The eight-month-long incarceration of recently acquitted members of the Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat on "false charges" of being COVID spreaders is a "national shame" for India, an aide to a former Indian prime minister has told Sputnik.
"Yes, the 36 Muslims who came from foreign countries to participate in a congregation of Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi earlier this year were scapegoated by the Indian government", reckons Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former member of parliament (MP) and an aide to late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"The pro-government Indian media carried out a toxic and highly bigoted campaign against them", adds Kulkarni, as he backed demands among many Indian social media users for an official apology by the Narendra Modi government to the acquitted foreigners.
"Both the government and the media should apologise, now that the judiciary has acquitted the 36 foreign Muslims", he says.
"How would the Modi government have reacted if 36 innocent Hindus from India had been imprisoned for months in a Muslim-majority country on false charges of spreading COVID19?" wonders Kulkarni, who was formerly associated with the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The reaction by Kulkarni comes after a Delhi court acquitted all 36 Islamic clerics, who had attended a religious gathering organised by Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi in March before the South Asian country went into a nationwide lockdown in a bid to combat the spread of COVID.
The 36 acquitted foreigners were part of a larger group of 44 individuals, with the rest of them also reportedly absolved due to a lack of credible evidence. The eight remaining individuals have applied for deportation back to their home countries.
Kulkarni's remarks echo the sentiment of a section of Indian social media users who have accused the BJP-led federal government of targeting the foreigners just because of their religious beliefs.
The government must issue a full apology to more than 2,000 visitors from 45 countries,many of those who languished in custody for months before being allowed to go home, over false charges they spread the coronavirus. This is not the way to say Atithi devo bhava. https://t.co/Jp2Y6otSIY— Suhasini Haidar (@suhasinih) December 17, 2020
On Thursday, India's leading newspaper Indian Express also said in an editorial titled "Say Sorry" that the government owed an apology to the detained foreigners.
The Jamaat congregation became a subject of intense criticism in the last few months, most of it coming from some leaders of the BJP and Indian mainstream media anchors.
Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, often described as India's second most powerful man after PM Modi, said in a tweet in April that the authorities had "blacklisted" 960 foreign nationals for their involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities. Prominent Indian news channels fed into the frenzy as they touted the March event in Delhi as a coronavirus "superspreader", triggering allegations of communalising the pandemic.
Nearly 9,000 persons, many of them from Indonesia, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, and Gulf countries, among others, participated in the event.
According to media reports, at least 2,000 of these foreigners have been subjected to police investigation over alleged violations of COVID-related guidelines.