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India struggles to resolve rift with Muslim world after BJP staff insult Prophet Mohammed

New Delhi is struggling to manage the diplomatic fallout after 15 Muslim nations, including leading Gulf countries, lodged complaints over derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed made by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party officials.

Staff Reporter

Jordan, the Maldives, Libya, Turkey and Indonesia joined Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait in denouncing the comments.

The BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, suspended spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and expelled Naveen Kumar Jindal at the weekend after outrage over their remarks.

The ruling party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have distanced themselves from the comments, which they described as the views of “fringe elements”.

However, the fallout seems far from over. The UAE expressed its “condemnation and rejection of [remarks] insulting the Prophet Mohammed” and underscored the need to “respect religious symbols and not violate them, as well as confront hate speech and violence”.

Supporters of a religious group chant anti-Indian slogans as they condemn derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed, in Karachi, Pakistan. AP

Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned India’s envoys in the respective countries to lodge strong complaints. The Maldives, Afghanistan and Pakistan also lodged official protests with New Delhi.

Religious figures in Oman and Egypt criticised India’s ruling party, describing the comments as “a war on all Muslims”.

Indian products such as rice and spices were taken off the shelves in a Kuwaiti supermarket after clerics called for a boycott of the country’s goods.

New Delhi, which has strengthened economic and strategic partnerships with Gulf nations under Mr Modi’s rule, took immediate steps to punish the officials.

The controversy could prove a setback to the growing relationship between India and the Gulf countries that play a crucial role in its economy.

Anil Trigunayat, former Indian ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, called the diplomatic backlash a “wake-up call” for India and said New Delhi needed to rein in sectarian hotheads.

“This will not impact the relations at the government-to-government level or [cause] any major problem because Gulf countries understand India’s position … that it is an aberration and not a practice,” Mr Trigunayat told The National. “But we have to do something so it is not repeated. It is a wake-up call.

“At the people-to-people level, sensitivities of the grass roots are hurt … talking loosely about Prophet Mohammed, no one wants to listen. That will take a little while and some simmering on social media.”

A third of India’s oil imports are from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. The country is involved in billions of dollars’ worth of trade with Gulf nations.

India’s total trade with the six nations and Iran stood at about $189 billion in the past fiscal year, data from its Commerce Ministry indicated. The UAE was India’s third-largest trading partner last year.

The GCC nation is home to more than nine million Indians, who send home billions of dollars in remittance.

India reportedly received $80bn in remittance from Gulf nations over the past three years.

The derogatory remarks came only days after New Delhi’s close partner, the US, criticised India for growing intolerance and discrimination against Muslim and Christian minorities.

Mr Modi’s government has been accused of favouring Hindus in the officially secular country, with opposition parties accusing the BJP of tarnishing India’s image.

Hashtags such as #ModishamesIndia and #ShameonBJP were trending on Twitter on Tuesday.

However, many social media users tweeted in support of Ms Sharma and Mr Jindal, and accused Mr Modi’s party of bowing to foreign powers.

Hashtag trends such as #boycottqatarairways and #isupportnupursharma were also trending on Twitter in India.

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