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New Delhi: After hashtags calling for the boycott of Indian products began trending on Twitter in Arab countries over alleged inflammatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, the party cracked a whip against them.
While Nupur Sharma has been suspended from the party “with immediate effect”, Jindal’s primary membership of the party has been cancelled.
The Grand Mufti of Oman along with Twitter handles with a large following have called for the boycott. The tweets also included a scathing attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Grand Mufti of Oman Sheikh Al-Khalili tweeted:
إن الاجتراء الوقح البذيء من الناطق الرسمي باسم الحزب المتطرف الحاكم في الهند على رسول الإسلام ﷺ وعلى زوجه الطاهرة أم المؤمنين عائشة رضي الله عنها هو حرب على كل مسلم في مشارق الأرض ومغاربها، وهو أمر يستدعي أن يقوم المسلمون كلهم قومة واحدة pic.twitter.com/T58Ya1dGox
— أحمد بن حمد الخليلي (@AhmedHAlKhalili) June 4, 2022
With the issue snowballing into a major controversy, the BJP has swung into action.
In a statement released on Sunday, June 5, by BJP’s party general secretary Arun Singh, the party asserted that it “is strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion,” adding that it “respects all religions and strongly denounces insult of any religious personality.”
“The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy,” said Arun Singh.
The BJP statement, however, made no direct mention of any incident or comment. It also did not provide any context for the statement, either by referring to Sharma’s comments or about the religion in question.
Sharma’s and Jindal’s remarks have drawn protests from Muslim groups.
Singh said, “During the thousands of years of history of India every religion has blossomed and flourished. The Bharatiya Janata Party respects all religions. The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion.”
“India’s constitution gives the right to every citizen to practice any religion of his or her choice and to honour and respect every religion,” he said.
“As India celebrates 75th year of its Independence, we are committed to making India a great country where all are equal and everyone lives with dignity, where all are committed to India’s unity and integrity, where all enjoy the fruits of growth and development,” the BJP leader said.
Under pressure, the BJP acted against Sharma and Jindal. In its suspension letter to Sharma, the Central Disciplinary Committee of the BJP said, “…pending further inquiry, you are suspended from the party and from your responsibilities/assignments if any with immediate effect.”
Soon after she was served with the suspension notice, Sharma took to Twitter and said it was never her intention to hurt anyone’s religious feelings. She said her remarks made on TV were only in response to “continuous insult and disrespect to our Mahadev” and that it was “mockingly being said it is not Shivling but a fountain.” The Shivling referred to the ongoing controversy concerning the Gyanvapi mosque.
— Nupur Sharma (@NupurSharmaBJP) June 5, 2022
The Delhi unit BJP in its letter addressed to Jindal said, “You have expressed your views which instigate communal disharmony. This is against the fundamental principles of the BJP. You have acted against the party’s thoughts and policies.”
The letter was incidentally sent out by Delhi BJP president, Adesh Gupta, who has been criticised by civil society for making communal remarks against Muslim residents of Delhi.
A number of BJP supporters on Twitter lent their support to Sharma and Jindal, and called the BJP high command’s decision “cowardly”.
All selfless BJP supporter head hangs in shame with this action against Nupur Sharma and Navin Jindal . Ineffectual and cowardly decision by Delhi leadership.
— विवेक पाण्डे 🇮🇳 (@Bharat_Putra) June 5, 2022
— शे_निक (@Bandgool) June 5, 2022
I_support_nupursharma & navin jindal
— प्रकाश धाकड़ (@DhakaraPrakasa) June 5, 2022
We support Nupur Sharma and Navin Jindal. BJP should elaborate what was not factual in NUPUR’S STATEMENT.
— verma SS (@ssvermapune) June 5, 2022
In the meantime, a video has been circulating online showing militant Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand doubling down on the remarks made by Sharma in the TV debate.
— Meer Faisal (@meerfaisal01) June 5, 2022
Global pressure against Hindu majoritarian politics
Coming against the backdrop of protests occurring both within and outside India against Sharma’s and Jindal’s remarks and an attempt by Hindutva workers to lay claim to Gyanvapi mosque adjacent to the premises of Kashi Vishwanath temple, the BJP is possibly feeling the heat at the international level for what has now become an unabashed pursuit of Hindu majoritarian politics.
Incidentally, the ruling party’s statement in reaction to the social media backlash is in contrast to New Delhi’s indignant tone when it accused the United States of indulging in “votebank politics in international relations” after US secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke of “rising attacks against people and places of worship” in India.
This time around there has been no official statement from the ministry of external affairs or any of the Indian missions in the Gulf.
However, the Indian embassy in Oman did re-post tweets of the BJP’s statement through its official Twitter account.
According to Indian officials familiar with the Gulf region, the Grand Mufti’s statement is not endorsed by the Oman government and can only be seen as his personal views. They also noted that the Grand Mufti had also previously issued statements about incidents against the Muslim community in India. He had tweeted in September last year in the wake of Assam police’s actions which largely targeted Muslims during an eviction drive.
This is not the first time that statements from BJP members had led to a backlash in the Gulf region.
In April 2020, the Tablighi Jamaat was accused of being a “super-spreader” of coronavirus infections, with BJP members even accusing them of being “human bombs”. With the media and members of the ruling party issuing provocative remarks which seemingly targeted all Indian Muslims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a general tweet calling for unity and covid-19 not discriminating against any community.
COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking.
Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.
We are in this together: PM @narendramodi
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) April 19, 2020
While the Indian embassies highlighted the Indian PM’s tweet, it was not enough to stop the social media momentum with a number of prominent Arab social media personalities focussing on the remarks by several BJP members, actions by authorities which had an alleged anti-Muslim bias, as well as, social media posts of Gulf-based Indians. There were also calls for the boycott of Indian businesses in the Gulf.
The Indian missions in the Gulf countries had to also issue statements asking the Indian diaspora to remain vigilant against religious divisions.
In May 2020, the Indian government asked Twitter to block the 2015 tweet of a BJP member of parliament Tejaswi Surya, which had also been circulated during the social media backlash from the gulf.
(With PTI inputs)