Nupur Sharma. (ANI file)
New Delhi: The BJP on Sunday suspended its national spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, and expelled its Delhi media head, Naveen Kumar Jindal, after their alleged derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad, as it sought to defuse a raging row over the issue. Amid protests by Muslim groups over the remarks, which have also caused a stir abroad, especially in Arab countries, the BJP issued a statement aimed at assuaging the concerns of minorities and distancing itself from these members, asserting that it respects all religions and strongly denounces insults of any religious personality. However, the BJP’s action against Ms Sharma drew sharp criticism on the social media by many BJP supporters, who questioned why the party leadership did not take any action against fundamentalists denigrating Hindu gods and goddesses, especially after the Kashi’s Gyanvapi case.
Ms Sharma's remarks during a television debate had created controversy. Her remarks reportedly incited violence in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur and she was provided security after she received death threats for her comments. Mr Jindal views on social media, according to the Delhi BJP unit, are in violation of the party's fundamental beliefs as they vitiate communal harmony.
Ms Sharma's comments, made nearly 10 days back and Mr Jindal's now-deleted tweets, sparked a Twitter trend calling for a boycott of Indian products in some countries in the Gulf region.
In a major embarrassment to India during Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu’s ongoing visit to Gulf nation Qatar, both Qatar and Kuwait summoned India's ambassadors and handed over official notes protesting the derogatory comments of two BJP spokespersons.
Handing over an official note, Qatar demanded an apology and condemnation from India. In a statement, the Qatar foreign ministry said that it summoned the Indian ambassador, Deepak Mittal, and handed him an official note on its "total rejection and condemnation of the remarks of an official in the ruling party in India against Prophet Mohammed."
The government, in a swift response, clarified that the controversial views were not those of the Indian government but of "fringe" elements and that "strong action" has already been taken against those who made the comments.
In a major damage-control move, monitored at top levels, India said it accords the highest respect to all religions. New Delhi told Qatar that vested interests were trying to use the offensive comments by inciting people and trying to damage ties between the two nations.
The Indian embassy in Qatar’s capital Doha stated, "The ambassador had a meeting in the foreign office in which concerns were raised with regard to some offensive tweets by individuals in India denigrating the religious personality. The ambassador conveyed that the tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India. These are the views of fringe elements. In line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity,
Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions. Strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks."
A similar response will be extended to Kuwait as well.
Notwithstanding the incident, Mr Naidu met the top leadership of Qatar and was received warmly, an indication that the two nations do not want their close ties to be endangered.
In a late-evening development, Iran became the third country to summon the Indian ambassador and protest against the offensive comments of the now-suspended BJP spokesperson, but was told by New Delhi that the comments are not the views of the Indian government and that the concerned (BJP) party functionaries have been sacked. This comes ahead of the reported forthcoming visit of the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, to New Delhi next week.
Meanwhile, back in India, in the statement issued, the BJP claimed that it is "strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion" and that it "does not promote such people or philosophy… India’s constitution gives the right to every citizen to practice any religion of his/her choice and to honour and respect every religion."
The letter issued to Ms Sharma regarding her suspension by member - secretary of BJP's central disciplinary committee, Om Pathak read, "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 BJP. 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."
The letter expelling Mr Jindal from the BJP was issued by its Delhi unit chief Adesh Gupta.
Later in the day, Ms Sharma issued an apology and tweeted: "I take back my words if they hurt anyone's religious sentiments."
Talking to reporters after being expelled, Mr Jindal said he was "a dedicated worker of the party" and that the party’s decision is of the "utmost importance" to him.