At a time when Iran has got embroiled in a military confrontation with the US, Iran has surprisingly found support in the form of protests led by Shia Muslims within India. The Iranian Foreign Minister, in fact, took to Twitter claiming that there was growing anti-US sentiment after the killing of the Iranian General, Soleimani. Acknowledging the allegiance shown by a section of Shia Muslims in India, he used pictures of protests within India to put forth his claim of a worldwide anti-US fury.
What the US has accomplished in its terrorist assassination of anti-ISIS heroes is to unleash global anti-US fury and a worldwide rancor—on a scale not seen in recent memory.
End of malign U.S. presence in West Asia has begun. pic.twitter.com/Hl1p0LttX2
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 6, 2020
There have been protests all across India, from Kargil to Lucknow, following Solimani’s killing. A massive, red flag anti-US march took place in Delhi over Major General Qassem Soleimani’s killing. The plan was to end the protest march outside the US embassy, but they were stopped midway.
One of the protesters explained the significance of the red flag, and said, “In ancient times, when tribes would go to war and the leader of one of the tribes was killed then that tribe would raise a red flag declaring war against the killers of their chief. This red flag signifies our demand for revenge against America.” This is Iranian, Shiite transnationalism at just another level with the protesters making themselves a party to a military confrontation in which they are not even remotely tied to. With this “red flag” march, it seems as if they have pledged total allegiance to Iran in its rising tensions against the US.
Anti-America protests in New Delhi being led by Shia cleric Kalbe Jawad against killing of Iranian general #QassemSoleimani.@IndiaToday @MEAIndia @USAndIndia @USAmbIndia @harshvshringla @State_SCA @HMOIndia @DrSJaishankar @SecPompeo @IndianEmbassyUS https://t.co/58JVOhYtGh pic.twitter.com/qnb8Nlmzkz
— Geeta Mohan گیتا موہن गीता मोहन (@Geeta_Mohan) January 7, 2020
Apart from Delhi, Lucknow too has witnessed protests and in fact most of the pictures in the Iranian Foreign Minister’s tweet are from Lucknow only. In fact, different corners of the country have witnessed Shia Muslims expressing sentiment against the US and Israel with protests in Kargil and even Tamil Nadu. In Kargil, the protesters were heard shouting slogans against the United States and Israel. They even carried placards reading “Down with Israel, Down with Saudi Arabia, Down with America”.
During protests in Delhi, a Shia cleric, Kalbe Jawad also came down heavily on Saudi Arabia and said, “Iran is a friend of India and America is our enemy, as the terrorism in India is funded by Saudi Arabia and manpower is supplied by Pakistan.” Such statements, which reek of a tendency to unnecessarily import foreign conflicts to the Indian land, are bound to make the Indian State uncomfortable.
The fact remains that India has not taken sides in this case, and that is the correct diplomatic approach keeping India’s interests in mind. But some within India are unnecessarily dragging India into this conflict and even making utterly senseless remarks vowing revenge against the US. This show of deep transnationalism brings back the memory of Khilafat movement 100 years ago when the anger against the disintegration of the Ottoman empire was imported to India.
The blatant show of loyalty towards Iran in India, which has gone to the extent of vowing revenge against the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia can also have domestic ramifications for India. The Shia-Sunni riots in India manifest a deep sectarian divide within the Indian Muslims. While Iran represents the Shia community in West Asia, Saudi Arabia represents the Sunni community in West Asia. As the Shia Muslims come out vowing revenge against Saudi Arabia, this could potentially enrage the Sunnis too, leading to a totally avoidable social unrest in India.
India is the only country with just small Shiite population to declare Moharram (Shiite festival), a public holiday. The states of UP and Bihar declared the birthday of Ali as public holidays too. India is the only country except the Shiite majority states (Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan) where Shiite Muslims are not subjected to state discrimination and persecution.
However, the show of allegiance to a foreign authority by the Shia Muslim groups in India cannot be appreciated. Not just the Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims also organized protest and rallies against America, when they attacked Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. This is akin to the Khilafat movement of 1919, however, Gen Soleimani of Iran is no religious figure of the Shia Muslims, neither is Saddam Hussein of the Sunnis. Then the question arises, what do certain Indians have to do with Iranian nationalism and the US-Iran war?
War in West Asia is fuelled at the surface by the Sunni vs Shia conflict, with Saudi Arabia being the regional leader of Sunnis and backed strategically by United States, and Iran being the leader of Shia community, helped by Russia. The Muslims in India too are divided into sectarian lines over the issue which stems from religion but grows into far-reaching geopolitical conflicts, and while the Shia community has condemned the recent killing and the Sunni majority has remained silent, India as a nation stands disturbed and uncomfortable by this blatant show of loyalty by a set of Indians to a foreign state, especially when Iran takes cognisance of the matter.