Clearly avoidable comments made on a TV channel by a BJP spokesperson in reference to the Prophet Muhammad have sparked a firestorm. It also angered several Islamic countries. The reactions come in terms of summoning Indian ambassadors, avoiding official meetings and boycotting Indian products. The Indian government has made its position clear. The Bharatiya Janata Party has disavowed the spokesperson who made the comments. Law enforcement sprang into action to contain the fallout and punish the culprits by filing FIRs on both sides – against the person who made the remark and against those threatening the offender with death.
Under normal circumstances, leaders in India and the benchmark countries should have let the controversial episode wind down as the legal proceedings come to a logical conclusion. But this is not the case. Politics in any country, including India, is fraught with emotion, polarization, vindictiveness and bloodshed. It is a sad commentary on the state of things, managed, rather badly managed by the leaders in place.
However, since the issue has taken on an international dimension, I would like to focus in this article on the differential approach of Islamic countries, at least some, vis-à-vis India and China. The two Asia-Pacific countries are considered rivals, which is not wrong. Yet, the question to be investigated is why India and China elicit highly disproportionate reactions from the Islamic world.
To illustrate the above, India in recent times is portrayed as being polarized along the lines of religions and ethnicity. This is all the more true after the BJP came to power with a majority since 2014. This perception, however, is debatable and is being vigorously contested in the political realm of the country. The BJP-led government claims to lead everyone on the path to progress and prosperity (Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas), while opposition parties vigorously contest this BJP accusing it of being partisan, and sectarian. Such political controversies and ideological disputes are not uncommon in democracies. In practice, however, there is no widespread violence in the country despite some disputed 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 suppressed and subjugated by the Chinese Communist Party. In particular, the rampant abuses and inhumane treatment meted out to Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province have shocked human conscience. What’s more, Beijing’s so-called “re-education” is devilishly repugnant; aimed at eradicating the Islamic beliefs of the Uyghur community and changing the demographic composition of the region.
In the re-education camps, Uyghur detainees receive formal training in the political, religious, and nationalist beliefs enacted by the CCP. A Uyghur can be placed in these camps for the most innocuous and offensive reasons like reciting namaaz, with a Muslim name, sporting a long beard, simply believing in Islam and visiting relatives outside of China. To top it off, Uyghur Muslims in these camps are forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, praise the CCP and its leaders, especially Xi Jinping, march with the communist flag, and denounce all beliefs. considered a threat by the CCP.
Curiously, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Pakistan and Turkey, which claim to be the champions of Islam, did not protest, not utter a word. Don’t these countries consider their economic relations with China more important than defending the human rights of Uyghur Muslims?
After the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, efforts were made around the world to fight terrorism. As a result of these collaborations and consensus, some Uyghur separatist movements like ETIM, TIP, ETLO, etc., have been labeled as terrorist groups by the UN and the US State Department. The CCP seized this opportunity to suppress growing Islamic radicalization in Xinjiang province. Moreover, the CCP has treated any form of dissent against the PRC as an act of extremism. In imitation of the “Global War on Terror”, Beijing launched its own “People’s War on Terror” in 2014, which was nothing but an institutionalized persecution of Uyghur Muslims.
Surprisingly, the human rights abuses and despicable acts of torture by Uyghur religious activists have elicited no strong reaction from the Muslim world. While they talk about Palestine and Kashmir, and the persecution of Muslims in India, they haven’t talked about the suffering. Uighurs in China. When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked about the persecution of Uyghurs, he said, “Frankly, I don’t know much about it. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shockingly claimed that Uighurs live happily in Xinjiang. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested that “China should not be upset because it is beneficial to us”.
Mahathir’s comment is central to the comparison in this article. India becomes an easy target due to its weaker economy than China, and secondly, New Delhi, not projecting or marketing its democratic credentials. Let us be crystal clear that India can only compete with China by catching up with China with a rapidly growing economy, and consolidating and analyzing its democratic politics based on human rights, social justice , pluralism, equality, freedom and responsibility.
Looking at these two determinants of India’s foreign policy, particularly vis-à-vis China, and of course the rest of the world, the GDP growth rate has been steadily declining since 2016 despite claims opposites. Prime Minister Modi’s announcement in 2019 that India would reach a $5 trillion economy by 2024 could not be achieved without major reforms. From 2019 to 2024, the economy was expected to grow by 14.8% to meet the promised target. He hasn’t been anywhere near him.
What the Indian economy needs today is a new policy based on clear objectives and priorities. It needs a strategy to achieve these goals and a creative resource mobilization plan. Without economic growth and distribution leading to poverty alleviation, India would not realize its aspiration to become a major power, let alone counter China, and attract the world’s attention as much as Beijing’s. .
The second imperative is the consolidation of democracy, which is India’s foreign policy USP. In each country, democracy is mainly based on four pillars: free and fair elections, a Constitution, respected by all citizens, the integrity and independence of institutions, and finally the responsibility of those in power. Mere elections are not enough for democracy.
In conclusion, the cascading complaints from Islamic countries against the comments of a light-hearted spokesman for the ruling BJP underscores the fact that they do not treat India with respect as they do with China. This is the lesson New Delhi needs to learn from this unsavory and avoidable episode of a TV talk show last week.
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