New Delhi: For the first time since he took over six years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday took part in a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, albeit virtually, where he raised issues about terrorism, fake news and “doctored videos” with an eye towards India’s Western neighbour.
On Monday, Modi joined over 30 heads of states and governments of NAM member states in an online summit convened by the current chair, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev.
A press note of the Ministry of External Affairs observed that “PM Modi’s participation underlined India’s longstanding commitment to the principles and values of NAM as one of its leading founding-member”. Modi didn’t attend the last two NAM leaders’ summits held in 2016 at Venezuela and 2019 in Baku.
In his intervention, Modi highlighted India’s efforts to fight the novel coronavirus, as well as sending medical supplies to 123 countries, out of which 59 are NAM member states.
But he also pointed a finger at Pakistan, without taking its name. “Even as the world fights COVID-19, some people are busy spreading other deadly viruses. Such as terrorism. Such as fake news, and doctored videos to divide communities and countries,” he said, adding, “But today, I want to focus only on the positives”.
In recent days, the Ministry of External Affairs had largely used the tag “fake” for Twitter handles in the Arab world. India has repeatedly referred to the fake Twitter handle of an Omani princess as an example of efforts by vested interests to create discord in relations between New Delhi and Gulf countries. The Indian foreign office’s finger was pointing straight at Pakistan.
While the ministry had spoken about a surge in anti-India propaganda, there was no specific acknowledgment of the Islamophobic social media posts by Indians based in UAE, or tweets by the ruling party and other BJP supporters in the wake of the emergence of a COVID-19 cluster after a gathering of Tablighi Jamaat members.
Indian missions in the Gulf had cautioned the Indian community to remain on the right side of the law and follow the strict anti-discriminatory laws.
The Indian prime minister’s reference to terrorism and fake news could also be a counter of the Pakistani President Arif Alvi, who took part in the video conference.
Alvi spoke much earlier than Modi, since as per diplomatic protocol, heads of states take precedence over heads of government.
In his remarks, Alvi had claimed that there had been an “alarming increase in religious intolerance, hate speech, Islamophobia, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Children, women and elderly have faced verbal abuse, death threats and physical attacks. Muslims have been denied access to vital health services. Nowhere are these trends more pronounced than in our immediate neighbourhood,” Alvi said, as reported by Dawn.
The Pakistani president also raised Kashmir, referring to the restrictions as having impaired the fight against coronavirus.
The last time that Pakistan raised Kashmir during a multilateral video conference on COVID-19, India had issued a strong protest.
At the end of the virtual summit, a declaration was issued which specifically said that NAM “fully supported” the World Health Organisation and its “leadership”.
Concluding its work, Online Summit level Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group in response to COVID-19 adopts its Declaration pic.twitter.com/SQLHVTFzMi
— Azerbaijan UN 🇦🇿 (@AzmissionUN) May 4, 2020
The United States had withdrawn funding to WHO, with the Donald Trump administration claiming that the director general Tedros Ghebreyesus was aligned towards Beijing and not holding China accountable for the start of the pandemic.
India has, so far, asserted that assailing the WHO leadership in the midst of a full-blown pandemic was not good timing. However, New Delhi was open to revisiting this question once the crisis had blown over.
The NAM declaration also called for the removal of “unilateral coercive measures”, that is sanctions against NAM members states. The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba and Iran.