During a televised debate on the controversy surrounding the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple on May 27, Nupur Sharma, a central spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made hateful and downright blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Shortly after, the video clip of his remarks went viral on social media, sparking a wave of anger among Muslims in India. The outrage quickly spread beyond India’s borders among other Muslim-majority states.

Starting with Qatar on June 5, a total of 17 Muslim-majority states condemned the remarks and called on the Indian government to apologize and take strong action against Sharma. Countries that issued official condemnations were Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Alongside these state governments, two international organizations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have also issued statements of condemnation against these blasphemous remarks.

Initially, the Indian government attempted to downplay the remarks by labeling them as individual remarks by “fringe elements”. The Indian government even brushed aside Pakistan’s condemnation, saying it did not want to be lectured on minority rights by “a serial minority rights abuser”. The Indian government even snubbed the OIC saying that the latter should “stop pursuing its communal approach and show due respect to all faiths and religions”.

The seriousness of the situation soon began to sink into the minds of Indians, as the Indian government was forced to sack Sharma as the party’s spokesperson, suspend his party membership and issue an apology to him. He has refrained from taking further legal action against her for stoking communal hatred and hurting the religious feelings of Muslims who constitute more than 14% of the country’s total population. On the contrary, Sharma released a video clip in which she thanked Indian Home Minister Amit Shah – who was supposed to take legal action against her – for supporting her through her difficult times.

As feelings boiled over over the Indian government’s reluctance to arrest Sharma, thousands of Muslims in various cities and towns across India staged protest demonstrations on June 10, some of which led to clashes. In response, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, led by its ex-chief minister Yogi Adityanath, not only imprisoned hundreds of Muslims in various cities, but also razed the homes of some of the leaders of the protest demonstrations. – an act described as “totally illegal”. by the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Allahabad, Govind Mathur.

India’s post-Nupur Sharma drama has exposed some realities about the mindset behind the BJP’s Hindutva juggernaut. As the BJP government’s step backwards – albeit lukewarm and limited – clearly shows, the Indian government is responsive to international pressure when its vital interests are at stake. The Indian stakes are quite high when it comes to the Gulf countries.

India’s trade with the Gulf States is well over the $100 billion mark and 65% of its crude oil imports come from the Gulf countries. The Middle East is also home to around eight million Indian expatriates who send remittances worth billions of dollars every year. Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the main sources of remittances to India. According to CNN, Non-Resident Indians (or NRIs as they are known in India) send remittances worth $20 billion from the UAE alone, accounting for 33% of total Indian remittances. For reference, the total remittances received by Pakistan from Pakistanis working abroad stood at $29.45 billion in the financial year 2020-21.

No wonder India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist government was forced to step back and suspend senior party officials for something it would otherwise have tolerated. The very fact that the Indian government initially tried to dodge criticism is proof enough that it would not have done anything about it had it not been for the pressure from the wealthy Gulf states.

Despite its about-face on the subject to appease international sentiment, India’s disregard for minority rights and its atrocities against Muslims at home seem likely to intensify rather than diminish. Proof of this was provided by the crackdown launched by state authorities against June 10 protesters, which included the illegal demolition of the homes of protester leaders.

The hatred shown in the statements of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, the former media chief of the BJP unit in Delhi, was not a new phenomenon. Every day, Twitter and other social media accounts of Hindu extremists spew hatred against Muslims and slurs against Islam. Some of these accounts are even followed by top BJP leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The Indian government’s superficial action against Sharma was aimed at averting the crisis. It has already resumed targeting the country’s Muslim population and is expected to intensify its operations against them in the coming weeks and months.

While the solidarity of the leaders of the Muslim world in the face of disrespectful and hateful statements by BJP spokespersons is commendable, it must be maintained to prevent the Indian government from condoning such behavior. Given that public outrage among Muslims around the world against India is quite high, the first step in the right direction could be a review of the issuance of work visas to Indians by Muslim-majority Gulf countries.

The first two weeks of this month have shown that international pressure is working on India. It must therefore be intensified and diversified. As atrocities against Muslims in India – and not just confined to illegally occupied Indian Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) – have become routine, the Muslim world will also need to show similar resolve and solidarity to against them.

The author is a researcher at the Institute of Area Studies in Islamabad.