Iran is India’s new bugbear, repeatedly raising the contentious Kashmir issue in recent months, much to the embarrassment, even anger, of New Delhi. Last week, Indian diplomats winced as the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his sermon on the eve of Id-ul-Zuha, spoke of Kashmir in the same breath as the struggles in Palestine and Afghanistan, and gave a clarion call to the Muslim ummah to counter the insidious designs of the American-Zionist cabal. Implicit in Khamenei’s sermon was the message that India was part of the diabolic plan, hatched by America and Israel, to colonise Islamic countries and suppress Muslims.
Beyond all the sudden cut and thrust, diplomats struggled to understand Iran’s decision to adopt the Kashmir cause as its own. Partly, say diplomats, Iran has embraced Kashmir as part of its larger endeavour to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world. Until 10 years ago, this leadership mantle belonged to Saudi Arabia, which would periodically cite Kashmir in the course of championing various Muslim causes and struggles worldwide. The perils of leading the ummah or community became obvious to Riyadh during the 9/11 attacks—most of those who flew their planes into the World Trade Center towers were Saudi nationals. An ashamed and stung Riyadh now preferred to build its image as a liberal Islamic nation, softening its earlier strident tones and refraining from embracing every cause appearing in the Muslim firmament.
In the space the Saudis vacated, Shia Iran stepped in. America’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme, the ruling party’s brutal suppression of opposition protests disputing last year’s election results, and President Ahmadinejad’s periodic bouts of belligerence bolstered Tehran’s credentials as it tried to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world. Inevitably, Kashmir began to creep into the rhetoric of Iranian leaders. Says Raziuddin Aquil, who teaches history in Delhi University, “Iran now wants to fill up the space vacated by the Saudis as champion of Muslim struggles. The Saudis have been aligning more and more with the US and as a result have also lost credibility among Muslims, many of whom continue to see the Americans as the main enemy.” With only Al Qaeda and Taliban professing to play dissenter, Iran’s quest for pan-Islamic leadership acquires legitimacy each time it highlights struggles Muslim communities are waging in different countries. It can’t make an exception of Kashmir.
Few deny a a creeping mutual distanciation on issues critical to each other. For instance, Tehran seems to have come a long way from the mid-1990s, when it refused to back a Pakistan-initiated resolution at the UN on alleged human rights violations in Kashmir. Interestingly, many western countries, including the US, had backed the Pakistani move. Iran played a crucial role then to ensure the resolution was defeated. Over the years, Tehran had consistently opposed attempts to equate the movement in Kashmir with the struggle, say, in Palestine, and publicly articulated the need to resolve the issue through negotiations between India and Pakistan.
India, on its part, began to inch closer to the US from 2000, but ensured it did not sour relations with Iran. It invited then president Mohammed Khatami to be the chief guest during the Republic Day celebrations in 2003, and India and Iran also forged a strategic partnership in this decade.
No doubt, the vote strained India’s relations with Iran, but New Delhi opted for a course correction. It said Iran had a legitimate right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, but it should also fulfil its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments. Says a senior MEA official, “Our reasonable stand is well respected the world over.” Despite hiccups in the past few years, the two countries are together engaged in joint projects that will enhance their trade and give them access to markets in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Iran also happens to be a major source for India’s energy needs; India is Iran’s third largest energy market. This is why Natwar cautions, “Iran is an important country for India. Though we should keep a close watch on the developments there, we should not overreact.”
South Block also wants to play a balancing role between Iran and the West. But India can scarcely cast itself for this as long as it fails to win Iran’s trust on the nuclear issue. Nor will India look at Tehran sympathetically as long as it continues to harp on Kashmir. Obviously, should India succeed in restoring peace to Kashmir, there won’t be any troubled waters for Iran to fish in.
It’s naive to believe that Iran is aiming for the space—vacated by Saudi Arabia—of the defender of Islamic struggles around the world (Persian Gulf, Dec 6). Actually, Muslim organisations seeking change in some form have never seen the Saudis as their champions. Militant supporters of Al Qaeda have always seen Saudi Arabia in inimical terms. Besides, India should hit back at Iran if it raises the Kashmir issue again. Iran’s repressive policies towards its ethnic Kurds don’t heed the niceties of human rights, and are far more brutal than the imaginary suppression of Kashmiris by the Indian state.
N.N. Ojha, New Delhi
India is obviously not going to be interested in Iran’s doltish anti-US garbage. But it needs to be friendly to it for energy security, and to keep it from being too close to Pakistan.
Ali Murtali, Aurangabad
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Difficult to befriend a nation so intent on scoring self-goals.
The most fundamental rule of foreign policy is to cater to national interest. USA policy towards Pakistan and India is a clear example. USA government and population hates Pakistani government, population and pakistani Army. And yet, they have maintained their support for Pakistan even when this displeases India. Because they need Pakistan's help in Afghanistan/Al Quida.And yet they are forging close links with India as a major trade and strategic military power.
India should use its power of lucrative market to forge ties with USA to get technology and support against China and at the same time maintain strong links with Iran. Iran is one of very few countries among Muslim world which supported us consistently in the past. Besides, it will provide us a route to export to Central Asia. And it does supply oil to us.
There is no conflict of interest between Iran and India. There are lot of common interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Iran can help us counter Pakistan and Taliban.
And we have no business worrying about democracy in Iran.
India is obviously not going to be interested in Iran's doltish anti-US garbage. But it needs to be friendly to Iran to keep it away from Pakistan. That is just common sense.
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