Should India aspire to become a member of OIC?

Jatin Desai
Sunday, 10 March 2019

Trying to become a member of a group, which is primarily connected through religion will not be advisable. It will be also against the principles of the Indian Constitution. But, surely India can try to become an observer like Russia, Central African Republic (CAR), Turkish Cypriot state and others. It will help India to have more interaction with the Muslim world.

The debate will continue for a long time whether India did the right thing by attending the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) foreign ministers gathering held in Abu Dhabi. India was invited as a ‘guest of honour’ at the 50th anniversary of the OIC. Opinions are divided. Some feel that as a secular country, India should not have attended a gathering of OIC as religion bonds them together. Others feel in the changed global scenario, it is all the more necessary that India should have more dialogue with all those who matter in the Muslim world.

India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj addressed the opening session of the OIC’s foreign ministers gathering as a guest of honour. It was after a gap of fifty years that India was invited to attend and speak. Sushma Swaraj did not miss an opportunity. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Qureshi objected to the UAE’s invitation to India and boycotted the gathering. The invite to India and subsequent development indicates that for OIC nations, their national interests is far more important than anything else. It also means the acceptance of changed realities and little decline of Pakistan’s influence over the Muslim world.

At the same time, the reality is Pakistan’s power to influence the OIC continues. A fact that cannot be denied is that Pakistan is one of the most powerful countries of the OIC. The resolution on Kashmir was kept out of ‘The Abu Dhabi Declaration.’ There was a separate political resolution on Kashmir where it sought to end the hundreds of arrests and disappearances in Kashmir. It also had words like ‘mass blinding’. Such resolutions are routinely passed every time in the OIC summit. The engagement with the OIC is important and so with the Muslim world. Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said, ”We reaffirm that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and is a matter strictly internal to India.” This time the criticism by MEA on the resolution is mild than the previous times. National interest always comes first in the foreign policy and that’s how most of the time bilateral relations are defined. Historically, India has excellent relations with the mid-east countries.

The main resolution welcomed ‘the positive initiative undertaken by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to hand over the Indian pilot as a gesture of goodwill to de-escalate tensions in the region.

Ideally, Pakistan should not have boycotted the gathering. It was Pakistan’s loss. What Pakistan could achieve fifty years ago, they did not achieve this time. The time has changed and with the changing time, the strategy also needs to be changed. It could have also provided an opportunity for the foreign ministers of the two countries to meet informally at a time of heightened tension between the two countries.

Fifty years ago, India was invited for the founding sessions of the OIC in Rabat, Morocco. Pakistan objected to it. Then President of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, used his influence and managed to cancel India’s invitation and did not allow India to become a member of the OIC. Then Pakistan had much more influence on the OIC. India has sizeable trade relations with the members of the OIC. Sushma Swaraj used the opportunity and criticised Pakistan without naming it for allowing their soil to be used by terrorists. She said, ”The fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion. It cannot be. Just as Islam literally means peace, none of the 99 names of Allah mean violence. Similarly, every religion in the world stands for peace, compassion and brotherhood.” Sushma Swaraj also emphasised that she came from ‘the land of Mahatma Gandhi, where every prayer ends with the call for Shanti or peace for all.’    

The point is should India aspire to become a member of OIC? Trying to become a member of a group, which is primarily connected through religion will not be advisable. It will be also against the principles of the Indian Constitution. But, surely India can try to become an observer like Russia, Central African Republic (CAR), Turkish Cypriot state and others. It will help India to have more interaction with the Muslim world.

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