India should return to its secular roots | HT Editorial
On Monday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, on Twitter, condemned what he called the “wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims”. Iran’s statement comes soon after the Indonesian minister of religious affairs said that riots in India were “inhuman”. Turkey and Malaysia have been critical of India’s moves on Kashmir and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA; Bangladesh has also expressed its unease with the CAA.
When Narendra Modi took over as prime minister in 2014, one of his key achievements was building ties with the Islamic world. Recognising India’s national interests and strategic imperatives, Mr Modi travelled extensively to Muslim-dominated countries, particularly in West Asia. New Delhi was also careful to keep up its ties with Iran, despite pressure from the United States. It saw Indonesia as an important middle power in Asia-Pacific. Bangladesh was perceived as India’s closest friend in South Asia.
Some of the criticisms are extreme. Some States making these criticisms have an abysmal record of human rights themselves, and lack the moral authority to point fingers. But in diplomacy, perceptions matter. And the fact is that key diplomatic gains are in danger of being frittered away because of contentious domestic developments. It is not enough to think that the world is prejudiced against New Delhi. In fact, enhancing India’s stature has been a key element of Mr Modi’s agenda. But the sense that his government has been insensitive to minority concerns has gained ground — in the West, but also in the Islamic world. This will have geopolitical costs. It will also make India vulnerable to transnational extremism, at a time when the neighbourhood is fragile, with a possible Taliban return in Afghanistan. India needs to mend its image. Returning to its secular roots and reaching out to Muslims at home is the first step.