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India will be forced to ask Qatar, Kuwait to rein in elements seeking public apology, boycott of products: Officials

Source : Moneycontrol

India will be forced to ask Qatar, Kuwait to rein in elements seeking public apology, boycott of products: Officials
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If the diplomatic fallout over controversial comments made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma drags on, the government will be forced to ask Qatar and Kuwait to rein in civil and political elements using the issue to target India, officials said. Qatar’s Shura Council, the country’s 45-member consultative parliament, has reiterated its demand for a public apology, and departmental stores in Kuwait have begun to take Indian produce off their shelves in the past few days.

India has stated clearly that it does not tolerate insults targeted against any religion, and that freedom of religion is upheld by the government for all communities, but vested interests in many countries are looking to escalate the issue, officials with knowledge of the matter said.

They pointed out that the monarchies of both nations, separate from the civilian governments, have not put out any statements against India.

Qatar and Kuwait are both semi-constitutional monarchies with the hereditary Emirs wielding significant power in governance and politics.

While 20 nations, including Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, have protested against India for the comments by Nupur Sharma, Qatar and Kuwait were the first to summon Indian ambassadors stationed in their countries and hand over protest notes.

The comments were first made by Sharma on May 26 during a televised debate on the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi. Since then, India has tried to defuse the situation. On June 5, Indian embassies in Qatar and Kuwait distanced the government from the issue, saying the “derogatory remarks” had come from “fringe elements” and that strict action has been taken against them.

Subsequently, the BJP launched an investigation into the comments and suspended spokesperson Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, who heads the party’s media unit in Delhi. Kuwait has welcomed this move.

Bilateral ties

The Narendra Modi government has until now had warm relations with all Gulf nations, and the latest developments have affected bilateral ties, officials agreed.

Both Qatar and Kuwait provided help to India in the form of medical and non-medical aid during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indian naval ships carried fully filled oxygen tankers, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, and thousands of cylinders from ports in these countries.

Large parts of this aid were financed by Indians based in these countries, which also helped bilateral aid.

While the United Arab Emirates acts as the fulcrum of India’s foreign policy in the Gulf region, the Ministry of External Affairs had separately pushed for strong relations with individual countries in the region.

India observed a day of national mourning on October 4 as a mark of respect to Kuwaiti leader Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah after he passed away in September 2020. Then Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had been dispatched to Kuwait to offer India’s condolences.

Ties with Qatar have also been in India’s focus. On the day the protest note had come from the country, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu had been on an official visit to the country. Naidu had held delegation-level talks and reviewed bilateral relations including trade, investment and economic ties and security cooperation.

To be sure, some bilateral friction arose because of many Indians being forced to return home as both Qatar and Kuwait followed aggressive policies favoring domestic populations.

Indians are the largest expatriate group in both Kuwait (998,000 as of December 31, 2020) and Qatar (746,000 as of 2021 end), and have formed the biggest share of the population there for decades.

Small but key

India’s bilateral trade with both Qatar and Kuwait is skewed heavily in favour of those countries, primarily because of large amounts of crude oil imports. Kuwait and Qatar were the 6th and 17th largest sources of crude oil for India in FY22 in value terms.

Indian exports to Qatar stood at $1.8 billion, while those to Kuwait stood at $1.24 billion in FY22. In both cases, food, mostly meat, fish and cereals formed the largest part of Indian exports.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resultant increase in global wheat prices amid shortages, both nations have also sought to receive wheat from India, which last month banned overseas shipments of the grain.

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