Love Thy Neighbour as Your Self: The Khaleej as Our ‘Sikka’

The Modi Administration’s outreach to the Gulf since 2015 was radical and enthusiastic. The Gujarati Baniya ethic was at work, with a larger trader diaspora in the Gulf being the custodian of Mandirs in Masqat and Manama had a long durée footprint which matters. Many Banias hold Gulf passports.

We presume our neighbors to stop at Pakistan and China, yet we forget that Oman and the UAE are maritime neighbors. Oman and the UAE have large ethnic Baluchi populations and Urdu/Hindi is a commonly spoken tongue in the region along with Malayalam, where Kerala is across Duqm in Oman, across the Sea of Oman. Muslims from Hyderabad and Malabar has had a long association with the Gulf especially Jeddah and Aden, which was governed from the Bombay Presidency.

The Indian Muslim finds cultural comfort in the Gulf from the IT executive to the working-class barber from Lucknow to Malda. The familiarity with ease with Ramadan and the Jumma Prayers, with marginalization of the other over the past three decades, has led the Indian Muslim to find work in Dubai and Dhahran rather than Delhi, where there will be rental issues based on identity as i had observed with a senior colleague in 2016 who was a BITS alum. The lived experiences coagulating into a ‘Muslim Commons’ in the Gulf, where the best Biryani Chefs find work and the Muslim Entrepreneur finds dignity, as dignity is not a one-way street.

Resistance might be quiet, yet the Indian who can move his business to Dubai has been doing that even the most inclusive individual. The Gulf is the commons of the Indian Musalman from Malappuram to Moradabad. Contrary to the zoomed-out IR Scholar whose head is in the cloud, who dismisses remittances and diaspora embeddedness that feeds millions in the hinterland over three generations- the texture of relationship is in the everyday trust. The politics of the present are threatening trust. The Indian Muslim will mobilize its resistance in some manner whether it is lobbying local rulers in the Gulf or on Twitter flagging bigots who were fired.

We live in interconnected times, where the weakest signal can be amplified. States in the south, even Bihar, need the labor diaspora remittances. We need to recognize that Muslim neighbors in the form of the monarchies of the Gulf have been supportive friends but must not take for granted. The current dispensation in the attempt to be Vishwa Guru, forgets the adage of being able to afford one’s politics.

The optics can be managed as had been doused earlier with the Tejaswi Surya case earlier, but a politics which threatens India’s national interest needs to be reflected upon over the long term as we cannot chose our neighbors in our ‘Sikkas’, or the neighborhood street in the Gulf. We better remain friends who understand each other through our common culture, which happens to be Muslim.

“This was first published by the author on his website. It has been published here with the author’s choice and willingness”.