Core colour: Editorial on tension between India & Middle East over hateful remark
One of the diplomatic successes of the Narendra Modi government over the past eight years has been the bonhomie it has cultivated with most of the Middle East, despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s increasingly brazen anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions. On Sunday, that inherent tension boiled over. Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned the Indian ambassadors to those nations to diplomatically protest hateful comments made on live television and Twitter by BJP spokespersons some days ago. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council publicly lashed out at the remarks. The BJP responded by suspending one of its offending representatives and expelling another. But India’s ruling party and government are mistaken if they think their response will calm the waters — either at home or abroad — that they and their allies have themselves poisoned with bigotry. Internationally, India’s reputation as a diverse, secular nation has already taken a beating in recent years. Antony Blinken, the secretary of state of the United States of America, has twice referred to concerns over human rights in India in recent months. That the BJP has managed to unite arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in their criticism of India counts as a new low.
But even more poignant is the silence of the government and the BJP about concerns raised domestically. The party removed its spokespersons only when the government was criticised by other nations — not when Indians voiced opposition to their vitriol. On Sunday, the government described the former spokespersons as “fringe” elements. That is a falsehood on two counts. First, no political party — and certainly not one that is as image-conscious as the BJP — appoints people as its mouthpieces without thoroughly vetting them. If it chooses known rabble-rousers as spokespersons, it must be assumed that this is by design. Second, senior leaders of the party and the government, including Mr Modi and his de facto deputy, Amit Shah, have often resorted to dog-whistle comments targeting Muslims. Several BJP chief ministers and parliamentarians routinely use communal stereotypes to blame Muslims for the ills of society. Today, what was once the ‘fringe’ regularly overlaps with the core of the BJP. If the chorus of Hindu majoritarianism continues to rise, suave diplomacy will not be able to cover up the rot. Mr Modi promised to lure the world to ‘Make in India.’ Instead, it is witnessing ‘Hate in India.’ Only one of those visions can survive. The choice is Mr Modi’s.