It prompted OIC members gathered in Rabat for their first summit (of which more later) to think again about including India.
Although New Delhi is cock-a-hoop over the invitation to Sushma Swaraj to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers, India would long ago have been a full-fledged OIC member if the Ahmedabad riots hadn’t intervened. I don’t mean the pogrom that followed the 2002 Godhra arson but the 1969 riots, called the most deadly Hindu-Muslim violence since Partition, that were probably instigated by Bharatiya Jana Sangh elements. It prompted OIC members gathered in Rabat for their first summit (of which more later) to think again about including India.
Perhaps it was just as well. As a secular republic committed to liberal democracy, India can have the closest economic, military and political ties with individual OIC countries but has little in common with a sectarian organisation that calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and whose purpose is to “safeguard and protect the interests” of Muslims. The criteria for membership being either a Muslim majority population or a Muslim Head of State, India doesn’t qualify. Nor can the 57 OIC members who regard India as a Hindu nation have much appreciation of the “pluralistic ethos” of which India is still so proud.
Two factors explain India’s delight at the invitation by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates foreign secretary, to Ms Swaraj to be “guest of honour” at the inaugural plenary of the OIC’s council of foreign ministers in Abu Dhabi next month. First, the NDA government hopes the razzle-dazzle of an international Muslim conference will distract attention from the communal mess it is creating at home. Second, it sees the occasion as an opportunity to deal Pakistan one in the eye. Helped by the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s boast of responsibility for the Pulwama massacre, external affairs ministry speechwriters are undoubtedly working overtime on denunciation of Pakistan’s terrorist role. As Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon says, the JeM “is the brainchild of the Pakistan Army and it is the Pakistan Army and the ISI that controls Jaish-e-Mohammed”.
But even if Ms Swaraj is flattered into forgetting the Rabat fiasco, she should ask if her presence in Abu Dhabi will serve any purpose apart from exposing this country to criticism over Muslim grievances that have been building up during the last four years. She should also ponder on Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s experience when attacking apartheid at the United Nations. Pandit went up to South Africa’s Jan Smuts, who was also attending the session, and said Mahatma Gandhi had asked her to seek his — Smuts’ — blessings for the enterprise. The aging South African field marshal replied, “You will win my daughter, but it will be a hollow victory.”
India thrives on hollow victories. Or, rather, mesmerised by publicity, Indians don’t see the hollowness. Being a nation of debaters, we regard the play of words as the ultimate success. Krishna Menon no doubt thought his UN speeches on Kashmir, running into 12 and 14 hours, during which he often fainted, were outstanding achievements. A more realistic Gen. K.S. Thimayya went to the Kashmir peace talks in Switzerland carrying only a tin of cigarettes. Being a man of action, he knew the answer to the challenge lay in the Kashmir Valley, not in the files with which Pakistan’s delegation had armed itself.
The “guest of honour” invitation is believed to rank even lower than the observer status India rejected in the past. It is a poor substitute for the full membership for which India has unwisely been clamouring ever since the OIC was created. No matter how eloquent Ms Swaraj is in Abu Dhabi, no matter how much sympathy she appears to gain, Islamic fundamentalist organisations will carry on exactly as before with the strength of petrodollars, China’s acquiescence and sometimes tacit American support.
What India calls the UAE’s “welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of… India’s contribution to the Islamic world” is only acknowledgement of the benefits of transactional diplomacy. The de facto exchange of Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the Agusta Westland helicopter deal, for Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai’s runaway daughter, is an example. The OIC “strongly condemned” last month’s terrorist bombing near Al-Azhar in Cairo, which killed two policemen and injured three others. It organised a symposium on the “Expansion of the Israeli Settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, particularly in East Jerusalem”. It has not, so far as I am able to ascertain, said a word in condemnation of the Pulwama carnage, the activities of the Jaish-e-Mohammed or Pakistan’s support for such anti-India terrorism.
Matters came to a head in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, in 1969 when, pressured and persuaded, the OIC invited India to its first plenary session. Gurbachan Singh, the ambassador to Morocco, attended and spoke at the afternoon session. News of the Ahmedabad killings had changed the atmosphere by the next morning. When Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed arrived as leader of the official Indian delegation, he was requested to accept observer status or withdraw. On his way back from Rabat, the future President of India stopped in London where I remember him saying that among those who pleaded with him on personal and political grounds not to insist on attending was his old friend from St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman.
India was tricked out of attending the concluding session when the conference declaration falsely described India’s delegation as representing “the Muslim community of India.” In his concluding speech, the host, King Hassan of Morocco, reportedly invoked God’s blessings on India’s suffering Muslims. The OIC hasn’t sought India since then. India has nothing to gain — and its principles to lose — by continuing to court it.