Did Middle East Stinging Reaction Over Derogatory Remarks Force BJP To Sack Its Spokesperson Duo?

by Tahir Bhat

SRINAGAR: In a surprising development, the BJP sacked its spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal and suspended them from the party’s primary membership. The decision coincided with the party “respects all religions” and is “strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion”.

BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma who was sacked by the party over her derogatory remarks against the Prophet of Islam, more than a week after the controversial debate

The sacking was the outcome of a controversy triggered by Sharma, resorting to derogatory remarks against the Prophet of Islam in a TV debate, last week. The uncharitable commentary triggered riots in Kanpur in which almost 100 people were injured and the police are looking for 1000 protesters, mostly Muslims. 

Though the minority leaders were seeking action against Sharma, the party avoided responding to it. However, it moved in hours after the crisis rolled into a bigger one, offshore. 

“The reaction in the Arab world must have really stung,” tweeted Omar Abdullah.

Indian ambassadors to Qatar and Kuwait were summoned on Sunday by the foreign ministries of the two countries over Sharma’s remarks. 

It came a day after Sheikh Al Khalili, the Grand Mufti of Oman, tweeted: “The insolent and obscene rudeness of the official spokesman for the ruling extremist party in India against the Messenger of Islam, peace be upon him, and his pure wife, Mother of the Believers Aisha, may God be pleased with her, is a war against every Muslim in the east and west of the earth, and it is a matter that calls for all Muslims to rise as one.”

Oman’s earlier ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, it may be recalled here, had nurtured a Hindu temple in Muscat and invited Indian priests to recite the Maha Mruthyunjaya Yaaga and Maha Vishnu Yaaga for his well-being. Prime Minister Modi visited the temple during his 2018 visit.

Having an exceptionally different relationship with India, Oman has almost one-fourth of its population comprising Indians and it was perhaps the only country that opened its doors to more than 60,000 Indian workers at the peak of Covid19.

Khalili’s tweet had triggered a chain reaction with his followers seeking a boycott of Indian products and asking their rulers to withdraw investments made in India.

Formal diplomacy was a follow-up. 

Reports appearing in the media said Qatar’s Foreign Ministry handed over an official note on its “total rejection and condemnation” of the remarks made by Sharma, to Indian Ambassador Deepak Mittal. Qatar said it is expecting a “public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the Government of India”. Mittal’s summoning coincided with the visit of Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu to Qatar during which he met Qatar’s Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani. Reports said a dinner being hosted for him by a top ruling member has been cancelled.

Confirming the summons, the Indian Embassy in Qatar has said that “concerns were raised with regard to some offensive tweets by individuals in India” denigrating the religious personality. “Ambassador conveyed that the tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India. These are the views of fringe elements. In line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity, the Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions. Strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks,” a statement issued by the Indian Mission said.

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Ambassador to India and handed him a protest note in which it completely “rejects and denounces the statements made by an official in the ruling party against the Holy Prophet”.

The two summons to the top diplomats coincided with a storm against India on social media in the Arab world. Reports said in certain countries the departmental stores withdrew India origin goods. 

One Indian journalist wrote on Twitter that “stores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain” were removing Indian products as a retaliation to the statements. Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi wrote on Twitter: “For their domestic audience to be fed with hate, they put at risk thousands of Indians working in Middle East countries, damage long-standing relationships India has had, and destroy Indian businesses.”

Iran has also summoned the Indian Ambassador in Tehran over the issue. Saudi Arabia has also issued a statement on the derogatory remarks issue.

Sensing the fierce reaction, the BJP decided to act, reports appearing in the media said.

“You have expressed views which are contrary to the Party’s position,” Om Pathak, the member secretary of the BJPs central disciplinary committee, wrote to Nupur Sharma. “I have been directed to convey to you that pending further inquiry, you are suspended from the party and from your responsibilities.”

The sacking coincided with BJP’s statement stating that it “respects all religions” and is “strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion”.

“The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy,” the BJP’s general secretary Arun Singh said in a statement. “During the thousands of years of the history of India, every religion has blossomed and flourished. The Bharatiya Janata Party respects all religions.” 

Watching the ruling party in a catch-22 situation, Congress saw it as an opportune time to take potshots at the party. “The placatory expulsion of two key members and spokespersons of the BJP from its primary membership, done obviously under duress of threats from external powers, exposes the much-touted ‘muscular posturing’ and positioning of the BJP and the Modi Government,” AICC general secretary, Randeep Singh Surjewala, said in a statement. “Is the BJP sincere in course-correcting? Is the BJP trying to atone for its immeasurable sins or is it more chameleon-like posturing?” 

Now the government is facing more serious questions. “How come Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal not arrested yet, they should be charged for instigating communal tension not just in India but in the Arab world,” Congress leader Sadaf Jafar wrote on Twitter. “Issuing a letter is not enough, we demand action against the wrongdoers…”

The issue continues to dominate social media in the Middle East and Turkey. Media reports in Delhi suggest the Pakistani expatriates are helping the trend to have a snowball effect.

In Delhi, meanwhile, Sharma requested the media not to share her address publicly as her family is facing threats. A case has already been lodged against her in Mumbai. 

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