MEA in damage control mode

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The six-point memo was sent to all the heads of mission (HOMs) in OIC countries on Sunday, hours after the Ambassadors in Qatar and Kuwait had been summoned…reports Asian Lite News

In its responses to the diplomatic storm over the comments made by BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar, the government took a stern view of the statement by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but it subsequently made a special effort at ensuring that Indian Ambassadors based in every OIC country were briefed and sent “talking points” to deal with the situation on June 5.

Significantly, the reference to the leaders as “fringe elements” was not in the brief by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), sources said. It had possibly emerged from a telephone conversation and was used “mistakenly” in the press statements issued by the embassies in Doha and Kuwait.

The phrase “fringe elements” had caused some consternation within the MEA as well as among officials in the countries that lodged protests against the comments, as it appeared to be misleading, given that Sharma and Kumar were prominent leaders of the BJP before the party took action against them.

The six-point memo was sent to all the heads of mission (HOMs) in OIC countries on Sunday, hours after the Ambassadors in Qatar and Kuwait had been summoned. The missive, which was cleared by Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra and sent by the MEA’s Gulf Division, The Hindu reported.

It also counselled them to draft a statement in case they were summoned by the host government, which made all the points: that the Indian government respects all religions; that the comments denigrating a religious personality did not represent the government or the BJP, that “strong action” had been taken against those making the comments, and that the BJP had issued its own press release reiterating these points.

In addition, the government asked the HOMs to caution their hosts that “vested interests” that are against bilateral relations are “inciting” people and that India and the host country must “work together” against such “mischievous elements”, without naming India’s concerns about Pakistan.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood met all OIC Ambassadors and “briefed them on the developments regarding the highly derogatory remarks by two senior officials of India’s ruling party BJP”, indicating that Pakistan intends to continue to pursue the issue.

Alarm bells really went off on Sunday morning, however, when the Qatari Foreign Ministry summoned Indian Ambassador Deepak Mittal to hand him a stern demarche and to demand a “public apology” from the Indian government in the matter, a rare and even unprecedented occasion while an Indian dignitary was in Doha.

Another big worry for the MEA was the impending visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who landed in Delhi on Tuesday for a three-day, three-city tour, which is his first visit to India since the elections last year.

Officials said they hope the interventions will help resolve the issue now. By Tuesday, at least 15 countries — Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Malaysia. the UAE, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Maldives, Libya and Indonesia — had issued formal protests, along with the OIC, and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

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