The story so far: China on June 13joined the list of countries that have responded with varying intensities to the Prophet remarks controversy, saying that it hoped the incident could be “properly managed”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said while responding to reporters in Beijing: “It is important to abandon arrogance and prejudice, and important to deepen recognition and understanding of one’s own civilisation and differences from other civilisations and promote dialogue and harmonious co-existence.”
Meanwhile, Bangladesh on Sunday, June 12, despite continued protests in the country over the controversy, took a fairly neutral stance on the matter as being India’s “internal issue.” This, however, has not been the case with several other countries as India deals with the diplomatic fallout of the controversial remarks made by now-suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal on Prophet Mohammad in late May on television news channel Times Now.
More than 15 countries have condemned the remarks, starting with Qatar, at a time when it was hosting Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. The remarks have landed India in a tricky foreign policy situation with West Asian nations with which it has crucial trade and diplomatic relations. Over 89 lakh Indians living or working in the Gulf also make it an area of diplomatic concern for India.
The row also elicited a response from a United Nations (UN) spokesperson, who calledfor “respect and tolerance” for all religions.
Qatar, Kuwait, and Iran
While social media users in Arab countries were already taking offence to the remarks and calling for a boycott of Indian goods by early June, the first official response from an Arab country came on June 5, when the Qatari Foreign Ministry summoned Indian ambassador Deepak Mittal and handed him a note expressing the “total rejection and condemnation of the remarks” made by the suspended BJP spokespersons. Stating that the remarks “would lead to incitement of religious hatred, and offend more than two million Muslims around the world,” the Qatari government demanded a public apology.
The move put unprecedented pressure on the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as it came a day after Vice President Venkaiah Naidu flew to Doha, beginning a three-nation tour. Incidentally, Qatari officials cancelled a banquet to be held in Mr. Naidu’s honour, saying that his counterpart the Deputy Emir Abdullah bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had been exposed to an individual infected with Covid-19 recently. However, in a departure from the diplomatic norm, he did not depute someone else to host the banquet, which became a matter of concern for the MEA.
Hours after the summoning of the ambassador, the Indian Embassy in Qatar released a statement saying that “the Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions,” and that “strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks.” It added that the government had nothing to do with the comments, which were made by “fringe elements.”
It also referred to a statement issued by the BJP emphasizing “respect for all religions, denouncing insult to any religious personality or demeaning any religion or sect.”
Also read: Nupur Sharma | In the eye of the storm
After Qatar, Kuwait followed suit and summoned the Indian ambassador Sibi George, handing him a demarche demanding a “public apology for those hostile comments”. The Indian Embassy in Kuwait issued a similar statement in response.
On the same day, Iran too summoned the Indian Ambassador to Tehran over the controversial comments. This came just three days before the first visit of its Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Delhi.
As the diplomatic storm picked up, the BJP moved to suspend Ms. Sharma, and the Delhi unit of the party expelled its media cell head, Naveen Kumar Jindal from the primary membership of the party.
Pakistan has been very vocal in its response to the controversy. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted on June 5, calling the comments “hurtful” and accusing the Modi government of “trampling [on] religious freedoms and persecuting Muslims.”
The official spokesperson of the MEA , Arindam Bagchi, gave a stern response to Mr. Sharif’s comments by pointing out that the “absurdity of a serial violator of minority rights commenting on the treatment of minorities in another nation” was “not lost on anyone.”
“The world has been witness to the systemic persecution of minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Ahmadiyyas, by Pakistan," he added.
On June 6, the Pakistan Foreign Office summoned the Indian charge d'affaires to condemn the remarks. In the subsequent days, Pakistan also passed a resolution condemning the comments in both houses of its Parliament while lawmakers in the country called for protests.
OIC and GGC
The 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) not only condemned the remarks made by the now-suspended spokespersons but also linked the row to the hijab ban controversy which took place earlier this year and the reported demolition of Muslim properties in the aftermath of communal violence.
The Jeddah-based secretariat of the OIC said that the statements about the Prophet came in the context of “escalation of hatred and abuse of Islam in India and in the context of the systematic practices against Muslims and restrictions on them…”
Responding to the OIC, Mr. Bagchi of the MEA told reporters at a press conference that the Organisation should stop its "communal approach" and said it was “regrettable that the OIC Secretariat has yet again chosen to make motivated, misleading and mischievous comments”.
“This only exposes its divisive agenda being pursued at the behest of vested interests," he said.
While India reacted strongly to the OIC’s remarks, it stayed silent on a statement issued by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GGC), with which New Delhi maintains strong ties.
The statement, issued in the name of GGC Secretary-General Nayef Falah M Al Hajraf, condemned the remarks in strong terms, stating that “His Excellency the Secretary General affirmed his categorical rejection of prejudicing all the prophets and apostles as well as personalities and religious symbols, stressing the position that rejects provocation, targeting or underestimating beliefs and religions”
More than a dozen other countries
Diplomatic pressures mounted as several other Arab countries and countries with a majority Muslim population lodged their protest over the contentious remarks, including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Turkey, Maldives, Indonesia, Libya, Iraq, Malaysia, and even the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
United Arab Emirates (UAE), a crucial partner in the Gulf, issued a statement condemning the remarks insulting the Prophet. The UAE Foreign Ministry “underscored the need to respect religious symbols and not violate them, as well as confront hate speech and violence." UAE had recently concluded a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India and is a crucial aviation and investment destination for the country.
The MoFA of Sauda Arabia on June 6 also tweeted a statement denouncing the “insulting” remarks, rejecting the “prejudice against the symbols of the Islamic religion.”.
According to PTI, a spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party AKP also decried the remarks against the Prophet as “an insult to all Muslims”.
Iraq’s state-backed news agency also reported that the country’s government found the comments about the Prophet “malicious” and “disgraceful”, per the PTI report.
Meanwhile, Malaysia summoned the Indian High Commissioner B.N. Reddy over the remarks, while also issuing a statement calling upon India to “work together in ending the Islamophobia and cease any provocative acts in the interest of peace and stability. While welcoming the BJP’s move to suspend the spokespersons, the statement added that their remarks had enraged the Muslim Ummah.