Asserting that incidents and comments against Muslims were bound to attract negative reactions abroad, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Friday said it is more important to change the domestic reality than do damage control, while referring to India’s criticism in the Arab states over alleged “Islamophobia”.
What matters is not what the government says but how it is perceived because of what it does, or let others do, Tharoor said, and alleged that the Modi government has “shamefully failed” to curb the appalling behaviour of many of its “most rabid supporters”, including some in high positions.
“Let us not forget that ‘Ramzade/Hara…..’ comment came from a minister, and the latest remark from a BJP MLA in UP telling people not to buy vegetables from a Muslim vendor,” Tharoor said.
His remarks were an apparent reference to 2014 comments reportedly made by Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, and the recent controversy triggered by Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA Suresh Tewari who allegedly asked people not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors. The BJP on Tuesday issued a show cause notice to Tewari for his remarks.
In an interview to PTI, Tharoor alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, throughout the last six years, been too slow to “condemn his party’s bigotry and has condoned overt expressions of Islamophobia from his own camp”.
“The attitude that India loves Muslims so long as they are outside India, but insults them at home, is not tenable in a world of instant global communications. The mounting number of incidents and statements against Muslims in India was bound to attract negative attention abroad,” the former Union minister said.
His remarks came in the backdrop of angry reactions from UAE royal princess, Kuwait government and other leading citizens from various Arab countries after some people blamed Muslims for spreading COVID-19 in several parts of India following a spurt in coronavirus cases linked to Tablighi Jamaat meet at Nizamuddin here.
Also, the 57-member prominent international Mulim grouping, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), recently accused India of “Islamophobia”.
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Thursday dismissed all such allegations and highlighted Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s regular conversations with their counterparts from the region in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, to stress the closeness in ties.
Responding to the criticism in Gulf nations and by the OIC, Tharoor said the backlash is not surprising.
“While I welcome the PM’s and the Foreign Minister’s attempts at damage control, it is far more important to change the domestic reality than to issue reassuring statements,” the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
Asked about plea by several Indians stuck in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and his request to the prime minister and the external affairs minister to expedite their evacuation, Tharoor said every nation has a responsibility towards its citizens.
He claimed that the government’s argument is that a large number of travellers from abroad would place an unsustainable degree of strain on the country’s healthcare and quarantine facilities.
“If that was true 40 days ago, it is no longer true now. We must bring our own citizens back. It is not just a matter of their rights, but of what’s right morally, emotionally and constitutionally,” the Congress leader said.
Tharoor also demanded that in these difficult times of the pandemic, the Centre must give the state governments their dues.
It is shocking that GST dues have not been paid despite states, and the Congress calling for this for more than two months, he said.
“Give the states their own money, so they don’t have to beg for resources to combat the virus. In addition, yes, extra support will be needed for those states facing a larger COVID-19 burden,” Tharoor said.
“The ordinary people of our country also need financial help so they can help themselves. We have been calling for Rs 7,500 to be put into every Jan Dhan account. This is far from happening, several weeks after we suggested it,” he said.
Asked about Kerala doing well in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and whether other states need to emulate its model, Tharoor said Kerala has been a model state in terms of its social development indicators for a long time, but the practices and systems it has built up take generations to entrench.
Kerala spends a large portion of its state resources on health care and public education, promotes literacy and women’s empowerment, and gives village-level local authorities autonomy and funds, he said.
Other states should emulate it, but it will take them a long time to reorient their current practices to get there, he added.