Why does the Arab world's condemnation of anti-Prophet statements matter to India?


Following the weekend, India's ruling party's diplomatic envoys received a barrage of criticism from important West Asian trading partners over purported anti-Prophet statements made by a spokesperson during a television debate. 

As tensions grew over social media demands for a boycott of Indian products in the Gulf region, the Bharatiya Janata Party removed two spokespeople.

Even though Nupur Sharma, one of the spokespeople, had already been reprimanded for her comments a week ago, a closer look at data on commerce and inward remittances reveals why the diplomatic criticism may have driven swift action.

In 2021-22, India's total commerce with the seven Gulf countries was $189 billion, accounting for 18.3 percent of the country's total combined import and export value.

Apart from trade, India's large expatriate community in Arab countries gives the region important importance, and if not addressed, a backlash may have snowballed into a larger, or formal boycott.

Because they are located on the Persian Gulf's border, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain are commonly referred to as Gulf countries.

Except for Iraq, six of them are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In 2021-22, India's trade with GCC countries totaled $154.7 billion, up 77 percent from the modest base of 2020-21 and 28 percent more than 2019-20. In 2021-22, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq were India's third, fourth, and fifth largest trading partners, respectively.

India's exports to GCC countries totaled $43.9 billion, with a $66.8 billion trade deficit. India's trade deficit with these nations is 43.2 percent of total trade, which is greater than India's overall trade deficit of 18.4 percent of total trade.

India and the UAE inked a free trade agreement (FTA) in February 2022, allowing zero-tariff access to 97 percent of Indian imports and 90 percent of UAE products for the next ten years.