#WhatTheFAQ: India's relations with Muslim countries and impact of the Nupur Sharma row

Under Narendra Modi, India has been on the highway to developing trade relations with countries in the Gulf. Are these under threat now?
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

Nupur Sharma has apologised for her remarks and withdrawn her statement. The BJP has suspended her and has distanced itself from the said comments in a bid to settle the storm after Muslim countries took offence to the remarks. However, the ruling party of India is in a tough situation because it simply cannot take for granted its relations with these countries. We tell you why in today's #WhatTheFAQ.

Which countries have protested against Nupur Sharma's comments so far?
About 15 countries have so far called up Indian envoys to register their disapproval of the derogatory comments on Prophet Muhammad made by erstwhile BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma during a live TV show in India. These include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, the Maldives, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Turkey.

What actions have these countries taken?
Qatar has cancelled an event with Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu. Kuwait and a few other countries have boycotted Indian products in their stores. Kuwait and Qatar have also demanded an apology from India for the remarks. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a statement condemning the remarks and commending the action of the ruling BJP to suspend Nupur Sharma. Indonesia, UAE, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Pakistan and the Maldives have also put out similar statements.

What has been the nature of India's relations with these countries during Modi's time as Prime Minister?
India recently signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the UAE which is expected to increase trade between the two countries to $100 billion by 2026. Currently, India trades at a value of around $76 billion dollars yearly with the UAE. In fact, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran accounted for the top third, fourth and fifth trading partners for India in the last financial year. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE form the Gulf Cooperation Council, and with them collectively, India's trade value stood at $87 billion in 2020-21. Iran's Foreign Minister is due for a maiden visit to India in the coming weeks.

What is the economic significance of these countries to India?
Historically, India has been dependent on some of these countries for some commodities such as oil and gas, and for the remittances that account for 3.17% of the GDP in India, more than half of them come from five Gulf countries. When it comes to crude oil, India's dependent on the Gulf for over 60% of it. India is currently in the process of renewing a multi-million dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with Qatar that expires in 2028. In turn, the Gulf countries also rely on India for certain products. India's exports to the region have also seen a significant increase of 58.26% between 2020-21 to 2021-22, according to data by the Ministry of Commerce.

How will the recent controversy impact Indians living in the Gulf?
Indians account for 35% of the UAE's population and almost 25% each of Kuwait and Qatar's population. In Saudi Arabia as well, more than 1.5 million Indians reside and are the largest group of expats there. Indians also own businesses and supermarket chains in these countries. Some stores have already announced that they have taken Indian products off the shelf. If the issue drags on, it is likely to impact these businesses. 

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