A few days ago, it appeared as if India had scored a point when it got invited to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan sulked by staying away. But barely a day later, it got socked in the eye when the OIC passed resolutions condemning rights violations in “Indian-occupied Kashmir”, among other things.
You can also read this article in Hindi- एक इस्लामी समूह ओआईसी से वार्ता निष्फल होगी, एक-एक देश से बात करे भारत
The question is whether India is better engaging the OIC, a body formed to promote cooperation among Muslim countries and take up issue common to the Ummah, or giving it the miss.
While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj got to speak her bit and quote from the Rig Veda, Quran and Guru Nanak, these things don’t move the needle on Islamic perceptions of “Hindu India”. An organisation formed to serve Islam and Islamic cooperation is not (possibly never) going to side with a country that merely has a large Muslim population.
The first OIC resolution not only parroted the Pakistani position on Kashmir being a “core dispute” between the two nations, but went further and talked of the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani as an “extra-judicial killing” and referred to “Indian terrorism in Kashmir.” Clearly, the OIC, after being presented with a Pakistani boycott, went overboard to placate that rogue state by making India the villain of the piece. It went further and complimented Imran Khan for the offer of dialogue.
The OIC is not the forum India should engage with; India will be better served by engaging with individual Muslim countries separately, so that it can present its case more cogently, and extract bilateral advantages from it.
There are several reasons for India to disengage with OIC.
First, as a secular country India should not talk to a religious political grouping. India may have 180 million Muslims, but any government of India is not representing them alone. Moreover, Islam does not separate politics and religion (the Prophet was political, spiritual and military leader of the early Muslims). Thus, the OIC resolutions can mix political with religious interest. India cannot. This one-sided handicap affects India negatively when talking to OIC as a group.
Second, when talking to a large group of Muslim countries, the Indian representative is forced to pander to their predilections instead of defending its own interests. For example, while the OIC may have its own position on Kashmir, we hesitate to point out that the human rights violations in Kashmir involve Muslims and jihadi forces perpetrating atrocities on the Pandits, with half a million of them being forced to flee in the late eighties and early 1990s. No OIC meeting will ever acknowledge this while lionising the Burhan Wanis of the world.
Third, one wonders what India achieves by engaging with OIC, when it can never hope to push secular ideas in a politico-religious grouping whose members agree on only one thing: the primacy of Islam in their respective states. Can, for example, India ask for reciprocal treatment with OIC nations for setting up Hindu temples and Sikh Gurudwaras in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere? However, this has been made possible in some Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman on the basis of a bilateral dialogue. Can India ask for OIC backing for its war on terror? But it can be achieved occasionally with a friendly UAE, or even a Saudi Arabia, on the basis of covert bilateral negotiations.
The simple point is that it is not worth engaging with OIC as a group. A World Christian Council can negotiate with the OIC as an equal, but not secular India. Obtaining observer status is not important when India cannot influence the ultimate trajectory of the group whose core message is Islamic unity.
The lesson to learn from Sushma Swaraj’s foray is that India must deal with each of OIC’s 57 member countries separately. Talking to the collective is a lose-lose situation for India.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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