How will the Prophet remarks row affect India-GCC ties?

Insulting remarks against Prophet Muhammad by leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have triggered wide criticism from Arab countries, with experts saying the diplomatic backlash might be “potentially damaging” to the relations between India and oil-rich countries in the Middle East.

Last week, Qatar led a chorus of regional diplomatic condemnation as it summoned India’s ambassador and sought “a public apology” from New Delhi over the insulting comments. The rare move came as India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, a member of the BJP, was on a state visit to Doha.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia also joined other members of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with more than a dozen other Muslim-majority countries, in condemning the derogatory remarks against Islam’s prophet – a perceived red line in the Arab and larger Muslim world – and his wife, Aisha.

“I cannot remember last time such a strong and angry response from the GCC countries to domestic politics in India,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at Wilson Center, adding that it could be “potentially damaging”.The foreign ministry also deputed its diplomatic corps in Muslim-majority countries to explain the government position that India respected all religions and the derogatory remarks did not come from the government but were made by “fringe elements”.

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