their protest against the derogatory comments on Prophet Mohammad made by Sharma and Jindal last week. It came at a time when Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu was in Qatar for a three-day official visit.
Saudi Arabia, one of the most significant voices in the Arab world, also issued a statement late Sunday evening, but did not go as far as issuing a démarche like the other three nations from the Gulf region. Its ministry of foreign affairs expressed “its condemnation and denunciation of the statements made by the spokeswoman of the Indian Bharatiya Janata Partywhich insult the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.”
The kingdom was also joined by the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan government, which said in a statement that the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemned the use of derogatory words against the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) by an official of the ruling party in India,” and urged “the Indian government not to allow such fanatics to insult the holy religion of Islam and provoke the feelings of Muslims.”
The Indian Embassy in Qatar mentioned that its ambassador had told the Qatar government on Sunday that the statements by the BJP leaders “do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India” and said that “these are the views of fringe elements.” Both Qatar and Kuwait had, however, demanded a public apology for the statements.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it “welcomed” BJP’s decision to “suspend the party’s spokeswoman, stressing the need to denounce any reprehensible insults against the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, as a provocation to Muslims’ feelings and incitement to religious hatred. ” It emphasized the “importance of respecting all religious beliefs, symbols, and personalities, and the concerted efforts of the international community to spread the values of moderation, tolerance, and dialogue between religions and civilizations, and to confront extremist ideas that feed sedition and religious, sectarian, or racial hatred.”
The OIC asked the Indian authorities to “resolutely confront these abuses” and to “bring the instigators, those involved, and perpetrators of violence and hate crimes against Muslims to justice, and to hold the parties behind them accountable” and also “ensure the safety , security and well-being of the Muslim community in India and to protect its rights, religious and cultural identity, dignity and places of worship.”
It also asked the “international community, particularly the mechanisms of the United Nations and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, to take the necessary measures to address the practices targeting Muslims in India.”
India has often responded sharply to any criticism from the OIC, as it feels that much of it is orchestrated by Pakistan, thus the thinly veiled reference to the “vested interests” in its response. Most recently, India had reacted similarly when the OIC had called on the UN Human Rights Council to take “necessary measures” in the controversy around female Muslim students not being allowed to wear hijab in certain schools and colleges in Karnataka in February.
On Sunday, the BJP had suspended Sharma and Jindal, as over the weekend there was a growing chorus of criticism from the Arab world against their comments. There were several calls for boycott of Indian products in many parts of the Gulf region, and hashtags critical of the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were top trends across social media in many countries.
The region is home to some of India’s closest partners and allies, and India is also dependent on it for its crude oil and gas needs. Around 6.5 million Indians live in the Gulf region, making them the largest expat community in many of those countries.