Natural compulsions of a Secular State in Multi-Cultural country – Revisted

There seems to be a mild flurry in the internet world I’m familiar with about Hindusthan and its relationship with the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The most articulate entry so far has been on Pragmatic Euphony wherein, drawing from a 2006 article in The Hindu by Hamid Ansari, Hindusthan’s current Vice President, a tentative case is sought to be made for this country acquiring a status not as an “Observer” but as a full fledged founder-member of the said organization on the basis of the original 1969 Rabat invite where the decision to form the OIC was taken.

The whole debate is actually academic for an offer, either for observer status or for full membership of the OIC, is not coming India’s way in the foreseeable future. It is also not something India has craved for and there is a slim chance that India’s approach to the OIC is going to change any soon. In any case, not having India as a part of the OIC is today more of a loss for the OIC than it is for India. If the OIC realizes this, it will make the first move. India can then choose to respond. Till then, let the status quo prevail.

The case for membership – in part or in full, of the OIC, is most interesting in that it is sought to be presented as something quite normal, almost as normal as signing up for the UN or SAARC or any of the other numerous regional alliances or the local country club.

There are some differences though, that Pragmatic makes obvious –

What does India stand for and what does the OIC stand for? There are no commonalities between the two as India, in contrast to a majority of OIC member countries, stands for a plural society, secular polity and a democratic state structure. The incompatibility is further pronounced because India’s aim in the OIC, as it is with the rest of the world, will be to show not the Muslim face of India but the Indian face that has a Muslim dimension also.

So why not reject the proposal without any ambiguity? Why wait till OIC makes the first, any move? What possible benefit can be accrued from a formal membership of such a body?

According to Ansari again –

The debate is also about recognizing India’s uniqueness: it is not a part of the Muslim world but is not away from it; not a Muslim majority state in statistical terms yet host to the second largest community of Muslims in the world; not a society focused on Muslim welfare only but one in which Muslims, as an integral part of a larger whole, get the attention that every other section does.

The OIC accounts for about 29 per cent of the total membership of the U.N., 47 per cent of the African Union, and 100 per cent of the membership of the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Nearer home, three of the seven members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are in the OIC and so are three ASEAN states, with two others (Philippines and Thailand) attending meetings as guests. The OIC, therefore, is a factor of relevance in multilateral gatherings and does influence the outcome of elections to U.N. bodies, and their decisions.

Geography is relevant. Muslim countries and societies form the immediate and proximate neighborhood of India in South, South East, Central, and West Asia. Contacts with Muslim countries figure prominently in our external relations. These for the most part have a substantive economic content, and considerable potential in terms of our developing capabilities. They have a bearing on our strategic environment.

Although a weighty resume one still fails to see how only a full fledged membership would create the necessary leverage for Hindusthan in its dealings with these Muslim countries. Why can this not be done with an observer status? Alternately, if we are hopeful about full membership, an observer status can surely be picked off the shelf and used against Pakistani machinations like how the Russians seem to have tried to wrt Chechnya.

Ansari –

In the meantime Russia, driven by imperatives of the situation in Chechnya, sought to reduce hostility in the Muslim world by making overtures that were accommodated for a variety of reasons. Hence the offer of observer status that was avidly accepted.

Let me go back to Pragmatic’s statement of differences with OIC member nations and I quote –

India, in contrast to a majority of OIC member countries, stands for a plural society, secular polity and a democratic state structure.

My submission is that it is precisely because of this “contrast” that we feel so comfortable in thinking about reapplying for membership to the OIC. Our plural society, secular-liberal polity and fully franchised (including the Muslim minority) democracy has made it incumbent upon political leaders at home to constantly pacify the hurt experienced by the most aggressive of this country’s minorities; which is why Hindusthan’s leaders entertained the first invitation to the Rabat conference. The entry from V.D. Chopra makes it very clear.

Like a truly secular-liberal polity, it and its backers, having lost their moorings in reality don’t mind glossing over a few pertinent facts whilst discussing the subject.

I have linked to the OIC’s charter and posted relevant excerpts with respect to membership criteria here. I also urge readers to peruse the Objectives and Principles articles.


Article 3

1. The Organisation is made up of 57 States member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and other States which may accede to this Charter in accordance with Article 3 paragraph 2.

2. Any State, member of the United Nations, having Muslim majority and abiding by the Charter, which submits an application for membership may join the Organisation if approved by consensus only by the Council of Foreign Ministers on the basis of the agreed criteria adopted by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

3. Nothing in the present Charter shall undermine the present Member States’ rights or privileges relating to membership or any other issues.

Article 4

1. Decision on granting Observer status to a State, member of the United Nations, will be taken by the Council of Foreign Ministers by consensus only and on the basis of the agreed criteria by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

2. Decision on granting Observer status to an international organisation will be taken by the Council of Foreign Ministers by consensus only and on the basis of the agreed criteria by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

Given these facts, on what basis are we then even seeking or waiting to be offered membership? The only way I see it happening would be to declare Muslims, the largest minority in a “nation of a billion minorities”. Come to think of it, that would be the only way to work towards achieving OIC Objectives and Principles.

Or can Pragmatic Euphony provide a more credible answer?

– Namaste

2 Responses

  1. Its simple. India should never apply for any status in the OIC. It can diplomatically engage with the entity as it does with all other international polities and organisations.

  2. I agree with you but don’t see how or why any future proposal will be rejected by a liberal government.

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