The Bharatiya Janata Party’s action against its two members for their controversial comments against Prophet Mohammed cap a series of statements from its top brass and also Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat that sought to distance their organisations from shrill and combative religious rhetoric, even as it has brought to fore the conflict within their wide sphere of support.
The suspension of its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and the expulsion of its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal have also drawn angry reactions from the BJP's faithful cheerleaders on social media, more so for Sharma, reflecting the dissonance between the impulses guiding its army of supporters and the prudence of its leadership, which acted to contain negative fallouts amid domestic protests and angry reactions in Gulf countries.
There is a view, also shared by many members of the party's rank and file, that the punishment given to Sharma was due to pressure from the Arab world. Muslim organisations in India had also been protesting against her comments.
A party leader, however, asserted that the "heat" on social media is temporary, and the ruling party cannot allow a ceaseless negative discourse to dent its carefully crafted agenda of governance which has helped expand its base.
In his latest address to BJP members on May 20 during a party meeting in Jaipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked them to stick to the issues of development and national interests and avoid any shortcuts. He had asked them to not fall into the "traps" of their rivals trying their best to divert the country's attention from main issues.
Though Modi had made no direct mention, his comments had come at a time when the reported finding of a Shivling in the Gyanvapi mosque during a court-ordered survey had been seeing rival groups trading charges over the claim that were often polarising.
The RSS, seen as the mothership of the larger Hindutva universe and the BJP's ideological mentor, has also tried to distance itself from more extreme elements, some of whom have even demanded a survey of several historical places associated with Muslim rule to find out if they were built on Hindu temples.
While acknowledging that the Gyanvapi dispute involves the issue of faith, Bhagwat had said that the court's decision on it should be accepted by all and that there was no need to find a 'Shivling" in every mosque. He had stressed on amicable resolution of disputes
A view had also emerged from the RSS' 'chintan shivir' in Haridwar held in April that any bitterness and conflict in society should be avoided while pursuing ideological issues
BJP president J P Nadda had said recently that contentious religious matters would be decided by "courts and the Constitution" and the party would implement the decisions in letter and spirit.
He was responding to a question on whether reclaiming temples in Varanasi (Kashi) and Mathura was still on the BJP's agenda.
He noted that, unlike the Ram Janmabhoomi issue on which it had passed a resolution favouring the temple at Ayodhya during its national executive meeting in Palampur, there has been no resolution on the twin disputes.
However, the general discourse over religious disputes has often been so polarising that the BJP's action against its two members has taken some of its own members by surprise.