Restoring India's secular image
India must clamp down on hatemongers that upset our social fabric and international ties
The post-COVID world will be a decidedly different one. Nations across the world will strive to bounce back after the debilitating blow dealt by the Coronavirus. Economic cooperation will remain of paramount diplomatic importance. Countries will first look to saving their own; Japan is already wooing its entrepreneurs currently based in China with a $2.2 billion package urging them to come back home and set up shop aided by tax and duty incentives, single-window clearances, speedy clearances at central and state levels and availability of land, among others enticements. This practice is likely to be exercised by most other nations — bring your business back to home shores, create jobs for fellow citizens and endeavour to help one's own country climb out of economic devastation. There is likely to be a patriotic fervour to this appeal too.
Many foreign corporates that outsource some of their operations to India are already moving away, preferring to create thousands of jobs in their own countries. Reports suggest that Australia's Telstra and Optus and UK's Virgin Media have already announced plans of relocating jobs from India and Philippines and hiring employees back home. Technology will also impede the hiring of exhaustive workforces with firms opting for the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning wherever possible to reduce reliance on human staff.
There will be several big and small provisions taken by nations (take for instance US President Donald Trump's temporary barring of immigration for 60 days and an upcoming review of non-immigrant visas including H1Bs) that will cause large scale unemployment and have ramifications on the India's already recessionary economy. Going forward, it will be our trade relations with nations that will be most crucial. We may reopen factories and kickstart manufacturing but we will need buyers. We cannot dare to have our trading relations impacted but in the past week, there was a threat of souring ties with India's second-largest export market, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Bilateral trade between India and UAE touched $60 billion in 2018-19, up from $57 billion in 2018 and $52 billion in 2017. The trigger was Islamophobic social media posts by Indian expats that prompted UAE Princess Hend Al-Qassimi
to publicly slam hatemongers including an elected people's representative from the
BJP, Tejasvi Surya. Indian embassies in Oman and Qatar also stepped in to warn its citizens against propelling a "vicious" campaign against Muslims.
Suddenly the instances of Islamophobia happening within India became a matter of international interest. Not allowing Muslim grocers to sell their wares, segregation of Muslim patients in isolation wards or a hospital in Uttar Pradesh's advertisement disallowing Muslim patients were not being discussed within our country alone. The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the "unrelenting vicious #Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for the spread of COVID-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination and violence with impunity" on Twitter. The OIC is a group of 57 Muslim nations comprising some of India's most important trading partners. "OIC-IPHRC urges the Indian Govt to take urgent steps to stop the growing tide of Islamophobia in India and protect the rights of its persecuted Muslim minority as per its obligations under international HR law," the OIC added. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on the same day called for "unity and brotherhood" in our fight against Coronavirus, which does not see "race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking", he correctly said.
The fallout of the blame game on communal lines after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi had already spiralled out of control. On one hand, there were divisive politicians and idle Twitterati such as Payal Rohatgi and Rangoli Chandel spreading hate. Some obnoxious journalists such as Arnab Goswami threw all ethics and decency out of TV studios as they screamed hatred and seemed focussed on creating communal disharmony for some TRP. Now with the international angle, the Indian government finds itself under scanner not for its efforts to battle the virus but for the growing proliferation of hatred against a minority community.
Donald Trump's delusional and incompetent handling of the COVID-19 crisis may cost him his re-election. And if a Democrat becomes the next President, he may not look benignly at the exigencies orchestrated against the Muslims in India. Post-COVID-19, the world will be restrictive, more hyperlocal than global, with borders not as porous as they were before. India cannot afford to lose friends, not when it has an economy to resuscitate. We cannot operate in silos or bubbles; our ability to trade and interact with the global leading nations and sustain trusting relations will hold us in good stead. Restoring our secular image on the world stage and clamping down on bigots whether political or journalistic is the need of the hour.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal