This year, India had been invited for the 46th session as a “guest of honour” as OIC completed its 50th year in 2019. But our relations with OIC are quite old.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” & its stated objective is this:
To safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.
India has the third largest Muslim population in the world. India is home to about 10% of the world’s Muslims. Any organization genuinely interested in protecting the interests of the world’s Muslims should obviously have India as one of the most important players. All the member countries of the OIC have a majority Muslim population. Russia & Thailand, with a significant Muslim minority, are the observer members of the organization. But, in my opinion, to really “protect the Muslims of the world”, you first need to have countries with significant Muslim minority populations as the members because those are the Muslims who may not have an adequate voice in their country.
So, if India isn’t a member of OIC & it has been invited for the first time in 50 years, we should rather ask, “Why the hell India isn’t a part of OIC yet? Doesn’t this miss the whole point of having an organization to protects the Muslims of the world?”
The preparatory committee that decided the composition of OIC in 1969 led down the following criteria for the countries to be invited for the meeting:
- countries having a Muslim majority population; or
- those having a Muslim head of state.
Pakistan wanted to paint India as a Hindu country rather than a secular country where Muslims have no place. India’s inclusion in OIC has always been opposed by Pakistan. If India is included in OIC, it means that the government of India actually represents a sizeable number of the world’s Muslims.
This is against the very idea of Pakistan. The two nation theory assumes that the Hindus & Muslims are two nations and Pakistan is the only true guardian of Muslims in the territory of Indian Subcontinent once ruled by the British. India’s inclusion in OIC would have created an identity crisis for Pakistan.
India was actually invited to the first OIC conference & in effect, India is one of the founding members of OIC. While Pakistan felt uneasy with India’s inclusion, it couldn’t muster a valid reason why India shouldn’t be included.
Around the same time, communal violence in Gujarat broke out. It was the first major Hindu-Muslim riot after partition. With this, Pakistan had now found a reason to refuse India’s entry into OIC.
This is what Gurbachan Singh, India’s then ambassador to Morocco, has to say about what happened:
The following day, on the 24th morning, Laraki asked me to see him before the conference was to reconvene. He said that news of the Ahmedabad riots was beginning to cause some disquiet amongst the delegations and suggested, on a personal and friendly basis, that I should not participate in the morning session. I readily agreed and asked the other members of the delegation to attend the conference.
During this time members of all the delegations had waited in the conference hall. Rumours were floating around. It transpired that the president of Pakistan was refusing to leave his villa until he received an assurance that the official Indian delegation would not be permitted to participate in the meeting. Many leaders of delegations attempted to telephone him but reportedly he would not even answer the telephone.
Pakistan didn’t want India to be part of OIC. India was asked if it could accept an observer status. The Indian delegation wasn’t happy with the suggestion. The Moroccan delegation asked India if it would voluntarily withdraw from the conference to ensure the success of the first conference of OIC. India was initially “unanimously” invited to OIC & it was not going to give up the membership due to Pakistan’s antics. India refused to withdraw.
Pakistan’s volte-face, it is evident, was not because of the Ahmedabad riots or a governmental delegation or a Sikh acting leader of the Indian delegation, though all, in turn, were presented as reasons. It is also on record that Pakistan was part of the consensus when an invitation had been extended to the Government of India. The real reason was that, when word got back to Pakistan of the invitation to India, there was a spate of protests in the country including, significantly, by many political opponents of the regime such as Asghar Khan, Bhutto, Mumtaz Daultana and others.
The Indian delegation at OIC was labelled as the “the Muslim community of India” instead of “the government of India” in the final declaration.
India could not accept anything lesser than the member status because it was “unanimously” invited as so. Pakistan, on the other hand, ensured that India wasn’t invited to any subsequent conferences. Pakistan has used OIC to garner support for its Kashmir cause. In the 1990s, it doubled down on the particular issue. So, India wanted to be part of the OIC to present its side of the story. But Pakistan thwarted all such efforts.
Now, that the major countries like Saudi Arabia & UAE want to be on India’s good books due to India’s economic rise, they have been trying to rethink India’s position in the OIC.
That’s why we had this “guest of honour” invitation. The anti-India days of OIC are gone & we shouldn’t be worried too much about our inclusion. So, if we are to participate in OIC, it should only be as a member, nothing less than that.
Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav