If the recent outbursts from the twitter handles of Middle Eastern rulers are any indication, another crisis seems to be looming over the nation amid the battle against the dreaded Chinese virus. Some of these tweets brazenly accuse India of islamophobia, its institutions of abetting violence against Muslims and target its predominantly Hindu population.
It is no secret that after coming to power in 2014, the Modi-led BJP government has pulled no stops in cultivating cordial relations with Islamic nations – gestures that have been reciprocated in equal measure by these countries. Sushma Swaraj’s participation in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting, conferring of highest national honours to PM Narendra Modi were all highlighted as indicators of strong diplomatic ties. Such yardsticks, however, should not blind the government from focusing on the dark clouds that have gathered over the horizon of late.
The blatant hate campaign orchestrated by the antinational caucus with enthusiastic cheerleading from the rabid breaking-India forces has put a question mark on the future status of the Indian expatriate community in the Middle East.
Adding fuel to the deadly mix is a section of the expat workforce in these nations singling out and presenting fellow Indians sympathetic to the Modi government as hatemongers in front of host governments and authorities.
In any sustained downturn, the first section to face the music would be the immigrant labour community. India cannot afford to dismiss reactions from these countries in the same vein as it would treat statements from Teheran Iran or Kuala Lumpur, primarily because of the large number of Indians working in nations such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
The Middle Eastern economies have already been battered by the double whammy of the corona outbreak and collapsing crude prices. The oil sheikhdoms, long dependent on imported labour and bullish oil for their excesses, are suddenly staring at the prospect of a nightmarish abyss from the not-so-distant past. A throwback to an era of conflicts, incessant clan wars, and poverty – before the gushing petrodollars paid for the immigrant labour that made the swanky skylines and the Palms possible.
It will not be surprising if the Gulf nations opt for stringent measures as they choose self-preservation in the face of an existential crisis, even if it means saying goodbye to the immigrant labour that helped shape the region. That said, one should also not ignore our very own backstabbers seizing this moment to create and further a Hindu-Muslim divide among Indian expats, possibly lured by the promise of a utopian Caliphate once a Hindu exodus from these lands begins.
Villainization of Indians is being done unmindful of the fact that the Titanic has indeed hit the iceberg. Indians who find themselves on the wrong side of labour contract decisions or legislation abroad would find their way back to their motherland, where they will invariably open another innings. But the Middle Eastern Titanic will sink. I would not be surprised if the Gulf witnesses a repeat telecast of the scenes that (are being) played out in Syria or Yemen. Crude behaving the way it is, the incentives for western intervention are not going to be as high as it was in the past.
I’m positive that the warning bells of this “clear and present danger” are not lost on the critical decision-makers in Delhi. Adequate measures should be planned and rolled out in advance to soften the impact of this humanitarian crisis. Creative handling of the situation might even present a massive human resource opportunity for the country. For multinationals preparing to withdraw from China (or scale down operations in the mainland), the returning expats with enormous experience in big-ticket projects and allied services will be an additional reassurance for the India story- one that potential investors would greatly value.