Asserting that incidents and comments against Muslims were bound to attract negative reactions abroad, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Friday (May 1) said it is more important to change the domestic reality than do damage control, while referring to the India’s criticism in the Arab states over alleged “Islamophobia”.
“What matters is not what the government says but how it is perceived because of what it does, or let others do,” Tharoor said, and alleged that the Modi government has “shamefully failed” to curb the appalling behaviour of many of its “most rabid supporters”, including some in high positions.
“Let us not forget that Ramzade/Hara… comment came from a minister, and the latest remark from a BJP MLA in UP telling people not to buy vegetables from a Muslim vendor,” Tharoor said.
His remarks were an apparent reference to 2014 comments reportedly made by Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, and the recent controversy triggered by Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA Suresh Tewari who allegedly asked people not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors.
The BJP on Tuesday (April 28) issued a show cause notice to Tewari for his remarks.
Tharoor also alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, throughout the last six years, been too slow to “condemn his party’s bigotry and has condoned overt expressions of Islamophobia from his own camp.”
“The attitude that India loves Muslims so long as they are outside India, but insults them at home, is not tenable in a world of instant global communications. The mounting number of incidents and statements against Muslims in India was bound to attract negative attention abroad,” the former Union minister said.
His remarks came in the backdrop of angry reactions from the royal princess of UAE, Kuwait government, and other leading citizens from various Arab countries after a few people blamed Muslims for spreading COVID-19 in several parts of India following a spurt in coronavirus cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat meet at Nizamuddin in New Delhi.
One such example was Bala Krishna Nakka, who was sacked from his job in Dubai and accused of posting messages on his Facebook account blaming Muslims for the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier, Rakesh B. Kitturmath was dismissed by his employer for taunting the Islamic practice of five-time prayer in a day that some Muslims claimed would ward off the virus.
In yet another episode, Mitesh Udeshi, an Abu Dhabi resident, drew a cartoon on his social media post making fun of Islam while another expat Sameer Bhandari was sacked for asking an Indian Muslim job-seeker to ‘go to Pakistan.’
Princess Hend Al Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, responded to these allegations tersely and said, “The ruling family is friends with Indians, but as a royal your rudeness is not welcome. All employees are paid to work, no one comes for free. You make your bread and butter from this land which you scorn and your ridicule will not go unnoticed.”
Princess Qassimi was responding specifically to one Saurabh Upadhyay who had stated in his social media post that it was Indians who had built Dubai from scratch and had used the term ‘radical Islamic terrorists’ to describe the Muslim community, besides other Islamaphobic rants.
The princess was quoted as saying in response, “Anyone that is openly racist and discriminatory in the UAE will be fined and made to leave.”
Furthermore, the 57-member prominent international Mulim grouping, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), recently accused India of “Islamophobia”.
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Thursday (April 30) dismissed all such allegations and highlighted Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s regular conversations with their counterparts from the region in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, to stress the closeness in ties.
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi too on April 21 dismissed the allegations of “Islamophobia” and said India is heaven for Muslims and those trying to vitiate the atmosphere of prosperity cannot be their friends.
Asserting that the social, economic and religious rights of Muslims are secure in India, Naqvi said “secularism and harmony” is not a “political fashion”, but a “perfect passion” for India and Indians.
Responding to the criticism in Gulf nations and by the OIC, Tharoor said the backlash is not surprising. “While I welcome the PM’s and the Foreign Minister’s attempts at damage control, it is far more important to change the domestic reality than to issue reassuring statements,” the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
Asked about plea by several Indians stuck in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and his request to the prime minister and the external affairs minister to expedite their evacuation, Tharoor said every nation has a responsibility towards its citizens.
He claimed that the government’s argument is that a large number of travellers from abroad would place an unsustainable degree of strain on the country’s healthcare and quarantine facilities.
“If that was true 40 days ago, it is no longer true now. We must bring our own citizens back. It is not just a matter of their rights, but of what’s right morally, emotionally and constitutionally,” the Congress leader said.
Tharoor also demanded that in these difficult times of the pandemic, the Centre must give the state governments their dues. “It is shocking that GST dues have not been paid despite states, and the Congress calling for this for more than two months,” he said.
“Give the states their own money, so they don’t have to beg for resources to combat the virus. In addition, yes, extra support will be needed for those states facing a larger COVID-19 burden,” Tharoor said.
“The ordinary people of our country also need financial help so they can help themselves. We have been calling for ₹7,500 to be put into every Jan Dhan account. This is far from happening, several weeks after we suggested it,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)