External Affairs

Communal Tweets: More Indian Missions in Gulf Tell Indians to Avoid 'Attempts to Sow Discord'

The statements from three Indian missions in the Gulf are being seen as a reflection of the concern over India's image in the region.

New Delhi: After the Indian envoy in UAE issued a statement, more Indian missions in the Gulf have joined in, urging the Indian community to remain vigilant against attempts to sow religious divisions, as ripples continue to be felt over the backlash against Islamophobic comments by some Indians on social media.

The comments had come to the notice of and have been highlighted and criticised by prominent Arab intelligentsia.

The Indian embassy in Qatar on Tuesday posted screenshots of two Twitter accounts, which had the same display picture, but had different names; one of them claimed to be based in the Gulf kingdom. Both of them had posted anti-Islam comments, linking the spread of coronavirus to the community.

Asserting that the ‘fake’ Twitter accounts were being used to “create divisions within our community”, the Indian embassy in Doha posted, “Please understand the reality and do not get swayed by these malicious attempts to sow discord. Our focus right now needs to be on COVID-19”.

Similarly, the Indian embassy in Oman also took to Twitter on Wednesday to highlight the need to stay focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and “not get distracted by fake news on social media with malicious intentions”.

Asserting that relations between India and Oman were based on “shared values of tolerance and pluralism”, the embassy’s Twitter account posted, “Let us all commit to maintaining unity and social harmony at this critical juncture. As PM @narendramodi said: We are in this together”.

Earlier on April 20, the Indian envoy to United Arab Emirates, Pawan Kapoor had to take to Twitter to stem the damage from possible repercussions over Islamophobic comments made by Indians living abroad in Arab countries as well as by several Twitter users who allegedly pretended to live there as well.

He had posted that India and UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any grounds. “Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the Rule of Law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this,” he tweeted on Monday.

The controversy had started over social media posts from a few Indian nationals based in UAE, who were posting against Muslims claiming that they had deliberately spread coronavirus in India, an operation which purportedly ‘began’ with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi.

Due to UAE’s strict laws, there are punishments and penalties for any use of internet to abuse any religion, promote sectarianism and harm public order.

Also read: India’s Coronavirus-Related Islamophobia Has the Arab World Up in Arms

When some Indians were fired by their employees in the Gulf state for their social media posts, it had led to a Twitter support campaign for the fired individuals.

Meanwhile, some of the screenshots of these anti-Mislims posts, including that of an old tweet of an Indian member of parliament, came to the attention of influential Emiratis and intellectuals from other Arab states, like Kuwait.

This led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi posting a tweet on Sunday that COVID-19, “does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking”. The Indian ambassador to UAE then posted his own message to the Indian community in the Emirates.

Former Indian envoys are concerned that the vicious comments by some Indian citizens may be harming India’s reputation.

Speaking to The Wire, former Indian ambassador to UAE, Navdeep Suri said that the bilateral relationship remains strong, with personal investment by the leadership in India and the Gulf.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, India had allowed for export of 5.5 million tablets of the antimalarial drug hydroxychlroloquine (HCQ) to UAE, despite restrictions on its trade.

“At a popular level, we were very well regarded by the man on the street and the Arab elite. The goodwill from the visit of the Crown Prince for the Republic Day celebrations in 2017 had also filtered down to the people. [But] I really think some of the sheen has gone,” Suri stated.

He pointed out that UAE has been very “proactive” in promoting tolerance, even appointing a minister with this portfolio. The UAE government had also allowed for the construction of a Hindu temple, despite objections from some quarters. “They find all this [the comments against Muslims] abhorrent”.

Retired Indian diplomat Talmiz Ahmad, who had been India’s ambassador to UAE from 2007 to 2010, also noted that the bilateral component at the government level remains strong. “India-UAE relations are very, very strong for decades and have been strengthened during the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. He has focused on UAE leadership and it has been reciprocated in turn”.

He reiterated that the UAE law on abusing religion is “non-discriminatory”. “If you remember, UAE has even deported people who had only accessed Islamist websites to India,” said Ahmed.

Indians are the largest expatriate group in UAE, which account for 60% of the population. “This shows how respected Indians are. These are exceptions by some foolish individuals. The law is non-discriminatory and will be applied in full force”.

As per sources, the statements from the Indian missions in the Gulf is a reflection of the concern that the widespread attention received by the social media comments could damage the image, especially now that the controversy has began to gain traction on local media.

However, there is also a perception among the Indian missions that “vested interests” may have entered the fray, especially since tweets from past have been raked up in the last few days.

One of those tweets which got wide circulation was that purported to be from a eminent Omani intellectual, who threatened to take the plight of Indian muslims to the Sultan and expel the Indian migrant population.

This evening, Mona Fahad Mahmoud Al Said, assistant vice chancellor for external cooperation, Sultan Qaboos university, posted on her social media accounts that the viral tweet was by an account impersonating her.

“I have confidence in all of you that you would strengthen awareness of practices which are unacceptable by the Omani society…” Al Said posted, adding her official accounts on Instagram and twitter.

The Indian ambassador to Oman, Munu Mahawar, personally thanked the senior Omani academic for issuing a clarification.

Note: The article has been updated with the latest tweets from the Indian embassy in Oman.