The Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal as the row over their alleged derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad escalated with protests from some Muslim countries.
Amid demonstrations by Muslim groups and the strong reaction from countries like Kuwait and Qatar, the BJP issued a statement asserting that it respects all religions and strongly denounces insult of any religious personality.
Sharma's comments, made in a TV debate nearly 10 days back, and Jindal's now-deleted tweets, sparked a Twitter trend calling for a boycott of Indian products in some countries, while Qatar and Kuwait summoned the Indian ambassadors and handed over to them protest notes on what the Gulf countries called categorical "rejection and condemnation" of the controversial remarks of the BJP leader against Prophet Muhammad.
The foreign ministries of the two Gulf countries welcomed the statement issued by the ruling party in India in which it announced the suspension of the leader.
Incidentally, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu is currently on an official visit to Qatar.
The Indian Ambassador in Qatar said in a tweet that the controversial tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India.
"These are the views of fringe elements," the Indian Embassy quoting him said.
With its members' comments stoking protests in the country, including violence in Kanpur, and causing ripples abroad, the BJP swung into action to control the damage as it tried to assuage the concerns of minorities and distanced itself from these members.
Before cracking the whip on the two members, the ruling party also issued a statement underscoring its respect for all religions and their revered figures.
Party general secretary Arun Singh said in a statement that the party is strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion.
The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy, he said.
The BJP statement, however, made no direct mention of any incident or comment.
The statement announcing action against Sharma and Jindal also made no particular reference to their controversial remarks.
The Congress and other opposition parties claimed the BJP's action against its leaders is ''placatory' and taken following ''threats'' and ''pressure'' from ''external powers".
In his statement, BJP's Arun 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 the 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.
The communication to Sharma from the party's disciplinary committee secretary Om Pathak said she has expressed views contrary to the party's position on various matters, which is in clear violation of its constitution.
"Pending further inquiry, you are suspended from the party and from your responsibilities, assignments if any, with immediate effect," it said.
The communication from Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta to Jindal said his views on social media vitiate communal harmony and are in violation of the party's fundamental beliefs.
He has acted against the party's policies and ideology, Gupta said.
"Your primary membership is immediately terminated and you are expelled from the party," Gupta said.
Jindal said that he had tweeted asking a question to those attacking and insulting Hindu deities and it was not aimed at hurting the religious sentiments of any community.
After the action, Sharma unconditionally withdrew her controversial statement made in the TV debate and claimed that her comments were a reaction to "continuous insult and disrespect towards our Mahadev"' (Lord Shiva).
Both Sharma and Jindal said it was never their intention to hurt anyone's religious feelings.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Nupur Sharma said, "I have been attending TV debates for the past many days where our Mahadev was being insulted and disrespected continuously. It was mockingly being said that it is not Shivling but a fountain. The Shivling was also being ridiculed by comparing it to roadside signs and poles in Delhi."
She was apparently referring to the claims of Hindu groups about the presence of a Shivling at the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi.
She added, "If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement. It was never my intention to hurt anyone's religious feelings."
Muslim groups have been holding protests demanding action against Sharma. Cases have been filed against her in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune, accusing her of hurting religious sentiments.
Both Sharma and Jindal also requested people on Twitter not to disclose their addresses, saying they and their families are facing threats.
Their messages were apparently in reaction to some users sharing the party's communications to them on the action against them, as the letters carried their addresses too.
After the BJP's action, its minority cell head Jamal Siddiqui said it showed the "actual face" of the party and sent a message to the rank and file that no one would be allowed to violate Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mantra of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas'.
Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, accused the BJP of pushing India into a dark age of religious polarisation to "subserve its parochial political agenda in the short term".
"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," he said in a statement.