Indian minister tries to allay concerns about intolerance in his country during UAE visit

India’s finance minister has dismissed concerns over bigotry in his homeland, insisting that the situation is stable and peaceful

India's finance minister Arun Jaitley was wrapping up a three-day visit to the UAE, in which he discussed government and private investment. Reuters
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DUBAI // India is stable and peaceful with no sign of rising intolerance, the country’s finance minister said at a UAE-India Economic forum in Dubai on Tuesday.

Arun Jaitley, who was speaking on the final day of a three-day visit to the UAE to discuss government and private investment, told community members, Indian and local businessmen that “on the ground there is no indication of intolerance”.

He said: “It becomes an issue for discussion when people try to give a country a bad name ... it’s statements in the media by some people adverse to the government. The situation is quite peaceful, on the ground level I see an environment of perfect harmony.”

Over the past two months dozens of Indian writers have returned literary awards to the government and historians, scientists and filmmakers have protested against attacks on minorities and liberals.

They have condemned attacks – against atheist thinkers and minorities – suspected of being carried out by right-wing Hindutva groups allied to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Several ministers of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, including Mr Jaitley, have dismissed the protests as a political ploy to damage the party and spread misinformation.

While Indian expatriates supported their country’s economic growth, they asked for visible government intervention in all cases of religious bigotry.

“Investment back home will have an impact if people are not satisfied or not comfortable with what is happening there,” said Kinana Muder, president of the Anjuman-e-Najmi cultural organisation in Dubai.

“The government should be doing something to curb these communal [inter-religious] differences, and I don’t see that happening. People lost everything in earlier communal riots in India so they are looking for the situation [not to be repeated].

“When you invest you don’t want to find yourself in the same situation, so minority groups might be really concerned to put their money back home. A person living outside wants to fall back on his homeland but if the homeland does not give him the security in terms of investment, security for family, children, who do they fall back on?”

A garment business owner Shabbir Abbas, said the government could do more to allay their fears. “This [intolerance] is a big concern, people need to feel safe,” he said.

He called for quicker paperwork processing for small businesses.

“It’s not just government departments but also in states where permissions for small and medium scale industries are not smooth,” Mr Abbas said.

“There are a lot of bureaucratic levels to go through so it takes a lot of effort for investors, especially non-resident Indians, to invest freely.”

But Mr Jaitley assured the community that processes were being cut short as part of the government’s ease-of-business agenda. “The level of engagement has increased and the capacity of the Indian economy to absorb that investment is high,” he said.

After Mr Modi’s visit to the UAE in August, the UAE promised to invest Dh275.4bn in India.