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'Remarks on Prophet Mohammed have crossed red line'

June 07, 2022 13:12 IST

'Prime Minister Modiji must personally intervene to make it clear to his officials and the rank-and-file that communal abuse should now stop.'

IMAGE: A protest in Kota, Rajasthan, June 5, 2022 against then Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma over her remarks on Prophet Mohammed.
After Qatar, Kuwait and Iran lodged protests with the Indian government on Sunday, Sharma was suspended from the primary membership of her party and removed as BJP spokesperson.
The government also expelled another BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar Jindal from the party for similar comments.
Both Sharma and Jindal were later described as 'fringe elements'. Photograph: PTI Photo

When the Bharatiya Janata Party's national spokesperson Nupur Sharma spoke about Prophet Mohammed in a derogatory manner on a Times Now debate, not many people took note.

The 30-second clip went viral and Sharma started getting death threats on social media. Muslim organisations began filing cases against her.

Following this, many BJP leaders stood up for Sharma and #IstandwithNupurSharma became a trending topic on social media.

However, the clip of a ruling party official talking ill of Prophet Mohammed drew the ire of the rulers of Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE who lodged a protest with the Government of India, summoning Indian diplomats to express their unhappiness.

Hours later, the BJP suspended Sharma from the party stating she was promoting religious hatred, which was not the BJP's ideology.

Along with the action against Sharma, the BJP expelled Naveen Jindal -- head of its Delhi media cell -- from the party for his remarks against Prophet Mohammed.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ spoke to Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad, who served as India's envoy to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, to understand why the Muslim countries reacted the way they did and the implications for India.


The BJP has removed Nupur Sharma as its spokesperson after her comments on Prophet Mohammed. She has apologised for her remarks. Will this help repair the damage to India's interests caused by her remarks in these nations?

The Gulf nations and other Muslim countries have so far been silent over the rising communal discord in India being engineered for political purposes. This is largely because they avoid commenting on domestic issues in other countries.

But this time, with loose remarks relating to Prophet Mohammed and his family, a red line has been crossed. This matter goes beyond domestic issues relating to India. It crosses into the realm that is offensive to the Muslim community across the world.

The Prophet is considered as an ideal person by Muslims across the world and any remark against him or his family members evokes strong reaction across the global Muslim community.

I think the official reaction in Muslim countries was not unexpected. It is linked to their concerns over burgeoning Islamophobia across the world.

Even Iran has come out strongly against India. It has kept silent on India's internal matters and had looked the other way even when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.

Iran is an Islamic Republic. It has the same concern as other Muslim countries. If you recall, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie came from Iran when he wrote the Satanic Verses, which had been viewed as maligning members of the Prophet's family.

By suspending Nupur Sharma from the BJP's primary membership, following pressure from these nations, has the Modi government sent a message to all its spokespersons that they should be careful in future on what they say on television debates, so they don't harm the Indian government's image?

I think there is a larger problem here -- maligning India's Muslim community has become the 'new normal' in our political order.

Every day some BJP member in some part of the country says something obnoxious and abusive about Muslims as a collective entity.

And, of course, numerous initiatives are being taken by BJP votaries to deface India's eclectic heritage through systematic assaults on our secular order.

An entire political platform has been shaped on the abuse of another community, a minority community that has always been an integral part of India's national fabric.

The time has come to say "enough!" to this communal discord and communal abuse that has been ongoing for the last few years.

I think it is time to go back to the fundamental principles of our nation. We are a pluralistic and accommodative nation. We are a democratic order and we must bring everyone together.

RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) chief Mohan Bhagwat recently spelt this out very clearly. This should now become the central guiding principle of not only the RSS, but also of the BJP.

The prime minister of India, Narendra Modiji, must personally intervene in the matter to make it clear to his officials and the rank-and-file that communal abuse should now stop. He himself says 'Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas, Sab ka Vishwas' -- we should see that this is being implemented sincerely and vigorously across the nation.

Will Nupur Sharma's removal as spokesperspon help send the right message internationally?

This issue goes beyond the public utterances of one party official -- it seems to be a well-established party platform to mobilise political support on the basis of communal appeal. This has been noted negatively by other countries.

We have been criticised for human rights abuses by the United States three times in the last one month, though we have been very dismissive of these criticisms.

Muslim countries are now reacting now because Nupur Sharma made derogative references about Prophet Mohammed.

But we should be aware of larger concerns. Let me tell you, other countries are deeply disappointed with India -- we have for decades been a model of a successful democratic, pluralist and secular order that also achieved economic and technological progress. We were the nation that other developing countries wanted to emulate. We were a shining example for the world.

Unfortunately, the path that we have chosen now completely contradicts that which used to be. Other countries want India to go back to the path on which we were -- a political order based on pluralism, multiculturalism and accommodation in a solid democratic framework.

What must have compelled the BJP to remove Nupur Sharma? What message did these Arab countries send Prime Minister Modi to provoke Sharma's removal?

The message was clear -- that such remarks were only creating division and discord and alienating friends in different parts of the world.

One must understand that foreign policy and domestic issues are intertwined. We cannot continue to have good relations with other countries by abusing and violating a large section of a community within our borders. We cannot have a business-as-usual approach, and hope all this will all pass away.

If corrective measures are not taken, there will be, over time, negative implications for our standing in our region and our ties with cherished friends.

It could, for instance, affect the recruitment of our nationals to the Gulf. Which employer would like to have zealots in his workforce?

Does this episode diminish Prime Minister Modi's stature on the international stage?

PM Modi keeps himself out of such controversies. He does not usually allow such things to impact his personal image.

But, at the end of the day, he is the prime minister of India, he is the leader of his political party. He leads his party in all election campaigns.

People have watched with concern that, under his leadership, there has been a steady and systematic dilution of India's secular order which is a matter of great concern for Indian citizens and all those who wish India well.

People would like to see him take a lead role in projecting strong corrective messages for our friends in different parts of the world.