India and West Asia
Our Indian brethren from the southern shores of Kerala to northern Punjab who travel to foreign shores for work, be they the ever efficient nurses or other professionals are slowly emerging out of the trauma of the past week. Local authorities have rescued 34 in all while another 39 remain still in captivity though we have been assured they are safe.
The Indian television industry’s honeymoon with the new government continues and it was this continued flush with romance that allowed both the MEA and the PMO to be let off lightly for the Iraq crisis. Imagine the scanrio of just a few months back, and the shreaking notes of television anchors would have matched the breast beating of a Sushma Swaraj (remember her act when one of our poor jawaans was killed at the LOC and she dramatically beat her head at the widow’s feet?) and the shrill warnings of a Modi albeit from faraway Kutch or Gandhinagar. Never mind, now these men and women are quiet and dignified , having achieved what they set out so successfully to do: label a more dignified UPA II and their functionaries as “weak” (by the way at least six jawaans have lost their lives since May 16 2014 at the LOC but their lives obviously are not as heavyweight as those that fell to Pakistanin bullets when UPA II was in power) and rendered a hysterical and communal campaign as “nationalistic”.
Well now we have our manhood firmly back in place so much so that the strongman at the helm has brought erstwhile critics, especially glamorous film stars with ambitious “social issue based” projects backed by finance, to his heels. These are the wonders of democracy, that, if we are not careful, can be reduced to brute majoritarianism, but who cares at the moment at least? The honeymoon is still on…..
Back to West Asia, however. For centuries ad infinitum, the Arabian Sea has proved a vibrant connection for the shores of what we know as India today and the civilizations of South Asia to connect, through business, trade, philosophy and culture. As far back as 2,500 BC water run trade connected Sumeria and Mesopotamia to the civilization that we call the Indus Valley Civilization or that of Mohenjo Daro. This connectivity endured and fascinated scholars and travellers alike. This is how our strong cultural links to Persia and other parts began and grew.
Before Islam came to Kerala’s shores and fascinated a local king to convert to a faith that he believed was egalitarian and democratic, Christianity too (born NOT in the West) but in West asia also first travelled to Kerala and near Kochy we can still visit the first Church built there. Ideas travelled, trade grew,and faiths and belief systems too moved with people and trade. While our textbooks (written with silly supremacist thoughts motivated by aims to divide today’s Indian, Muslim and Hindu) erroneously speak of the “invasions of Mohammad Bin Qasim” into Sind as the beginning of Islam’s forays into the sub-continent, a genuine reading of history will tell us that at least 110 years before that Islam had come to Kerala’s shores and a ruler had willingly (without blood and war) converted to a faith he felt promised a new freedom. (More of this in my next column). Two quiz questions that sit proudly on KHOJ’s website (www.khojedu.net) are worth asking however:-
Q.1: Who wrote the following words, The Hindus have always been considered by all other people as the custodians of learning and
A: An Arab Historian Qazi Said
Q.2 Who wrote, “The Hindus are superior to all other nations in intelligence and thoughtfulness. They are more exact in Astronomy and Astrology than any other people.The Brahma Sidhanta is a good proof of theirintellectual powers, by this book the Greeks and the Persians have benefitted?
A. Arab writer Yaquibi in year 895 AD
Those who cynically disregard our own history, or that of our region, are poised to violently disregard it. The present regime’s dealing with West Asia, especially evident through the current crisis bears questioning, and correction.
On May 26, 2014 as the swearing in ceremony of the new government was converted into a clever photo and diplomatic opportunity, one huge lapse in Indian foreign policy terms that was to be reflected in the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament the week after went uncommented upon or unnoticed. Only veteran journo Anand Sahay wrote in the Asian Age about it two days ago,
He referred to Arab sources that suggested that a reference to West Asia has never before been omitted from the President’s address. Since the Modi government had just taken over, the traditional address which is a signpost of government policy was followed with special keenness by the international community. A month after this clear policy shift away from the Arab world that even our erudite commentators “we are the nation and the world” types ignored or failed to notice, we were faced with the crisis of Indian nationals being abducted in Iraq, held hostage to internal and international political conflict. It was then that representatives of West Asian governments noted a bitter irony that while India desperately seeks Arab help to bring back the remaining 39 Indians held hostage by suspected Sunni insurgents in Iraq, India’s latest foreign policy enunciation makes no mention of this country’s ties with the Arab world. Senior Arab diplomats have been flabbergasted by the omission, given the significance of the relationship.
The bulk of India’s oil and gas needs are met from the Arab world, primarily the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, very much part of India’s extended periphery. The overwhelming bulk of Indians abroad live in these Gulf countries mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also others. According to World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief released recently, their remittances in 2013 was nearly $30 billion, while the total remittances from Indians living abroad in all countries was $70 billion in the same year.
Ignoring the Arab connection implies looking askance at those who send remittances on such an impressive scale that help shore up this country’s balance of payments equation. Mostly these Indians are from the working class, unlike, say, the Indians living in North America. It is the Indian NRIs in north America however, especially those from Gujarat who are vocal and visible for the new regime in New Delhi.
Besides the traditional “civilisational” ties between India and the Arab world, to which India has customarily drawn attention, India looks to the Gulf Arabs for support in the security sector. Not long ago, Saudi Arabia handed over to India top-level Pakistan-trained terrorists hiding in that country on Pakistani passports.
Trade volumes between India and the Gulf states are of a very high order. Incidentally, the bulk of Indian gold imports are from the UAE. For some years, India has looked upon the Gulf Arabs as a rich source of petrodollar investment, although it is yet to work adequately on that prospect.
We have today however a regime in place with a mindset that would prefer to ignore this historical linkage and re-orient it towards Israel. In his over decade long stint as Gujarat’s chief minister, the man at the helm regularly sent elected representatives and policemen even for exchanges to Israel. Now perched in Delhi with the lofty Indian policy regime to confront a more reasoned and historically relevant policy would be in order. The omission of the Arab world from President Mukherjee’s address however is imonous because nothing that the new regime does is without careful calculation or note. We also cannot afford to forget –though forgetting seems the fashionable order of the day—that Subramaniam Swamy –who did his bit to establish the new government but has been ignored post May 2014—clearly enunciated the policy that an RSS/BJP steered New Delhi must follow: Unite Hindus and foment and create a Shia-Sunni divide among Muslims. Be it Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai, Lucknow, Ahmedabad or Benares, any one with close ties with communities will observe the deliberate stoking of passions between Muslim sects, over issues religio-cultural, that have spilt into violence.
The time has come for a sagacious leadership within Muslims to recognize the challenges and dangers within and without before it is cynically played by a regime determined to divide and rule.