Diplomacy

Communal Tweets Saga Continues Online, But India Assures All Is Well With Kuwait

India’s statement on Monday night came after a day of social media buzz over a ‘leaked’ two-month old letter of the secretary general of the Kuwaiti council of ministers. 

New Delhi: India’s relations with Gulf countries continues to be under spotlight, with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Monday asserting that “misuse” by “non-official” social media accounts based in Kuwait should “not be given credence,” while adding that the Kuwaiti government was committed to friendly relations with New Delhi.

India’s statement on Monday night came after a day of social media buzz over a ‘leaked’ two-month old letter of the secretary general of the Kuwaiti council of ministers. 

The letter, dated March 2, which has been circulating online, is addressed to the Kuwaiti foreign minister and asks him to approach the Organisation of Islamic Conference over alleged atrocities against Indian Muslims.

The current controversy started over posts by certain Twitter handles belonging to Indian nationals based in the region, which railed against Muslims for allegedly “spreading the coronavirus.” These tweets came to the attention of eminent Arab intellectuals, largely from United Arab Emirates, over a week ago. Since the UAE has strict laws against the abuse of any other religion, most of these Twitter handles disappeared soon after.

Among those who was leading the backlash on Arab Twittersphere were Kuwaiti activist Abdur Rahman Nassar, who had posted screenshots of old tweets of an MP from India’s ruling party.

The letter, surfacing after over six weeks, adds to concerns about India’s relationship with Gulf states, but is not related to the current fracas due to the date of its creation. Instead, the letter, which officials admit is authentic, may have been written in the aftermath of the Delhi riots that took place in late February.

MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that the government was aware of “certain references to India in non-official social media handles in Kuwait”.

“The Government of Kuwait has assured us that they are deeply committed to friendly relations with India. They also do not support any interference in the internal affairs of India,” he said in a statement.

Srivastava reminded that India had acted on request of Kuwait and deployed a Rapid Response Team to assist the Gulf state in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. “During its two week stay in Kuwait, the team rendered valuable medical assistance in testing and treatment of afflicted persons and training their personnel,” he stated.

The Indian diplomat noted that it was “therefore important that friendly and cooperative nature of our relations is accurately recognised and misuse of social media is not given credence”.

A day earlier, Kuwait’s official news agency, Kuna had issued a statement from Kuwait’s ambassador to India Jassem Al-Najem that relations between the two countries had had a historical flavour. He also stated that both countries shared many principles in foreign policy, including “non-interference in other countries’ affairs and respecting sovereignty of nations”.

Incidentally, the Twitter account of the Kuwaiti activist Nassar stands suspended at the time of publication of this article.

Earlier on April 22, the Indian embassy in Kuwait had posted on Twitter that it was important to focus on fighting COVID-19 and “not get distracted by fake news on social media with malicious intentions”. 

The Indian embassy’s post had been part of a series of social media statements issued by other Indians missions in the region, calling on the Indian community last week.

The social media backlash in the Arab world had generated concern in South Block, and featured in a series of phone calls between External Affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his counterparts. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly sought to highlight that his close personal relations with Arab royal families has revitalised India’s relations with the Gulf, which is crucial for India’s energy security and largest sources of overseas remittances.