One could say that Indian PM Narendra Modi’s tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was meant to be a clever attempt at throwing a masjid photo-op into the larger business-economic purpose of his UAE visit to score some brownie points on the ‘Modi anti-Muslim image’ issue. Such is the condescension for, and the charge of ‘appeasement’ (which the BJP itself used to harp on) against, Muslims in India that a leader who has never expressed regret for the anti-Muslim pogrom carried out in Gujarat under his watch is supposed to be sending them a message that he respects their religion and cares for their well-being – by visiting a tourist-destination mosque in a far-away Muslim land! There is, one could argue, a certain amount of contempt ingrained in this cynical performance of a representative of a multi-religious nation where communalism has gained even more ground.
Sure, the economic angle is the main reason for the visit. New Delhi would certainly want the huge remittances India’s large work force in the UAE makes to be maintained, and even increased, and Mr Modi would also be highly interested in drawing some of the Sheikhs into the Indian FDI story, as well as trying to secure his nation’s energy interests (Abu Dhabi alone, according to reports, accounts for 9 per cent of India’s energy needs). But there is also undoubtedly the strategic purpose of seeking to make inroads in regions where Pakistan has held greater sway. Whether the UAE has offered itself as more than a willing host after Islamabad’s refusal to get involved in the Yemen imbroglio (a UAE minister had even warned Pakistan that ‘it would pay a heavy price’ for its reluctance to ‘defend’ the UAE against the Yemen ‘threat’) as a way of playing India off against Pakistan is moot. But, on the whole, it cannot be denied that this visit marks a high point in India’s strategic vision for the region, and also vis a vis Pakistan.
But to think a mosque visit will assuage Muslim sentiment in India, even as Hindutva ‘hotheads’ make inflammatory speeches, even as Hindutva bodies seek to take over state institutions, even as Muslim bodies express alarm at attempts at the imposition of Hindu culture in India, is plain ridiculous. And, as said above, tinged with a certain amount of cynical contempt.