BJP Distances Itself From Spokesperson Nupur Sharma Amid Outrage Over Remarks On Prophet Muhammad

BJP Distances Itself From Spokesperson Nupur Sharma Amid Outrage Over Remarks On Prophet Muhammad
Suspended national spokesperson of the BJP, Nupur Sharma | Image source: ABP Live

On May 26, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma, reportedly, made objectionable remarks about Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic religion during a TV news debate on the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque row. Delhi BJP media head Naveen Kumar Jindal also allegedly made objectionable remarks along communal lines, on Twitter. This led to severe backlash and criticism from the Muslim community and opposition parties in India, with several Arab countries now coming forward to condemn these comments.

On Sunday, both the party leaders faced serious consequences for their remarks. While Sharma is facing a suspension from the BJP’s primary membership, Jindal has been expelled from the party. This action was taken following the violence that broke out in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, on Friday. On the same day, President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were in rural Kanpur for an official function. 

Reportedly, at least a dozen people including two police personnel were injured when protestors were pelting stones in Parade Road, Nai Sadak, and Yateemkhana areas of the city. According to police sources, petrol bombs and gun shots were also fired. The incidents began as several people from the Muslim community observed a bandh and gathered to protest against Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks, following the Friday prayers.

According to Kanpur police commissioner Vijay Singh Meena, at least 18 people were arrested on Friday, while six more were arrested the next day. The commissioner also indicated that a total of 36 people have been booked under three separate FIRs pertaining to different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The BJP swiftly moved to remove both members from the party following these incidents. In a statement released prior to this action, General Secretary Arun Singh reiterated that the ruling party “respects all religions”, without mentioning Sharma or Jindal. “The BJP strongly denounces insults 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,” said Singh in the statement.

The statement further mentioned how during the thousands of years of history of India, every religion has blossomed and flourished. Singh also stated, “India’s constitution gives the right to every citizen to practise any religion of his/her choice and to honour and respect every religion. As India celebrates 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”.

Later that day, Member Secretary of the BJP’s Central Disciplinary Committee, Om Pathak, sent a letter to Nupur Sharma, stating, “You have expressed views contrary to the Party’s position on various matters, which is in clear violation of Rule 10 (a) of the Constitution of the Bharatiya Janata Party.” He added, “I have been directed to convey to you that pending further inquiry, you are suspended from the party and from your responsibilities/assignments if any, with immediate effect.”

Following this, Sharma released a statement on Twitter, retracting the remarks she made. “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 a shivling but a fountain. The shivling was also being ridiculed by comparing it to roadside signs and poles in Delhi.”

She added, “I could not tolerate this continuous insult and disrespect towards our Mahadev and I said some things in response to it. If my words have caused discomfort or hurt feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement. It was never my intention to hurt religious feelings.”

Rule 10 in the BJP’s constitution grants power to the national president of the party to take disciplinary action against members. “The National President if he so desires, may suspend any member and then start disciplinary proceedings against him,” states the rule. Furthermore, section (a) under the “Breach of Discipline” states, “Acting or carrying on propaganda against programme or decision of the Party.” Party sources indicate that the central disciplinary committee has given some time to Sharma to respond before taking any further action.

According to the rules, a disciplinary action committee of not more than five members will be created and the committee can draw their own procedures, while the State Disciplinary Action Committee can take action against its subordinate units. Based on the complaint, the national or the state president may suspend any individual or unit, based on a show-cause notice within a week of the said order, as per the rules. The committee then has to submit its report to the party president within 15 days. 

BJP’s Delhi unit president Adesh Gupta also informed BJP media head Naveen Jindal that his views expressed on social media incite communal harmony and are against the “basic thought” of the party. “You worked against party ideology and policy. Therefore, your primary membership of the party is cancelled with immediate effect, and you are also suspended from the party,” said Gupta, in a letter. 

This action has been praised by some, whereas others have slammed the BJP and even called for Sharma’s arrest. Reportedly, two FIRs were filed against Nupur Sharma in Mumbai and Thane districts for hurting religious sentiments, invoking several sections of the IPC. 

The BJP’s Minority Morcha head Jamal Siddiqui praised the action taken against Sharma and Jindal, saying that it will stop people from crossing the party line. He also indicated that this issue was taken up to the party’s central leadership when the controversy first broke out. “We had told the leadership that Muslims are hurt, (and that) this is not BJP’s culture,” he said.

Meanwhile, earlier today, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi called for Sharma’s arrest, saying, “India has lost face. The country’s foreign policy was destroyed. The fringe has become mainstream. I demand (Nupur Sharma’s) arrest, not just suspension.” He also alleged that the BJP deliberately sends their spokespersons to make inflammatory remarks, and has only taken action in this case because of the flak received on the international stage.

“I had appealed to the prime minister earlier, but he did not bend. Action was taken only after the matter blew up in the Gulf. This should have been done sooner. It took the BJP 10 days to realise that their spokesperson had said something hurtful to the sentiments of Muslims,” said Owaisi.

Along the same lines, the Congress’ communication department head Randeep Sujewala said, “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 argued that the party is now founded upon “religious violence, divisive conservatism and nurturing hatred to secure vote-bank politics”.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said that the BJP put thousands of Indians working in the Middle Eastern countries at risk while damaging long standing relationships, to feed the “domestic audience” with hate. TMC leader Yashwant Sinha said, “BJP’s national spokesperson is now fringe element. What about the party itself? The fringe is unfortunately now in the centre. Modi hai to mumkin hai.”

 

Read more: Gyanvapi Row: Let Facts Come Out In The Open, Says RSS

 

The BJP’s decision also comes amid outrage expressed by the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, and Kuwait, over these remarks. The Indian Envoy to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, was summoned by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during a time when Indian Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu is also present in the country for an official visit. 

Subsequently, the Indian embassy spokespersons of Qatar and Kuwait, on Sunday, indicated that the ambassadors of their respective nations have “conveyed that the tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India”, and that these are the views of “fringe elements”. Amid this row, many have taken to social media, calling for a boycott of Indian products in Gulf countries.

Following this incident, the Aam Aadmi Party leader Manish Sisodia took to Twitter to criticise PM Modi. “These small countries have gathered the courage to challenge a great country like India. This is what Modi ji and BJP have done. Today, every Indian is pained, this is extremely distressing,” said Sisodia. The tweet was later retweeted by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. 

Meanwhile, earlier today, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi responded to a statement by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and said, “The government of India categorically rejects OIC Secretariat’s unwarranted and narrow-minded comments. The government of India accords the highest respect to all religions. The offensive tweets and comments denigrating a religious personality were made by certain individuals.” He added, “They do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India. Strong action has already been taken against these individuals by relevant bodies.”

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