Gulf Trade Ties Behind BJP Action Against Sharma, Jindal

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Around 15 countries, including a majority of Gulf nations, have severely criticised the Narendra Modi government over the controversial remarks made by two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members on Prophet Muhammad.

The government’s had no option but to suspend the BJP’s national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expel the party’s Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal for their controversial remarks considering the deep trade and commerce ties with the Gulf, where 89 lakh Indians work and send money to India.

Indians constitute more than 33% of the population of the UAE, one of the 15 countries that have severely criticised India. Similarly, Indians make up 26% of the population of Qatar, 24% of Kuwait and 19% of Bahrain.

India receives more than $80 billion of remittances annually, the highest in the world, with half of them only from five Gulf countries in 2018—UAE 26.9%, Saudi Arabia 11.6%, Qatar 6.5%, Kuwait 5.5% and Oman 3%.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner and second-largest export destination. The 2021-22 bilateral trade was a staggering $72.9 billion with India’s exports accounting for $28.4 billion.

India is hugely dependent on the Gulf for oil imports with 60% of it coming from these nations. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the UAE accounted for 22%, 19% and 9% of India’s oil imports in 2019.

The controversy started last month with Sharma making the derogatory remarks.

May 27: Sharma makes controversial comments against Prophet Muhammad during a TV debate on the discovery of a purported Shivling inside the Gyanvapi Masjid, Varanasi.

May 28: The Delhi Police lodges an FIR under IPC Sections 506 (criminal intimidation), 507 (criminal intimidation by anonymous communication) and 509 (insulting modesty of a woman) after Sharma complains of death and rape threats.

June 1: Jindal posts a derogatory tweet against Prophet Muhammad that he later deletes.

June 2: Cases of promoting enmity and hurting religious sentiments registered against Sharma in Mumbai, Thane, Hyderabad and Pune.

June 3: Sharma’s controversial remarks trigger communal violence in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in which 13 police personnel and 30 people from both communities are injured.

June 4: Thirty-six people arrested and an FIR filed against more than 1,500 people in connection with the Kanpur violence.

June 5: Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summon Indian ambassadors to register strong protests against the statements.

Qatar’s foreign ministry summons ambassador Dipak Mittal and demands a public apology from India.

  • Kuwait summons ambassador Sibi George and demands a public apology. Iran too summons ambassador Dhamu Gaddam and strongly criticises the remarks.
  • The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly condemns the “abuse of the Prophet Muhammad”.

  • India tells Qatar and Kuwait that the remarks are the “views of fringe elements” and do not reflect the government’s opinion.

  • The BJP suspends Sharma and expels Jindal. Her suspension letter says, “You have expressed views contrary to the party’s position on various matters.”

June 6: India rejects the OIC’s “unwarranted and narrow-minded comments” as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Iraq slam the government.

  • Sharma unconditionally withdraws her statement after the suspension. “It was never my intention to hurt anyone’s religious feelings,” she tweets.

June 7: The number of countries incensed at the remarks grows to 15 with Maldives, Libya, Turkey and Indonesia lodging strong protests against India.

  • Sharma and her family get preventive security.

  • The Mumbra Police, Maharashtra, summons Sharma to record her statement over the remarks on June 22.

  • Militant group Mujahideen Ghazwatul Hind threatens Sharma with dire consequences unless she tenders an unconditional apology.