Listen to this article:
New Delhi: English newspaper editorials did not mince words as foreign backlash mounted against remarks by politicians of India’s ruling party, BJP, against Islam.
While most commented on the ironies of BJP’s reactions – some highlighted the 10-day delay – some others were keen to see in the suspension and expulsion of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, respectively, a sign of introspection.
‘Nupur, Naveen & us – Please note: Aggressive right-wing politics can also cost those who benefit from it most’
Times of India‘s editorial was a keenly read one, especially as the same house owns the television channel on which Nupur Sharma’s remarks were aired.
“That it took diplomatic censure from strategically and economically important Gulf countries for BJP to take action against two spokespersons, whose appalling comments on TV and Twitter have been known for days, says everything about how much political discourse has coarsened in this country,” the paper said in its editorial.
In a piece directly critical of BJP, the paper appears blithely ignorant of the role of media houses which invite BJP and other Hindutva group representatives, offering them a platform to speak. It records recent unfair actions which can fall under the broad umbrella of communalism, noting that the silence surrounding these has egged on “rightwing loudmouths” on television.
“Bulldozing houses, slapping sedition charges on history professors and university students, evicting hawkers selling non-vegetarian food, creating controversies out of halal meat and namaz venues, not to mention strange lower court receptions to this-mosque-is-a-temple petitions – all of these institutional responses have been encouraging signs for TV and Twitter right-wing loudmouths. Nupur Sharma’s and Naveen Jindal’s comments are products of this ecosystem.”
Cold calculations, if not good sense, should force a BJP rethink, it ultimately says, reminding the party of electoral costs at stake.
Delayed response: On govt.’s stern action against hate speech
The Hindu, while calling the government’s actions ‘delayed’ and clearly labelling the BJP leaders’ lines as ‘hate speech’, also said that the government’s move was a ‘stern’ step against hate speech.
The paper also saw ‘some introspection’ in the statement issued by India’s embassies in Doha and Kuwait, the wording of which has by now been subject to significant criticism for calling the BJP’s national spokesperson and Delhi media unit head “fringe elements.”
“Regardless of the reasoning, the statement issued by the Embassies in Doha and Kuwait, which said that the Government accords the highest respect to all religions “in line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity” reflects some introspection within the establishment and the ruling party, and the line that has been drawn must be adhered to across society.”
The Hindu editorial also calls for similar introspection to be made within the media, “particularly news television channels that appear to have turned prime time viewing into a prize-fight, encouraging the most radical voices to spar verbally every evening and engage in blatantly extremist hate speech.”
Ultimately, it observes that the government “would have avoided the entire controversy if it had acted according to the law.”
‘Hate speech hurts the nation and the national interest’
On June 6, Indian Express carried an editorial which announced in the first sentence itself that “electoral majority does not entitle a political party to believe there are no red lines to its conduct, that it can dismiss every criticism as petty pandering to a “vote bank”.”
The “vote bank” comment hearkened to India’s reaction to United States’ secretary of state Anthony Blinken‘s mention of “rising attacks on people and places of worship” in the country.
The editorial pins the blame on the government and BJP, naming names and acknowledging the ecosystem that goes into spawning hate speech.
“The government, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi down, and the party, from J P Nadda down, prefer silence as the baying gets more loud and shrill, as so-called dharam sansads advocate no less than mass murder and men, in saffron, claiming to redeem Hinduism, peddle hate and misogyny.”
Action against hate speech should not need a prod from the Gulf, the editorial notes. It also seals a simple truth:
“India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, and irrespective of the fact that the BJP does not need their votes, as a party in office, it needs to show by word and deed that it is a government of all communities.”
The paper on June 7 also carried an opinion piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the topic, titled ‘Beware of half victories’ which is behind a paywall online.
The Tribune‘s editorial makes no bones about the fact that India as a whole has been made to feel collective shame over the BJP politicians’ comments thanks to foreign bodies’ and countries’ reactions.
It begins noting that just recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described his government’s eight years in power as a tenure that “did not allow Indians to hang their heads in shame.”
Now, the paper says, all Indians, whether they live in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries or back home, “have been forced to hang their heads in shame and offer a public apology on behalf of the just-suspended” BJP leaders.
This “national humiliation”, the editorial says, was waiting to happen because BJP “had turned hatred against Muslims into a prime-time pastime.” The hard-hitting editorial also touched upon the role of media.
From a political mobilisation ploy or a vote-catching trick, hate speech had got mainstreamed and normalised by BJP’s spokespersons and TV anchors alike, who harangue viewers into stupefaction. The Arab outrage is a wake-up call for our society to atone for the hatred that has seeped into our midst.
‘Core colour: Editorial on tension between India & Middle East over hateful remark’
The Telegraph, which has been running front pages heavily critical of the Union government for a while now, noted in its editorial that the Narendra Modi government had, in fact, preserved a bonhomie with West Asia. This, it said, was now lost.
The Telegraph does it again. pic.twitter.com/9TWCADXIYT
— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) June 7, 2022
The axing orders, the paper says, will not be enough.
“…India’s ruling party and government are mistaken if they think their response will calm the waters — either at home or abroad — that they and their allies have themselves poisoned with bigotry.”
The editorial also makes note of the use of “fringe”, observing that what was indeed once fringe is now in the mainstream.
“Today, what was once the ‘fringe’ regularly overlaps with the core of the BJP. If the chorus of Hindu majoritarianism continues to rise, suave diplomacy will not be able to cover up the rot. Mr Modi promised to lure the world to ‘Make in India.’ Instead, it is witnessing ‘Hate in India.’ Only one of those visions can survive. The choice is Mr Modi’s.”
‘A lesson BJP will hopefully learn from the Prophet row’
Deccan Herald, a newspaper whose clever juxtaposition of quotes on the frontpage makes it a frequent receiver of Twitter commenters’ appreciation, ran an editorial that recorded that BJP was “unmoved” when protests were taking places across India, and which gave way to violence in Kanpur.
The paper also said that until now, disrespect to other religions had almost been actively encouraged.
“Those who criticised the denigration of other religions and called for tolerance and sanity have been dubbed and insulted as ‘sickular libtards’ and other dishonourable epithets.”
The editorial observed how there was vilification undertaken by rightwing Twitter activists who made “selective evocation of the right to free speech,” even bringing up Charlie Hebdo.
DH also said that the government’s response leaves much to be desired, including its harsh words to the OIC.