‘For Iran, India appears to have a tilt toward Saudi Arabia, and it has given a message to India not to ignore Iran’s interests’

New Delhi: India is treading cautiously on Iranian leaders’ recent remarks on the Delhi violence and is not overreacting on the issue.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently commented on the incident asking “India to stop the massacre of Muslims in order to prevent India’s isolation from the world of Islam”.

Before that, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also posted a comment on Twitter saying “Iran condemns the wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims”.

Though India reacted after Zarif’s remarks and subsequently summoned the Iranian Ambassador to India to lodge its protest, it preferred not to comment after Khamenei’s remarks. This is seen as India’s calculated strategy not to overreact. As regards summoning of Zarif, it is seen by experts as normal diplomatic exercise.

A.K. Mohapatra, a Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jawahalal Nehru University (JNU), told The Sunday Guardian: “The concerns voiced by the Iranian leaders are more of political nature rather than showing any genuine concern. There is a competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran on becoming a leader of Muslim nations. Since, for Iran, India appears to be having a tilt in favour of Saudi Arabia, it has tried to given a message to India not to ignore Iran’s interests.”

“India has interests in Iran. So it cannot antagonize the South Asian country. Islamic fundamentalism has links with Sunnis whereas Iran is a Shia-dominated country. That is the reason it has sided with India when it comes to issues related to India and Pakistan. It will be good for India not to react much on the comments made by Iranian leaders. Rather it should try to explain India’s position and placate them. The gesture of donating a lab to test COVID-19 virus in Iran is a welcome step which will help in placating the Iranians. India should try to do the balancing act and neutralize the opposition from Iran diplomatically. There is no need to be vindictive or reactive,” he said.

Sources said Iranian leaders’ remarks were unexpected given that Iran normally avoids public criticism of internal matters of India. Following the revocation of Article 370, Tehran had limited its reaction to expressing concerns over the “condition of the people” in the Valley and urging New Delhi to adopt “a fair policy” towards the people of the region. Tehran has also avoided taking Islamabad’s side whenever tension between India and Pakistan escalated in recent years. The relations between India and Iran have been on an upswing in the last few years.

Despite US sanctions against Iran, India has been maintaining cordial ties with Tehran and has been actively involved in the development of Chabahar port there. India, however, had to reduce its oil imports from Iran despite the fact that it acknowledges that Iran is an energy source.

“The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India. The Government of India should confront extremist Hindus and their parties and stop the massacre of Muslims in order to prevent India’s isolation from the world of Islam,” said Khamenei in an official statement issued recently.

This came following a similar comment by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif earlier. India took strong exception to his comments. Iranian ambassador Ali Chengeni was summoned to the foreign office to protest the remarks.

“The Iranian Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni was summoned and a strong protest was lodged against the unwarranted remarks made by the Iranian foreign minister. It was conveyed that his selective and tendentious characterisation of recent events in Delhi are not acceptable. We do not expect such comments from a country such as Iran,” MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.