BJP Leaders’ comments on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) strain India-Arab ties

Jun 6, 2022: According to a report by the BBC, India has been forced to placate its partners in the Islamic world after growing anger over controversial comments made by two members of the country’s ruling party, the BJP, about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

As per a Reuters report, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said on Sunday it had suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma in response to comments she made during a TV debate about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The BJP said in a statement on its website that the party respected all religions. “The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion.”

Sharma said on Twitter she had said some things in response to comments made about a Hindu god but it was never an intention to hurt anyone’s religious feelings.

“If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement,” she said.

Another BJP spokesperson Naveen Jindal was expelled from the party over comments he made about Islam on social media, the BJP office said.

Jindal said on Twitter he had questioned some comments made against Hindu gods. “I only questioned them but that does not mean I am against any religion.”

The BJP statement also said: “The Bharatiya Janata Party is also strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy.”

Sharma’s comments prompted complaints from several Muslim countries, including Qatar and Kuwait.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar said in a statement it had summoned the Indian ambassador over the comments.

The State of Kuwait also summoned the Indian ambassador and said it had handed the ambassador a protest note in which Kuwait rejected and denounced the statements made by the BJP official.

Qatar’s foreign ministry statement also said it welcomed the (BJP) party’s decision to suspend the official but said Qatar was expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks by the Indian government.

“Allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment, constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalisation, which will create a cycle of violence and hate,” Qatar’s ministry of foreign affairs said.

Saudi Arabia also used some strong words in its statement. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its condemnation and denunciation of the statements made by the spokeswoman of the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), insulting the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and reaffirms its permanent rejection of prejudice against the symbols of the Islamic religion, alongside all religious figures and symbols,” it said.

The BBC report further highlighted what is at stake as millions Indians live and work in these countries and send millions of dollars in remittances back home. The region is also the top source for India’s energy imports.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a regular visitor to the region since coming to power in 2014. The country has already signed a free trade agreement with the UAE and is in talks with the GCC for a wider deal.

Mr Modi famously attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi in 2018 – it was termed as an example of the growing ties between India and the region.

Arab nations are also looking to take concrete action to soothe anger among their own people. Hashtags criticising India have been trending in these countries and the incident has been the top story in their media outlets.

Some of these hashtags have called for a boycott of Indian products. There have also been reports of some stores in Qatar and Kuwait removing Indian products from their shelves.

Even as the party seeks to distance itself from the offensive comments, critics say Ms Sharma wasn’t a “fringe element” as the BJP has claimed. She was an official spokesperson of the party, tasked with representing the BJP’s views.

Analysts add that the international fallout over the controversy should be a wake-up call for India.

Moreover, religious polarisation has increased in India since the BJP came to power in 2014. And the past few weeks have been particularly tense after  some Hindu hardliner groups went to a local court in Varansi to seek permission to pray at a centuries-old mosque, claiming that it was built on the ruins of a demolished temple.

On the other hand, a number of BJP supporters on Twitter lent their support to Sharma and Jindal, and called the BJP high command’s decision “cowardly”.

In the meantime, a video has been circulating online showing militant Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand doubling down on the remarks made by Sharma in the TV debate.

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